Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Weirdest Foods I've Ever Eaten: Part 1 of 2

Food and drink are important aspects of material culture. Cultural norms define the boundaries of what we believe is acceptable to eat while other potential food sources that fall outside these boundaries are seen as strange or weird. When I travel I push myself to challenge the norms defined by my culture by seeking out meals that would never be served at my family's dinner table. This is part one of a three part series of the weirdest foods I've eaten.

A relatively tame way to begin this list is with my experience eating the iconic Australian Marsupial: the Kangaroo. While eating kangaroo meat isn't all that common in Australia it can be found in most supermarkets. My first taste of Roo meat was in the for of Kangaroo sausages, aptly labelled 'Kanga Bangers.' The sausages were very tasty and lean, prompting me to seek out Kangaroo steak on my next visit to the supermarket. The steak tasted similar to beef-steak, as kangaroo is a red meat, but stronger in flavour than the meat from commercially raised food animals. Although many people find kangaroos to be too cute for consumption Kangaroo meat is high in protein and low in fat (about 2%) and has been attributed with a wide range of health benefits including anti-carcinogenic and anti-diabetes properties. I personally have no trouble eating both 'Kanga' and 'Roo' of the "Winnie the Pooh" stories because if they are anything like the other kangaroos I have encountered, they will be delicious.

Soused herring
Known as maatjesharing in Dutch, soused herring is gross. While many people may not find this to be particularity weird or gross, soused-herring was one of the least enjoyable things I ate in europe. I bought a herring sandwich in Amsterdam after my friend informed me that it was a famous Dutch food. I ignored the fact that I don't particularly enjoy fish to experience the local culinary culture. I should have stuck to fries and mayo. Soused herring or Maatjesharing is a type of pickled herring prepared by preserving raw herring with salt followed by brine. The liver and pancreas are left in the fish during the salt-curing process because they release enzymes essential for flavour. The herrings are then placed in the brine for approximately 5 days, traditionally in oak casks. They require no further preparation after fillet and skin removal and can be eaten as a between meal snack with a few finely cut raw onions or as a sandwich. So maybe it isn't all that weird but I didn't like the texture or the taste.

When I was in Beijing I found that many interesting foods served on a stick. I was most intrigued by the big black scorpions of which I promptly purchased one. After selecting the skewered scorpion of my choice the 'chef' tossed it into the deep fryer. After a few minutes I was handed the skewer. At first I didn't know how to go about eating the giant bug but eventually I took a bite of one of the large claws. It was crunchy at first and then somewhat chewy. I was actually disappointed that I couldn't find much flavour, other than from the fat it was fried in (I was kinda hoping it would be like a little lobster). Overall, it was nothing to be afraid of, and what looks cooler than chomping into a massive scorpion?

Now everybody is aware that frog-legs are an iconic part of French cuisine; however I was not in France when I tried frog meat, and it was not only the legs. The frog I ate was battered and fried whole at a street-side vendor's stand in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Turns out that chicken tastes like frog, except I found the frog meat to be somewhat slipperier (or moist I suppose). Pretty good little snack actually although I didn't eat the entire frog.

Century egg
Admittedly, I did not actually try these while travelling. I recall seeing them while I was in China but I didn't get around to tasting one. It was only when I was back in Vancouver that I managed to convince myself to buy a 4-pack from a China-town supermarket. The exterior of the egg's shells seems innocent enough; slightly grey but nothing too concerning. The eggs offputting qualities are only revealed once the shell is removed. made by preserving duck, chicken or quail eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime, and rice hulls for several weeks, the yolk becomes a dark green, cream-like substance with a strong odor of sulphur and ammonia (or piss), while the white becomes a dark brown, transparent jelly with little flavour. The sight of the egg alone is enough to turn most westerners away, but in truth the taste wasn't entirely bad. I was able to eat most of an egg and found that it mostly tasted like a hard-boiled egg (which I'm not a fan of).

'Hot' Dog
No, not hot-dogs but hot dog. Thats right dog meat, man's most delicious friend. It turns out dog meat is popular in northern Vietnam so, naturally, when I was in Hanoi I knew I had to try it. After a long day of wandering around Hanoi I stumbled upon a vendor with, what can only be described as, a spit roasted dog (in tact, head and all) on a platter. I wasn't really prepared for how the cooked dog would be presented. But alas, I pointed to the dog and indicated that I wanted some, at which point the vendor brought out a cleaver and hacked up some meat from a previously dismantled dog. I was given a bag which included a decent portion of meat as well as some sausage (made from the dog's intestines). I found the flavour to be similar to mutton, which was kinda odd. All-in-all a nice little lunch. Now, before you assume that I'm an evil dog hating monster hear me out. I like dogs and grew up with a pet dog at home, but I also like cows and pigs and don't have much against chickens either. I have no problem separating food from pets and these dogs were bred for food.

Tune-in for Part 2 featuring Tarantulas, snakes and more!!

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