Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Food Foibles

It’s quite tough following in the footsteps of Heidi and Alli week after week (and gosh, I’m so glad I get to go before Lina), but this week is especially tough, as both gals cracked me up with their hilarious cultural misadventures. After mining my own faulty memory to share a story that could measure up to theirs, I realized the only good ones I can tell (in this public forum) mostly have to do with one of my favorite topics food.

To start off, let me introduce you to my old friend, Kelley. She’s tall, blond, blue eyed, and from the American Midwest. She’s also one of the most well-traveled persons I know and picks up languages at the drop of a hat. One fine day, we’re sitting in a Chinese restaurant in downtown D.C. looking over the menu. Two waiters are waiting patiently behind us, smiles on their faces, as they exchange a couple muted words. 

“Do you know what you want?” Kelly asks me, her eyes slowly scanning the long list of items in front of her.

“Yes,” I respond, only to wait a few more minutes for Kelley to decide.

When she finally does, she looks over at the waiters to place our order. In Chinese. The two young men are stunned, quickly take the information down, then scurry away.

“I was ready ages ago but they were complaining about how long we were taking almost as soon as we got the menus. I wanted to see them cringe once they realized I could understand them.”

Moral of the story: always be nice!

Another time, in college in Texas, a group of us friends drove down to Matamoros, Mexico, and gave the servers free rein at whatever eatery we found ourselves in: “Just bring us whatever’s good.” After one particularly delicious appetizer that we’d ordered seconds of and couldn’t stop nibbling on, we begged our waitress to tell us, “exactly what is this?” Who knows, maybe we thought we could try cooking it in our college flats, right?

“It is, um, how you say, mmmmm….,” she answered, searching for the right words to adequately describe this unusual delicacy. “I think you call it … pig fat?” 


Later, at a fast food dive in Pune, India (and I’ll never forget this, the place was called Burger King), I tried some kind of hoagie sandwich that had a tender slab of beef tongue. It was quite good till I peeled back the bread and saw that long, pink tongue (it really looked like a tongue) gaping back at me. (Who knows, it probably wanted to lick me back.) Still, I finished it. The sandwich was tasty (ha ha) but not necessarily because of the flavor of the meat so much as the yummy seasonings and fresh bread.

In Houston, eons ago, I had an opportunity to try crocodile meat. I’d heard they tend to be chewy, but these were deep fried nuggets so, of course, they were good and quite tender. And yes, they tasted like chicken. (I’ve never tried them again to test out that rumor).

My idea of adventurous used to be trying out every unusual, weird food given the opportunity. No more, as it turns out. I know an old forest ranger from Ohio who said his family regularly cooked and ate squirrels. Why? Speaking of which, here's another unusual menu item from Iceland I'm unlikely to try...

About a decade ago, I used to go on regular business trips to Denver, where one of the local specialties was Rocky Mountain oysters. These are not a seafood item as you might expect but rather (brace yourselves) buffalo testicles. Yes, really. Check out this minute-long link to an entire festival dedicated to these delicacies in Montana:

I never had the, er, guts to try them out.

Any of you have some foodie misadventures you can share?


  1. I pride myself on saying I'll try any food at least once, but I don't think I'm as brave as you!

  2. I've never eaten a squirrel, but there was a man in the town where I grew up who was known for his porcupine stew. Once my dog got a face full of quills after an unfortunate encounter with one of those critters, and the guy tracked down the culprit, shot him and served him up.

  3. Uhm, I did work up my courage to try lamb's balls in Jordan. It was OK, tasty but had a somewhat of a weird texture. Now, raw lamb's brains was something else! I was dying to try it, but was too afraid to get sick and screw up my trip. And a porcupine stew -- I'd definitely try that!

  4. I'm not that brave... I'm from Australia so I have eaten kangaroo and crocodile, but I can't even bring myself to eat frogs' legs. And I thought I did really well in New Caledonia when my brother-in-law ordered the local delicacy -- roasted fruit bat -- and I managed to stay sitting at the table. I couldn't look at him for the entire time he ate though! I mean, it still had its fuzzy little face!

  5. Misadventure and good intentions...
    When I was in Strasbourg, France, the family with whom I was staying had hosted many exchange students over the years. Over breakfast, they told of the time an exchange student asked (in very rough French) if there were any PRESERVATIFS in the orange juice. While an innocent question, PRESERVATIFS in French does not translate to preservatives. It translates to condoms. You can imagine the host family's reaction.

  6. For all of you saying I'm braver than you, OMG, what awesome stories you all have! So we have (fresh) porcupine stew, lamb "oysters", furry fruit bats, and kangaroo (which has to be a felony in Oz, no?). My beef tongue is starting to sound tame (bland?).

    And note, these experiences were most certainly the "old" me. The new and improved me has cut down significantly on eating meat of any kind ... must be all those old experiences catching up with me. ;)

    Rebecca, I loved the, uh, French story! How *do* you say preservatives in French??

  7. I can't say your post made me very hungry, Supriya! And did you know that on the Australian coat of arms we have the kangaroo and emu and we serve them up to daring tourists? There was a big push for kangaroo meat to replace beef years ago, but not many people could get their head around eating one of the animals on our coat of arms.

  8. Supriya, it is conservateur. It's always good to know. And if you think the French kisses on the cheek are the same expressions of gratitude or greeting in Austria, you'd be wrong. I, very innocently, ended up "kissing" the father of a friend. Apparently the double kisses are French, not Austrian. Mental note: stick with a handshake if you're not sure!