Chomp, Munch, Devour, Wolf, Gobble (Eat)
Humans are obsessed with voyeurism. The lighter word for it may be curiosity, but none the less, it’s voyeurism. We love to get glimpses into other people’s worlds. Why else would shows such as Anthony Bourdain’s ‘No Reservations’ or Andrew Zimmern’s ‘Bizarre Foods’ exist. If it wasn’t for the curiosity of knowing ‘why,’ what can explain a cable TV viewer’s desire to watch a middle aged French chef eat a cockroach?
This may sound like a bad thing at first. But in my opinion, voyeurism with food can be an especially helpful tool in understanding world cultures. Every culture has its ‘weird food.’ This is the food which although it may be a bit disgusting, ‘insiders’ eat, and ‘outsiders’ despise. In fact, there is an entire website devoted to this phenomenon. http://www.weird-food.com/ showcases weird foods from around the world. It even has a search feature, allowing you to search by food or country. Let’s take a jump in and see what we can find.
The first thing of notice on the America search list is that most of the foods have other countries listed underneath them- an homage to the fact that America really is a melting pot of other cultures. For this search, I’ll focus on only the American only foods. Here are my favorites:
Fried Dill Pickles: (USA South) A down-home Southern treat is fried dill pickles. It's got two of the major food groups: fat and salt. This just might be the thing to serve to house guests who are overstaying their welcome. Perhaps you could make it for a sick acquaintance who you really hate but feel obliged to do something for.
Note: I’ve tried, and thoroughly enjoyed these!
Squirrel Brain: (US South)Yes, the brain of the small tree climbing rodent. You cook the head with the rest of the body (after cleaning of course), then, using your fingers and a fork, you crack the skull open and dig the brain out. Tastes kind of like mushrooms to me.
Note: Don’t lie, you’ve thought about it with all these squirrels on campus.
Pork Brains: (US South)It's exactly what it sounds like and is extremely common (but very seldom spoke of) in the south. For some reason pork brains are canned in milk gravy and sold in many grocery stores around the south. Unlike many "specialty foods", you are more likely to find pork brains in a small-town grocery store. It can usually be found in the same vicinity of potted meat product or other canned meat/meat parts. On the front of the can pork brains are being served atop scrambled eggs... and that's just how I had them (ahh... the power of advertising). When I was 7 or 8 years old, I was forced fed a heaping spoonful of this grey matter w/scrambled eggs by my "best friend". It looked like fried cat food and tasted even worse. I guess it's an "acquired" taste.
Note: See Picture for Nutrition Content!
Spruce Beer:(Canada) This is made from the boiled boughs of black spruce. The beer is made with yeast, molasses and raisins and takes less than three days to brew.
Note: Raisins and beer? WTF!
Seal Flipper Pie: (Canada) Move over brie and quiche. Bring on the bang belly and damper dogs. And leave room for seal flipper pie. Newfoundland cuisine has come into its own. Once restricted to the kitchens of the island's outport folk, food like brewis and figged duff is finding its way to Toronto or any big centre in Canada where transplanted Newfoundlanders are found. The only thing that might be tricky to obtain nowadays is seal flipper pie. With the collapse of the seal hunt due to lobbying by environmentalists, there are fewer flippers to be had, but independent sealers still steam into St. John's Harbor every spring and sell flippers off the wharf. In April, community clubs all over the city hold flipper pie dinners. The flippers are tender and tasty but it's said few mainlanders acquire a taste for them.
Note: I guess it can be said that at least the clubbers are using every part of the seal…
Tarantula:(Cambodia )In the town of Skuon around 55 miles North of Phnom Phen, tarantula spiders are very commonly eaten by the locals, travelers who pass through often try them too. The practice began in the days of the Khmer Rouge, when food was scarce, but apparently the locals developed rather a taste for the furry 8-legged arachnids and now they still form a major part of the town’s dietary intake. Hundreds of these spiders are hunted, cooked and sold every day in what must be one of the more unusual 'fast food' arrangements I've seen.
Note: As someone who has refused to sleep in a room because of a lost spider, it is safe to say I will NOT be vacationing in Cambodia any time soon.
Salted Plum Suckers: (Japan) These are little hard candies that come in a package featuring a geisha girl holding one to her lips. There are two sizes, small and large. The small balls are plum-flavored candies coated in a layer of brine salt that melts in your mouth. The larger ones do not have this salty outer coating, but once you reach the center, are filled with a shriveled dried plum piece and a gooey, salty liquid substance.
Note: I don’t know about you, but geishas, plums, and brine salt sure sounds like something to stay far, far away from.
What have we learned here? Every culture indeed has a food which is weird and out of the ordinary. But if you have grown up with it, it really doesn’t seem that weird at all. Perhaps if we all were to investigate other countries foods we would discover something about their culture, and have a deeper understand of them as people.
As good as that may sound, I’m still not going to Cambodia.