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William D. Chalmers

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Strange Foods In Strange Lands

Posted: 09/14/2012 7:00 am

I love a lot of things aside from members of my family.

I love music, especially on the road. I love seeing art, especially made by up and coming starving artists. I love going to sporting events, especially when rivalry bragging rights are at stake. And I love food.

I've always loved food -- too bad my mom was such a bad cook! But since I started to travel, my appreciation for food has only been enhanced.

Like many travelers, I too watch Anthony Boudrain's No Reservations. (Although I have to admit that I have sadly not seen Andrew Zimmern's Bizarre Foods.) Even my kids have started watching the food and chef shows.

Over the years of seeing and tasting the world, I have learned a thing or two about what to -- and what not -- to eat while traveling. Who needs a nasty case of Montezuma's Revenge, Sahara Stomach or Delhi Belly, right?

Far from being a picky eater, I will generally try anything once -- the good, the bad and the severely unrecognizable. I have eaten such culinary oddities as: blood soups, tongue, kidney, brain, eyes, testicle, penis; many reptiles, amphibians, rodents, worms, grubs and insects; and assorted bush and game meats and road kill specials of questionable species in some of the grandest Temples of Gastronomy and street stalls around the world. I have been in master chef kitchens that looked liked petting zoos. And yes, they will eat anything that is sautéed in China!

When traveling, for the most part, I try to employ a type of Don't ask, don't tell culinary policy. However, I readily admit to numerous memorable occasions when I knew better. When my eyes widening with a don't do it look! My mouth shut with a don't do it visceral reaction. Even my nose sniffed don't do it! And my brain screamed aloud just don't do it -- and that I actually did do it despite these blaring sensory alarm bells. Odds are, there was usually a 50/50 chance that I sincerely regretted the questionable gastronomical experience!

So, to aid my fellow travelers, here are 10 things I've learned about eating as I travel around the world. Call them culinary rules of thumb; better yet, employ them as deeply embedded survival instincts (I am still here after all!):

  1. Never order fish on a Monday -- it's leftover from Friday!
  2. Never eat at a restaurant with a dirty washroom -- you can judge a book by its cover!
  3. If you don't recognize what you're eating, wait until after you're finished to ask what it was!
  4. Always befriend a chef. He will offer advice and conjure up great dishes for you.
  5. If you can't see water -- or are land locked -- don't order the fish!
  6. Chicken feet are tasty morsels and become useful -- the toenails make great tooth picks!
  7. Eat where locals eat, not fellow tourists.
  8. Want to know what is on the menu that night? Visit a day produce market.
  9. Beware of specials -- they are trying to quickly get rid of out of date foods!
  10. Street food will not kill you -- just always eat at a busy place!

And from my global gross-me-out file, here are a handful of foods that if you ever come across are sure to be avoided. With my best advice being to simply say, "Oh, so sorry, but I have a severe allergy... Thank you very much!"

  • cuy in Peru (roasted guinea pig that guarantees turista from all orifices)
  • any oysters that aren't from the sea (aka 100% testicles... or maybe it is just a guy thing?)
  • casu marzu on Sardinia (maggot cheese, nuff said)
  • chicha in Ecuador (collectively chewed corn flour spit out and fermented)
  • fermented red-ant salad in Cambodia (sour and spicy little suckers)
  • vastedda in Sicily (mushy spleen burgers)
  • whale sashimi in Iceland (salty, oily and too chewy)
  • shark fin soup in China (it is just not that good)
  • tripe soup in Turkey
  • white bread vegemite sandwiches in Australia (we should all know better by now!)
  • balut in the Philippines (mature intact chicken fetus)
  • harkal in Iceland (fermented rotted shark meat)
  • blood pudding in England (a fried scab of blood with filler)
  • haggis in Scotland ( heart and liver cooked in sheep stomach entrails and whiskey)
  • cruise ship buffets (Do I really need to explain it?)
  • any airline food... ha!

I am sure there are scores of worse things to eat out there (What say you?), but remembering these dishes is always a tricky emotional challenge for me as I have repressed my memory of more than a few gruesome events.

Finally, I can tell you this; if you ever find yourself in Borneo, New Guinea, the Congo basin or the deepest darkest Amazon, and if some nice local offers you Long Pig -- I'd start running right now because cannibalism is on the menu tonight!

 

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