Strange food – exotic food

May 10th
Posted by shambo  as Culture, Food, Travel

ooooh - lunch !

Let me say this about that.

What is the strangest thing you have ever eaten?¬† Not many Americans, raised on ‘meat & potatoes’, care for strange food, especially if it had a squirmy or scaly profile before it hit the plate.¬† I have never been burdened by a delicate palate, probably owing to my impoverished childhood in the rural mountains of Appalachia.¬† In those days and in that part of America, “food”¬† was defined as anything slower than you were.

Appalachian mountain people survived in the ’40′s and ’50′s because they were not squeamish about the source of their protein.¬† I learned this lesson as a six year-old when I first¬†experienced the castration of the yearling pig crop and the¬†subsequent main course of “mountain oysters” for dinner.¬† Believe me, if you are hungry enough, you will eat the balls right off a pig.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but a childhood diet of squirrel, groundhog, ‘sweetbreads’, frogs, and muskrat prepared me well for the…¬†¬†¬† culinary challenges I was to experience later in my working career.¬† My job had me¬†located in foreign countries nearly as much as I was in the U.S.¬† And, if you expect to be successful working in a foreign country, you WILL eat what the locals eat.¬† To do otherwise would be disrespectful.¬† Bad enough by itself, but pure suicide when you are trying to conduct business in foreign lands.

In early 1990, I flew to Bejing for a meeting with the Chief of Police.  My company was entering into a contract with the Chinese government to supply communication equipment to the police departments of their largest cities.  The meeting took place less than a year after the Tiananmen Square riots, so the place was Рto say the least Рa little edgy.  The U.S. State Department had encouraged this deal, probably reasoning that better communication among the police might help prevent further altercations between radicals and the constabulary.

After a morning of negotiation, the Chief of Police ask me out to a private lunch.¬† He told me about this ‘special’ restaurant where we could get¬†“ancient” Chinese cuisine¬†prepared with recipes from¬†the thirteenth century.¬† After our arrival, he insisted that he order for me to ensure I got to experience¬†the rare joy of the best Bejing had to offer.¬† I readily agreed for two reasons. 1) the menu was in Mandarin, and 2) the Police Chief was one of the baddest son-of-a-bitchs I have ever met (a story for another blog).

The Chief ordered without even looking at the menu¬†and within minutes the first course arrived – “Boiled Cow Ankle”.¬† I doubt you have ever eaten ‘Boiled Cow Ankle’ so I must describe the taste to you.¬† It tastes like someone cut the ankle off a cow and boiled it.¬† In short, it’s hideous.¬† To make matters worse, I struggled to find anything edible between the bone, ligaments, skin and tendons with – CHOP STICKS!!!¬† But I ate it, smiled, and commented – truthfully – that it was the best ‘Cow Ankle’ I had ever eaten.

Mercifully, the next course arrived as I was downing my third beer in a vain attempt to extricate my taste buds from the¬†pungency of the ‘Cow Ankle’.¬† But now, sitting before me in a¬†gelatinous¬†solution of green colored goo, was a – “Camel Hump”.¬† Oh, joy!¬† My favorite.¬† ‘Camel Hump’.¬† I would have gladly eaten the ass out of a dead mule if I could have avoided eating this ‘Camel Hump’, but protocol demanded I dig in and pepper my comments¬†with praise¬†for the chef’s creativity.

If it were not for the beer, I would have hurled an unholy amalgam of cow and camel parts across the dining room long ago.  Thank God, there was only one more course remaining.  By this point I was thinking, after ankle and hump, how bad could it be?

One Cardinal Rule I learned in my years working in Asia is that when an Asian tells you that you are about to be served “something really special”, never, NEVER, ask what it is.¬† And the Chief used the “something special” phrase to describe the last dish.

When it arrived, it looked harmless enough – like a plate of french-fries that had been rolled in corn meal before cooking.¬† The Chief was intensely concerned that I eat this mystery meat ‘the correct way’ and demonstrated by placing one of the objects between his teeth and pulling it out so that the flesh was removed from a gristly center.¬† So, in imitation of the ‘master’, I picked up one of the objects, clamped down on it with my teeth, and pulled the meat off the core.¬† Hey – not half bad!

The Police Chief then asked the inevitable question¬†that all Asians love to put to ‘white bread-eating’ Americans when they have been served “something really special”.¬†

Police Chief:¬† “So, Mr. Shambo, what do you think about this dish?”

Shambo:¬† “It is absolutely divine.¬† May I have another?”

Police Chief:¬† “Of course.¬†¬†Do you¬†know what it is?”

Shambo:¬† “Oh, I don’t need to know what it is.¬† I’m just enjoying the flavor, and relishing the fact that you have honored me with a serving of “something really special.”

Police Chief:¬† “Oh, I must tell you.¬† You are dining on “Cat Tongue”.

Shambo:¬† “Well, I’ll tell you something, Chief.¬† That is the best ‘Cat Tongue’ I have ever had.¬† Do you think I could get another couple of beers?”

And, that’s all I have to say about that.

Shambo

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One Comment

  1. forex robot  11th May 2010  

    found your site on del.icio.us today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later

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