Monday, January 10, 2011

Sorry, stomach

My gastronomical choices while traveling could really have their own blog. Most of them can be described as 'interesting'. Some have been...unfortunate (I could have an entire section devoted to the '100 ways I probably got parasites'). And some have been culturally and personally uncomfortable, particularly since I am a vegetarian (an adventurous vegetarian with a not-so-secret love of bacon) often forced to eat meat when I'm abroad. But luckily, most of the time these choices have also been absolutely delicious and worthwhile. Therefore I have no plans to stop these culinary capers (sorry, stomach); my hedonism demands that I continue my quest for delightful goodies. Besides, a lot of what we describe as "gross" or "inedible" is a cultural construction, and who doesn't like challenging those? Sticking it to our ethos, one dish at a time.

Anyway, here is a list of my favorite food adventures:

1). Octopus head. Kaizu, Japan.

I spent part of the summer after 7th grade in Japan on an exchange program. I had absolutely lovely host families, who went above and beyond in their effort to make me feel at home. While most of the time they made incredible feasts for us to enjoy at home (see below), occasionally we went out to a restaurant in the evening. On one such night we went to a small nearby restaurant, let our host father order for us, and then told stories seated on the floor around a traditional table. It was only when my food arrived that I realized what had been ordered; seated proudly atop my rice sat a baby octopus. An entire octopus,whole except for the the beak and eyes, which had been removed.

My host family laughed and tried to take it away thinking I wouldn't want it. But I felt up to the challenge, and I fended their chopsticks off. The biggest obstacle wasn't fear, it was lack of technical knowledge - how does one eat an entire octopus? I started with the legs, eating each one separately. They were chewy, but surprisingly lacked any particular flavor. After I had finished all 8, I felt prepared to tackle the head. Biting off the very top, I was met with a lot of chewy texture, some saltiness, but again, a lack of a definitive flavor. Mmm, octopus brain (I'm like a zombie of the sea).

Overall: it wasn't bad. I'd do it again.

2). Guinea Pig. Ayacucho, Peru.

Guinea pigs, called 'cuy', are served all over Peru. You can order a half or a whole (I don't think I've ever seen a quarter...but someone should correct me on this), and it comes to you fried, broiled or roasted. I've had the fried, where the cuy was just skinned, breaded and then fried whole. It's tiny little rodent head and feet sadly still attached.

It was a really oily meat; I've heard it compared to rabbit. It also was a pain to get actual meat off of the itty-bitty rodent bones. I think I expended more calories getting the meat than I gained from eating it. But then as a vegetarian I lack important meat-gathering skills.

Overall: It was ok. But I've only done it once and haven't desired a second round.

3). Takoyaki. Kaizu, Japan.

While in Japan I was able to attend classes at a junior high. Most of the time I just sat in the back, as my Japanese was limited to "Hi" and "I like to swim". However, cooking class was one of the rare times I actually knew what was going on. As we started to get ready, my fellow classmates showed me pictures of what we were about to make. It looks like muffins, except round. Maybe a muffin/dumpling hybrid? I know all about making muffins! AWESOME, this will be the best day ever!

And then the octopus came out.

"Maybe it is for a different cooking group"

..... Nope, they want me to hold these legs so I am pretty sure it is for us. But...what are we goi-OHGOD not into the MUFFINS!

Yes, those octopus legs went right into the muffins. Turns out we were making takoyaki, an incredibly delicious octopus dumpling with a sweet sauce. I ate every single one I could get my hands on.

Overall: DELICIOUS. I still order them to this day, although they are hard to find.

4). German nachos. Mannheim, Germany.

My parents and I had driven to Mannheim to spend a day visiting. I was hungry, so we stop at a cafe where I decide to order the "nachos". I had heard plenty of horror stories from friends who had attempted to buy Mexican food in Europe, but this of course did little to deter me.

What came out was a plate of fritos. Yes, the actual frito chip. Or at least, the Germany frito knock-off. And on top of these fritos? Cheese. And on top of that cheese? Sweet and sour sauce -- you know, the type you get on your Chinese take-out chicken.

Overall: Disgusting. Germany, I am disappoint.

5). "Meat" patties. Kaizu, Japan.

Japan is just racking these up, huh?

My host family knew I didn't eat meat. We had already gone over all of the meat I didn't eat: "no cow, no pig, no chicken." We had that down.

So on one of the last days we have a huge feast. The table was covered in food, all of which was incredible. There was one particularly tasty looking patty thing with a barbecue sauce. They told me it was fine to eat, so I bite in thinking it is probably fish. And dayum, it was good. Sweet and juicy. I eat another. And another.

Finally, I ask, "What is this?"


Uh oh.




"No. Meat."


I name all the animals I think of, then I give up. It wasn't until the next day that I realized I never named horse.

Overall: Really good. Horse is one of the best meat-things I've had.
(patties are in the bottom middle)

6). Denny's Fried Cheese Melt. Arizona, USA.

See, sometimes you don't need to travel the world to find really bizarre things! Americans make questionable food choices our national past-time.

On a recent night, I found myself in Denny's. And what do I behold on the menu?! The Fried Cheese Melt. Yes, it is a grilled cheese sandwich, stuffed with fried mozzarella sticks, served with marinara sauce and ranch dressing.

Of course I order it. The waiter questions my intentions, wanting to know if I was sure I wanted it. Oh, I wanted it.

Overall: It tasted like plastic. It smelled like plastic. The marinara sauce didn't help matters at all. But I regret nothing.


  1. No matter how much I think I know about you, I always learn something new! I can't believe your japanese host family went out of their way to serve you horse.

  2. I have to make sure you never get bored of me, baby! :D

    Horse was actually a big deal to have, since it is more expensive than beef or chicken. It was a nice honor from my family on our last night; they were such nice people. If anything it was my fault -I had told them I didn't eat beef,pork or chicken, thinking this covered all the meats. I was young, and a little dumb. :P Honestly, I'm just glad it was cooked, because if it had been horse shashimi (basashi 馬刺)I don't know if I could have done it.

    Did you see horse meat in china? Is it a big deal there?

  3. What, I thought the nachos were the best we have ever had!

  4. I can't believe you ate guinea pig! That hurts my poor little heart, but maybe that's just because I'm imagining my beautiful little Cocoa and Carmel being served to someone. :/

  5. Don't worry - you can invite me over to play with your babies and I promise I won't even think about eating them. :)