Lately I've been watching a Travel Channel show that circles the globe in search of bizarre foods.
And I don't mean "bizarre" like hot sauce on scrambled eggs; I mean "bizarre" as in fresh-caught snapping-turtle cooked on the engine block of a pick-up truck.
You've got to admire a dish that requires that kind of time and dedication.
The show presents foods that, in other cultures, are perfectly normal; but have a rather high "eeewwwww" factor here, and aren't considered appetizing. In America, we call a lot of these strange foods "pets."
During one episode of the show, I found myself glancing over at our cat, Raven, who'd spent the whole day lying in the sun and ignoring me, and for just a moment my mouth began watering.
What if we "middle Americans" were more open-minded about exotic cuisine? We might discover new ways to get rid of garden pests. Mole fricassee with steamed slugs hasn't been featured on the Travel Channel ... yet, but odds are it'll show up eventually. (It does sound a bit rich, though.)
Some countries consider the grasshopper a delicious, nutritious snack. We think of it as an annoyingly cheerful character inserted into the Walt Disney fairy tale, "Pinocchio." Usually open-minded when it comes to new foods, I have to draw the line at munching on a bucket of buttered grasshoppers at the movies. I'm not squeamish; it's a matter of simple courtesy: grasshoppers are crunchy and noisy.
We ate liver when I was growing up. My mom said it was good for us, and I believed her because she was taller and allowed to use the stove. (Also, because it tasted bad — it had to be good for you.) Yet, I can't bring myself to get on board with other organs, like brains and eyeballs. I'm not saying that I would never try them. … OK, that's exactly what I'm saying.
I'm not a picky eater. I used to eat paste, which is pretty bizarre (no matter how many other first-graders do it). And some of my favorite foods make my best friends cringe and shudder as if they'd just taken cod-liver oil. "Do you have to eat that in front of us?" they ask. "Seriously?"
But gastronomic adventurer though I am, sometimes self-delusion is needed to get me through a meal. For instance, now that I know how fish sauce — a common ingredient in Asian cooking — is made, I've tried to convince myself that the chef is using ketchup instead. If I can do that, I enjoy my dinner just fine.
Then there's guinea pig. Many people eat it; some say it tastes like pulled pork.
No, it does not. Guinea pig tastes like a cute, furry little house pet that squeaks when it sees celery. The difference between that and pulled pork is about 1,500 pounds of ham, bacon and chops.
I once coughed up 500 bucks for kidney-stone surgery on a $14.95 guinea pig. That's not what I call "food," it's what I call "a dependent." As far as I'm concerned, eating guinea pig is right up there with eating a … well, I was going to say "cats," but Raven's been hogging my favorite chair for an hour and I'm starting to see the culinary possibilities.
Seriously, Raven, get out of my chair now, or I'm getting out the crock pot!
Don't worry, she knows I'm kidding. I've looked up "cat recipes" — merely out of curiosity, you understand — and all I can find are directions for making gourmet food for cats.