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Ten @ 10: Scariest food encounters

Halloween candy is a nightmare only for nutritionists, dentists and those mothers who think raw carrot sticks and a UNICEF box are all one needs for trick or treating. So, what a relief when the Tribune’s Kevin Pang proposed a Ten @ 10 Halloween spin that went beyond candy to what the holiday is really about: Fear.

Food and fear have been inexorably intertwined since the first cave mom gave her cave kids some pretty mushrooms and they keeled over on the spot. Fear is the most vivid seasoning any dish can have. Just listen to Pang.

“I remember the first time I had to try snake soup in Hong Kong, I was freaked out of my mind,” he admitted in his email. And this comes from a man who ate a sheep penis while on assignment in China.  Said penis was “mostly flavorless, tasting like tendon/cartilage,” Pang recalled. “Wasn’t scared of it, though.”

What food has scared Kevin Pang? You’ll find out below in The Stew staff’s list of scary food experiences. And, please, don't forget to get into the Halloween spirit by writing in with your scariest food memories.

Two friends and I were eating in a small neighborhood Chicago ethnic restaurant for a Cheap Eats review. The food was decent enough, and I was leaning toward a score of 2 out of 4 forks. Halfway through dinner, I hit the restroom, only to find the wall around the sink swarming with thousands of fruit flies. Disgusted, we left pretty quickly, without finishing the rest of our food. Maybe the problem didn’t extend into the kitchen, but why take the chance? And I picked a different restaurant to feature instead. – Joe Gray

My father had just butchered a pig and I, being about 8 or 9 years old, was helping out, but basically just watching the whole spectacle. Once the pig’s head was properly removed, I decided that I needed to take it upstairs to show it to my mother.  I think my mother was probably wondering why her daughter was perfectly comfortable carrying a pig’s head around, my father was most likely very proud of my lack of squeamishness and I am just now realizing that I missed my calling as a butcher. – Dana Juhasz

After a long day of travel, we arrived in our seaside town in Ireland. My sister ordered shrimp. The bowl arrived -- and my sister started hyperventilating. The shrimp were not like in the US of A. They were complete, down to the bulging eyes. Some quick "cleaning" and a fainting episode was averted.  – Linda Bergstrom

The scariest thing, for me, is realizing what you’re eating is going to make you sick – very, very, sick the next day. This happened more than once when I reviewed restaurants in Connecticut. It was my job, I couldn’t skip out, and I had to eat – ok, try – every nasty thing that might be on the table. And I had to go back and do it at least one or two more times more knowing that I’d be sick a few hours later. I could never “prove” it was food poisoning to the degree I could write that in the newspaper but inside I knew it was no coincidence. – Bill Daley

When I was a little kid, my palate was a little, shall we say, less refined. My mom, a gourmet cook who was always forcing me to try new things, made ratatouille one day for dinner – much to my chagrin. What is this crap? Just a bunch of vegetables, and it smells really weird. I was not only grossed out, but actually afraid to try this vile dish. After much coaxing, she finally got me to take a bite. It didn’t go well. I was so psyched out by the sight and smell of the dish, I couldn’t keep it down and spit/puked it back up into my glass of milk. Ewwww! Fortunately, I’ve since expanded my food horizons and love just about anything you can make. But I still wouldn’t touch ratatouille if my life depended on it. – Matthew Wood

I was a kid and my dad had taken me, my younger sister Jacki and our cousin Jo Carol on a round of visiting his aunts and uncles near Newport, Ark. At lunchtime, we hit an aged aunt’s farmhouse, complete with livestock and a bedraggled garden. The problem was that this aunt either never learned to cook or was way past her prime time in the kitchen. Everything on the table was swimming in grease, and we suspected that the milk had come straight from the cow to the table (it was still warm). Jo Carol sneaked a slice of white bread into her pants pocket and the three of us shared it in the car afterward. This childhood memory might be why I’m a bit wary about the current farm-to-table/locally sourced fervor. – Denise Joyce

 A number of years ago, some traveling exhibit offered a tasting that paired wines with cooked bugs. That's right, a mini-collection of indifferent reds and whites loosely matched to fried crickets, crispy scorpions, and so forth. Downing bugs wasn't the problem -- bugs really don't have a lot of flavor, and they're food in lots of countries -- but when it came to eating tarantula, well, that fatty, creamy abdomen was a bit much. And just as I was taking that first tentative bite, the traveling bug expert piped in: "Almost all of the venom has been removed, but if you feel any numbness or mild paralysis in your lower mouth, that's normal." Which was the exact moment that I concluded my work was done. – Phil Vettel

When I was 10, my parents took us on a family trip to Europe, and I still remember a particular hot dog consumed outside of Copenhagen, Denmark. I was a picky little American eater, and for whatever reason was opposed to whatever everyone else was eating at a little parkside café, so I ordered a hot dog via our host. Despite several telltale signs that it wasn’t the wisest thing to do (I recall my dad and the host deliberating on the sidelines in hushed tones), I insisted, and ordered it plain – just dog and bun – as I’d eat them at home. When our host asked me if I was sure, and then handed me the thing, it became clear why he’d tried to get me to take some condiments with it. The hot dog was the color of burlap and – I can still taste it – the consistency of rubber cement. I think I ate a few bites out of embarrassment and probably went hungry the rest of the afternoon. There’s a reason the Danish aren’t exactly known for their hotdogs. Now I know. – Lauren Viera

We were driving around looking for lunch in a small town in Spain when we found a cute little restaurant. The sign on the door said they had a special menu that week to celebrate regional cuisine. And the menu was only in Spanish! What luck. We got our menus and I started to look them over, intending to translate for my beloved but less adventurous dining companion. My eyes fell down the list. My heart sunk. I read aloud: snails, brains, stomach, fried blood with intestines, kidneys, livers, pig's feet. I looked across the table to see his face frozen in horror. After a quick strategy session, we waited until the waiter was out of sight and made a dash for the door. I wanted to say something to the guy. But, really, what do you say? “I'm sorry, but we just had fried blood for breakfast”? - Dan Shumski

Up until age 12, I had an aversion, no, fear, for tofu. I realized later in life where this came from. My mom was a fan of stinky tofu, a snack sold by street vendors popular in Hong Kong and Taiwan. It's essentially tofu that's been brined in fermented milk, then deep fried. One person's appealingly pungency was another's gag-inducing smell. But these days, I love tofu, stinky or not, and other strong food others might find off-putting. I'm the guy who asks for extra anchovies with my Caesar salad. – Kevin Pang

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