When I was little, my dad used to tell me several stories about my grandpa's time in the Army, but one stuck with me the most. Sometime in the 1940s, he was helping two tribes negotiate peace in the mountain ranges of Oaxaca. After a few weeks of negotiations, the two factions reached an agreement and planned a celebratory banquet. My grandfather, as negotiator, was the guest of honor and received the first plate of food. Much to his surprise, the main course he was offered turned out to be cooked monkey brains and other assorted organs. Not wanting to take the risk of insulting the hosts and destroying the work he and the heads of the tribes had achieved, he dug into his food. He was bedridden for the next week …
You may be asking, “What are you getting at?” Well, I love food, and food, much like life, is full of diversity. This diversity might include certain dishes that some of us brought up in the Americas, or anywhere else, might not understand. Here are some that I or my family have had the opportunity to try:
1. Mexico's penchant for spiced bugs:
My home country has its fair share of dishes that are weird to outsiders, like corn smut in quesadillas, but what takes the cake is our loving relationship with frying or cooking maguey worms and crickets with spices over a fire. I remember it wasn't until I was 11 years old that I finally mustered enough courage to try gusanos de maguey (worms foraged from agave plants) and chapulines (chili fried crickets), but once I did, I never looked back. Plop them on a tortilla and add some guacamole, lime, and salt, and you’ve got a combination of flavors almost as old as the Aztecs themselves.
A lot of people like fish. You can fry it, grill it, and stew it, but it has always blown my mind that someone saw their eggs and thought, “Oh, I bet those slimy marbles are tasty.” The first thing I heard about caviar was when I was watching a James Bond movie, and a defected Soviet general was musing about how caviar and champagne was a perfect combo. After asking my parents what it was and how expensive it was, I quickly lost hope I would ever try it. Flash forward to my Russian thanksgiving: I was staring down a plate of it. Being a bit too awkward to politely reject the offer, I added a small bit to the croutons that accompanied it. The first bite was a pleasant surprise; the slight saltiness of it offset by some cream cheese was great. After the fact, I told my friend's dad that it was in fact the first time I'd ever tried anything like that. He just smiled and replied, “Well, now you know.”
3. Deep fried anything
My brother experienced this one when he was abroad in China. Whether this is done anywhere else, I don’t know. One day, he was walking through a market near Beijing and he caught glimpse of an interesting street stand. On this stand were several skewers, but these skewers didn’t have shrimp, fruit, or diced meat on them. The skewers were made up of fried spiders, seahorses, a few other creepy crawlies, and chicken. After taking mental note of where the stand was located, my brother left. A few months later, having worked up the courage to try the weirdest stuff possible before he left, my brother approached the stand, and, in broken Chinese, requested a skewer with a spider, a seahorse, and a scorpion. I asked my brother what it tasted like, and he replied that it wasn’t all that bad, saying it was close to the consistency and taste of a potato chip, but that he probably would not crave it anytime soon.
4. Guinea pig
While not necessarily as weird as spiders, crickets, or fish eggs, you can't help but think of guinea pigs as a weird thing to eat. That is, unless you are from South America. Called “cuyo” in Spanish, guinea pig is served roasted or broiled and reportedly tastes like rabbit — if my parents are to be believed.
These are some of the weirdest things my family and I have ingested through the years. What weird things have you or people you know eaten?