CONTRACOSTATIMES.COM: December 11, 2009
What constitutes an adventure? After releasing my top picks for travel adventures last month, several readers were
quick to bring up a new category – culinary adventure. If you’ve ever eaten monkey brains or blowfish or even Lutefisk (a dish from my childhood that still haunts me today), you know that one culture’s entrails are another’s epicurean delight.
Consider the missive that came to me, recently, from colleague Geoff Burton – a travel writer who had just returned from Dubai. He told, in much detail, how he’d spent an afternoon racing camels in the desert and finished in third place.
Later that evening, his party dined on the very animals that had provided them with so much entertainment during the day. The dromedary was deliciously stuffed with a calf and a lamb and then slow roasted to let the flavors meld. “I had mine with a very nice Port,” my friend added.
You might be appalled to think that man could be so callous as to admire an animal one minute and eat it the next. The Brits on my touring boat in Iceland were certainly miffed when they realized our on-board dinner would feature Puffin, the colorful clown-faced bird we’d been admiring through binoculars for most of the cruise. Here they were, pecking and preening in the craggily rocks of a chain of tiny islands – and then under glass with a light cream sauce.
Still, Puffin’s got nothin’ on an Icelandic culinary dish that goes back to the Vikings – stinky shark. The name, alone, should be enough warning. But I didn’t want to insult my host, a weathered old fisherman who took great pride in offering the putrefied shark to us after it had been rotting on his windswept property for six months. We dipped it in a clear schnapps called Brennivin (paint thinner has a more subtle taste) and it bubbled like a witches brew until we popped it in our mouths and chugged the liquor. Now I know how the Vikings grew hair on their chests.
But if there’s one kind of nourishment I simply can’t stomach, its bugs. At the Thanksgiving table, of all places, the topic of edible insects was introduced – no doubt to arrest my appetite. Deep fried crickets and scorpions, chocolate-covered ants and dung beetles, even sautéed grubs were discussed as culinary delights – foods that were not only delicious, but nutritious. Thank you, but I’d rather get my protein from a pill. And no, I don’t want to hear about how many cups of crushed bugs are in my box of cereal – as allowed by the FDA.
Now – things that eat bugs are delicious – within reason. Game cocks and chickens and all manner of birds are fair game, but one should never eat Aardvark, for instance. The image of its beady eyes atop that stalk-like snout may cause acute indigestion and nausea.
Kangaroo is nice. It’s a plant-eating animal, so right there you’ve got your daily supply of meat and greens. I’ve had it stir-fried, on kebabs and with bacon wrapped around it. Kangaroo is very lean (all that hopping around, I suppose) and must be seared to lock in the flavor.
And lastly, Buffalo is one of my favorites, but it can be somewhat gamey. A better option, I think, is the hybrid offering on which I grew up – beefalo. You cross a cow and a buffalo (yes, they do mate) and get a meat that is more complex in flavor and lower in fat. South Dakota is the best place to order beefalo – but then I’m biased towards my native state.
Bottom line is, the idea of food as adventure – seems to hold water. And if it makes good dinner table conversation – it’s even better.