Friday, July 8, 2011

I Am What I Eat? How Utterly Disgusting!

Thought for the day:  How is it that a toddler can be so picky and slow when it comes to eating a nutritious dinner, and yet so fast at shoving every disgusting thing he finds on the ground into his mouth?

Before writing Wednesday's post about the turtles at JFK Airport, I discovered the words turtle, terrapin, and tortoise seemed to be used interchangeably in the articles and reports I was reading. So I wondered ... what's the difference between the three words? Well, I can tell you right now, according to the definition of terrapin I found, there's absolutely no need for that particular word in my vocabulary. No sirree, and here's why. Turtle is a generic term, so you can properly use it to refer to any of those adorable shelled reptiles, whether they live on the land or in the water.  A tortoise is a turtle, and though the term can be used to denote any turtle, it refers especially to a land turtle. But terrapin is defined as any of North America's edible water turtles. Oh, no, no, no, no, no.  I don't know about you, but as far as I'm concerned, there is no such thing as an edible turtle. So, I will not be using that word again anytime soon.

And yeah, I know some of you may disagree. Some of you may consider turtles a wonderful delicacy. After all, even though I think calves are absolutely adorable and have the most beautiful eyes, when driving past a field of them, I may or may not have said a time or two, "Oh, look at all the veals!"

I know. Crass.

But if you think about it, we humans eat a lot of strange foods. I mean, I love raw oysters, but you've got to wonder about the first human who thought to himself, I'm going to crack that thing open and eat whatever I find in there, no matter how slimy and disgusting it looks.

You must admit. It doesn't look very appetizing.
OK, let's take a look at some of the weird foods people eat around the world, shall we?
  • In Sardinia, people eat something called casu marzu, which is cheese riddled with insect larvae. Appropriately enough, it is also called maggot cheese. Yum, huh?
  • In Indonesia, fried monkey toes are considered a delicacy.
  • In Hungary, a favorite dish is comprised of fresh pig blood and scrambled eggs.
  • Talking about blood, in Sweden, blood dumplings are made with flour and reindeer blood, and the Polish have czarnina, a soup whose not-so-secret ingredient is duck blood.
  • Ever hear of head cheese? It looks like a nondescript mish-mash jellied lunch meat, and can be found in many delis. Did you know that isn't just a cutesy name? That it's actually made from the head of a pig? A whole head, which has to be shaved, and has to have the wax removed from its ears, prior to cooking? If you have the stomach for it, you can see how it's done here
head cheese

  • Americans traditionally eat some pretty weird stuff, too. How about scrapple, which is allegedly made from every part of the pig but its oink? I also read that some people in the South eat squirrel brains, although I can't say I've ever seen any of my neighbors so indulge, and I don't plan to serve them at our next dinner party, either.
  • In Eastern Europe, there's a dish called p'tcha which is a translucent "jello" made from calves' feet. 
  • Oh, and while we're talking about feet, let's not forget pickled pig and cow feet. (There are two jars of pig feet lurking in my pantry now.)
  • In France, they eat calf's head; in Slovenia, they eat stewed dormice; in Italy, they eat cibreo, which is cock's combs; and in Thailand, they eat rats.
  • You've heard of Chinese birds nest soup? It is literally made from swifts' nests, and lest you think those nests are made of twigs and grass, they aren't. They're mostly made of saliva.
  • In the Philippines, balut answers the age-old chicken-or-the-egg question. This dish is made of fertilized eggs, which are cooked just before they hatch, so when you eat it, you get both the chicken (or duck) AND the egg.  
  • One of  Korea's favorite dishes is sannakji. Octopus. No big deal, you say? You've eaten octopus many times, you say?  How many times have you eaten it while it was still squirming on your plate? That's right. This dish is reeeeeeally fresh. While it's still alive, the octopus is cut into pieces and sprinkled with sesame oil, and the tentacles are STILL MOVING when diners pop it into their mouths. It poses quite a challenge, too, because those little suction cups on the tentacles stick to whatever surface they touch. So the diner has to pry his dinner from his chopsticks, and once it's in his mouth,  the tentacles latch onto his teeth, his tongue, and the roof of his mouth.
  • And then, there's the national dish of Scotland. Haggis. This is a sausage-like dish which contains what they call the pluck of a sheep: its heart, liver, and lungs. (Takes a bit of pluck to eat it, too!) When all the ingredients are combined, they're traditionally sewn into the sheep's stomach for cooking, with the windpipe hanging over the side of the pot. Modern recipes, however, may call for tongue instead of lung, and sausage casing instead of sheep's stomach. 
  • This love-it or hate-it food comes to us from the UK:  

Marmite is a dark brown spread made from brewery yeast by-products. It was mentioned on several blogs recently, so the last time I visited a local British specialty store, I decided to buy some ... and try some. The shop's owner fairly waxed poetic about this stuff, but she did warn me not to spread it on my toast like butter. A very thin coat will do you, she said. Indeed. Although British children pretty much eat Marmite from the time they're weaned, I must say, even a very thin coating of it delivered a powerhouse punch of taste. Not exactly yeasty. A little salty. Just a strong strong taste unlike anything I've ever had before. It's chock full of B vitamins, and very nutritious, so I'll probably try it again, but no rush. I have plenty of time. Even after opening, it'll last for years at room temperature.

In closing on this whole weird foods of the world idea, I'll let these following pictures speak for themselves:

 bugs on a stick

fried spiders, anyone?

So, what's all this mean? It means there's simply no accounting for taste. People like what they like, and hate what they hate. Just because I tried chocolate-covered ants when I was a kid (they're crunchy) doesn't mean I'd ever choose them over a Hershey bar. Just because I ate snake once (it really DOES taste like chicken) doesn't mean I ever want to eat it again. And just because most of the world loves chocolate doesn't make you wrong if you hate it.

And here we go: Rejection from any given agent or publisher doesn't mean your writing stinks. All it means is you haven't submitted it to the person with the perfect palate for it yet. The work of any creative person  is every bit as susceptible to personal taste as a still-moving chunk of octopus or jar of pickled pigs feet. I'll betcha even Michelangelo had his detractors. (the artist, not the ninja turtle)

OK, time to take a look at (ta-DA!) the

Weirdest News Stories of the Week

**   After a scant week on the job, Japan's new reconstruction minister had to resign because of offensive remarks he made about the country's earthquake and tsunami victims. His explanation? No, he didn't say the devil made him do it. He blamed his insensitive behavior on his blood type, alluding to a widespread Japanese belief that associates blood type with certain character traits. He says his behavior stemmed from his type B blood, although there was no mention of Rh factor. Judging by his unkind remarks, I think he may ... B negative.

** To curb complaints about drivers taking needlessly long roundabout routes, old New Delhi rickshaws are now fitted with new SatNav systems ... AKA GPS ... which local authorities will monitor. This unlikely pairing of old and new should result in more direct routes, yes, but it may not alleviate customer concerns about overcharging. It seems that many of the rickshaw drivers refuse to use meters.

**  In a follow-up to last week's story about Nathan's Hot Dog Eating competition, for the fifth year in a row, Joey Chestnut won the Mustard Belt ( I kid you not) and ten thousand dollars (that'll buy a LOT of hot dogs!) by scarfing down 62 dogs and rolls in the span of ten minutes. The winner among lady competitors? Although I can't imagine where she put 'em, Sonya Thomas, who is 5'5" tall, and a mere 105 pounds, managed to pack in forty dogs and buns. In an interesting side story, Takeru Kobayashi, a one-time Mustard Belt holder who was banned from the competition because of his refusal to sign a contract, held his own event. From atop a Manhattan rooftop, and in front of witnesses, he ate sixty-nine dogs and buns within the allotted ten minutes. Alas, although it would've broken the official record, there'll be no mustard belt for him. But I'll bet he ate with a lot of relish.

If you have time, check out the blogs of  Dianne Salerni and Marcy Hatch today. They've thrown me into the back of their trucks and will be toting me across the tarmac. That is, they'll be critiquing the first page of my novel. Go ahead. Let me know what you think about my haggis. So to speak.

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other. 


  1. No Brits visit the Magnon household without bringing at least two large pots of MARMITE. I couldn't live without it!

  2. Your blog is absolutely wonderful. I love your sense of humour and the way you cleverly craft the whole shebang (this is a word here in Canada, I think!?!).

    Yes we do eat some pretty peculiar things don't we. Escargot - love em, but they are slimy snails, aren't they!

  3. Well, suddenly I have lost my appetite. I was a somewhat fussy eater, but in the past ten years have I have become more adventuresome. This means that I will now eat peas.

    I have had octopus, well, sort of. It was put in front of me at a special gourmet dinner and I actually looked at it for a full 5 minutes before I passed it to someone who would eat anything. It made a squishy, crackling noise when you touched it.

    I do love M & M's though, although I am not sure of those new pretzel ones.

  4. I love head cheese. Do you like gummy bears? You might be interested in knowing how they are made. Jello? ... We do eat some odd things but the oddest thing of all is the synthetic food we all eat every day.

  5. Ergh, you've completely put me off my breakfast. Serves me right for reading it this time of day, when I certainly should have been warned off by the title - LOL!

  6. Hi, Cro. I've read that Marmite can be quite addictive, but it may take a while for me to acquire a taste for it.

    Hi, Musical Gardener. Thank you so much. I appreciate your kind comments, especially since you're a teacher. (You may teach driver's ed, but I'm gonna tell myself you teach English, ok?) A friend coerced me into trying escargot once. I'm a fan of garlic, so I liked the garlic butter, but the snail? Not so much.

    Hi, Starting Over. So you eat peas now, huh? Too funny. I love fresh peas, but they were never high on the love scale for my hubby or kids. In fact, my dear husband once led our kids in an impromptu dinner table cheer: while tapping their knives and forks on the table, they all yelled, "Peas suck! Peas suck! Peas suck!" (Life at our house was never boring ...)

    Hi, Delores. Really? You like head cheese? My husband does, too, but he hasn't eaten it in years. I strongly suspect he never knew how it was made, though. I didn't either, until I found that website with step-by-step instructions. YUK! I'm thinking we're probably better off not knowing how some of our food is made.

    Hi, Dianne. Sorry for ruining your appetite. HA! Thanks for your "first impressions" critique. I appreciate it, but will wait until later to add my comments to it. (The bed of your truck is quite comfy.)

  7. It was always a banner day to visit my Grandmother and see a huge turtle shell drying out on the back porch. That meant turtle soup. Yipppeee! One of my fondest memories of childhood is when we moved into our home that my parents had worked so hard to buy - That first night,amid all the boxes and deritus, we sat and ate turtle soup, awed by our brand new home. It was so cool.

    Yes, I think turtles are cute and are great pets, but the make some dang delicious soup. Sorry.

  8. Hi, Skippy. No need to say sorry. Different strokes for different folks. Most of us eat unusual things because we were raised eating them. Our kids were eating raw oysters when they were real young ... and they still eat 'em. Their spouses think they're gross.

  9. Thanks for this wonderful round up of wierd and wonderful foods. Made me think of that cosy old favourite, honey. So sweet, so flavoursome - and just plain bee spit, when all's said and done :-)
    Am intrigued by your reserving judgement on Marmite - here in the UK it's even advertised on TV as a spread you'll either really love or really hate (which is a brave ad campaign, if you think about it!)
    Very much enjoyed your novel pages and critiques - would love to read more!!
    Take care

  10. Hi, Karla. Yeah, you're right about the honey. (But I still like it!) With the Marmite, it certainly wasn't a case of love at first taste, but it seems possible that I could conceivably develop a taste for it. Maybe. Heck, what do I know? I used to eat limburger cheese with my grandfather. Glad you enjoyed the pages. Take care.

  11. Okay, I'm going to print out this post and put it on my fridge. Maybe it'll help me lose a few pounds. ;)

  12. Boy am I hungry! I remember that some of my relatives used to enjoy eating tongue which I thought was revolting. Now I would probably reconsider after reading about monkey toes and some other fine delicacies! Julie

  13. Hi, Linda. Glad to have you back. Hope all that deja poo is done now.

    Hi, Julie. Haven't had any tongue, but can't say that I'm interested in trying it, either. (I'm mouthy enough!)