Friday, December 3, 2010

Never Eaten That Before…

Friday, December 3rd, 2010:  Lauren at the blog Global Geraghtys.  Theme:  I've Never Eaten That Before!

I like good food. I’m willing to try pretty much anything, but I do not go out of my way to eat weird stuff. Why? I prefer food that I know that I can enjoy. I don’t like to purposely choose a meal that I may not be able to tolerate. That’s wasteful. For example, while I have learned that I like some entrails… the heart is the best dark meat…  for the most part, you get down to that level and it’s time to go get another food beast. I also live by what I teach my kids: “Always try things, even if you’ve tried it before and didn’t like it.” You might be surprised. I would never have discovered crab cakes otherwise. I hate crab on it’s own. I’ve tried and tried and tried.. no luck.. I hate crab. But in Maryland, I tried crab cakes. O-Mi-GAWD! I LOVE crab cakes. Figure that out. Also, had I given up early, I’d have never learned to like steak. My mom cooked steak to DEATH – with no spice or sauce. Horrible! I’m talking hockey pucks, except a real hockey puck would taste better as it would have the proper flavor for the thing that it is. One day, I tasted a rare steak, and angels sang. Who knew?

I’m still working on some things, like salmon and liver, and maybe one day I’ll find that right preparation. I’m not holding my breath or wasting my menu choices over them in the meantime. In other words, I won’t usually seek out odd/icky foods, but I don’t say no either. I have usually been exposed to things I’d never eaten before because of traveling. I can’t help but associate places with their foods and I think that’s a very good way to preserve the memories.

Here are a few food adventure/memories worth sharing:

Ishta – Sugar Apples – Offered at a Jordanian veggie stand. They were rather sweet with an odd creamy texture. I liked them, but it was almost ‘too much’ to stand eating more than a couple bites. I found that they were much nicer baked into cookies.

Persimmons – The first time I met Brad’s grandfather, was at a holiday dinner with his family when we were still dating. Brad and his cousins had gone off somewhere to be loud – pinochle or politics were probably involved – and I went into the kitchen to see if I could help out. His grandfather was peeling persimmons and asked if I’d ever tried one. He told me that they have to be almost too ripe before you eat them, otherwise they’re very tart. We talked, ate persimmon, and peeled fruit, so grandmother could make the pulp into cookies. Mmm!

Things in Crete, the Island of cats – I have NO idea what we were eating most of the time. It seemed that all sorts of not-always-ID-able critters were hanging by hooks at the open-air local markets, and the veg for sale was beyond spectacular. We’d go to restaurants, without a clue how to speak or read the local language, and ask for ‘lunch?’, or ‘the special?’, or just point at things in a cafeteria style set-up. People were patient with our ignorance and we never went hungry. At one place, that we visited often, I asked for calamari. It was on the menu in English. We were there very much out of tourist season, so they were out of squid. No problem. Everything was good. We visited the next day and I asked for something else. The owner’s son pointed to the calamari on the menu, then pointed through a window to a bucket sitting on the kitchen floor with water sloshing around. I ordered the calamari and it was THE BEST I ever tasted! Actually, everything we ate in Crete was amazing… and if there were tiny little bones that I could not identify as mammal, aquatic, or avian floating around in the sauce, I just politely scooped them to the side and kept eating!

British food – everybody jokes that it is bland, and while I much prefer spicy food, I had no problems with it – well, except for the fish and chips. They were not something I could tolerate much of, and there were roads I’d not walk down because of the smell of hot oil and greasy fish. I LOVE Yorkshire pudding and miss having a pub ploughman’s lunch with good cheese, fresh bread, and veg. Mushy peas with mint sauce were also a surprising treat.

Hot tea with milk – On a rooftop in Pakistan where I was supervising some workers, and helped them move materials too. When they took a break, they offered me tea. The water, tea leaves, honey and milk were all boiled in the same kettle. I was told later that locals boiled the milk too, to kill germs. The water probably wasn’t any safer than the milk. That tea was piping hot, very sweet, and amazingly good.

Things from catalogs – Like Shannon at Cyberbones, my dad grew a garden. Always. We lived in the suburbs and didn’t have all that much ground to work with, but he had enough food growing to fill our deep freeze for year round meals and still had enough leftover to give vegetables and fruit away by the bag-full. (Large paper bags, many of them… all season long… my dad was a backyard gardening superhero). He got seed catalogs and experimented. He could not resist trying new plants. Usually this simply meant different varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, or beans, but we also grew kohlrabi, eggplant, peanuts, all sorts of hot peppers, radishes and squash in forms that most would never recognize, and anything else that caught his eye. He tried many new foods, not found in the local grocery stores and so was always on the lookout for new recipes. We had homemade pickles, salsas and sauces in jars. We even had fried green tomatoes when storms would come through and knock down plants, leaving us with too many unripe vegetables. (well, technically, tomatoes are fruit, but you know what I mean.)

Street food or food of other dubious nature – You will always be warned to NOT eat street food. What you will not be warned of is that sometimes you WILL eat street food because to not do so, is very rude. I have been handed (literally, by ungloved fingers) pieces of mystery meat from cart vendors, pieces of bread, spoons of beans, etc. Unwrapped sweets or cakes have been handed over. One day, I smiled at a group of nannies and drivers that I greeted/was greeted by every day outside the school as they were eagerly hanging around this sweet elderly man who was feeding them unshelled hazelnuts - from his pocket. I was given a handful and a big beaming smile too. I have been encouraged to taste ice cream made from local milk. I have been given unwashed tastes of vegetables or fruits in street markets (when a vendor pulls a knife out of his pocket and cuts a large slice of fresh mango for you to try, you do not ask when was the last time he washed his knife, or hands, or whether or not the mango was bleached.. you say thank you, and take a bite). I have been given cups of tea and coffee in back alleys of the Khan in Cairo, and platters of whatever from who knows where in rug shops. I have had attendants in a parking garage hand me pieces of their Ramadhan iftar meal that they would be sharing at sundown – food from baggies, the feast arranged on a cardboard box, with diners crouched around on the floor in a circle. Yes, I smiled, said thank you, and ate or drank whatever was offered so kindly.

For the record, it was all very good, made even better for the generous spirit in which it was given, and I never got sick.


Lauren said...

Love the submission! Thanks so much.

betty-NZ said...

You are so much braver than I!

Connie said...

Lauren - Thank you! And thanks for hosting the round up this week!

Betty - I do love good food, and trying new things is the only way to find new favorites. Also, while there are street situations where I keep my sunglasses on, do not make eye contact, and keep myself 'alert and non-approachable', there are many other situations that call for smiles and friendliness. I'm not going to change that :) so I guess I'll continue to be fed by random people I meet on the way. I've only ever been hit by vicious cooties at big hotels and restaurants anyway.

Sadie said...

great post, Connie! you've had some great food experiences. I'm a big believer in awesome street food, even if it does make me sick now and then. it's a careful balance. I do know, now, though, that sauteed grasshoppers and I do not get along!

Connie said...

Sadie - I don't think it's possible to get along with grasshoppers at all, except long distance. Just thinking of an infestation in Florida. GIANT hoppers EVERYWHERE. One jumped off the shed and got stuck in my hair. I will never forgive.

Unknown said...

I have never gotten sick off of street food. Sometimes you just have to live a little!