As any of you who have travelled would know, one of the delightful parts of seeing the world and experiencing diverse cultures is sampling the foods that other people consider delicacies. This can be a challenge, however, when someone presents a plate of food to you with pride, and upon taking one look at it, all you want to do is vomit in your own mouth. Or, at the very least, openly shudder and the idea of what is on the plate will soon be in your poor unsuspecting stomach. The person serving the food may smile, proud that they have a nice meal to feed their guest. You, on the other hand, both wonder what the hell is on your plate, and is it poisonous.
I was reminded of this aspect of travelling last Friday during a visit to a marae in Rotorua. We were herded into the whare kai, single file, greeted by the fantastic, strong sound of a local kapa haka group in full song. It was a festive occasion, and Te Arawa (our hosts) had put on a feed that most would have loved to eat. I, though, am not a seafood kinda gal, and was put in the position of being served a plate filled with food that perplexed me. First, a little orange sea beast stared up at me with small beady black eyes. If I wasn’t certain it was already dead, I could have sworn it was laughing at my discomfort. Also, I say ‘sea beast’ because I am not completely sure what it was – although suspect that due to the crusty exterior and dangerous looking pinch claws it was a sea best of the crawling-around-in-the-rocks variety. Next to the sea beast was some dark goo – eel, I was told later. The plate also contained kina, and something that looked like seaweed. I tried each in turn, not necessarily enjoying them, but trying them nonetheless.
The seaweed like substance was by far the most perplexing – it tasted like a strange mix of oil and salt. I never would have guessed that it was mutton bird, and can only guess that it was a mutton bird that had been to Jenny Craig as I didn’t taste any meat. Unless, of course, it got melted in all the oil!
My best food story is a few years old now, but was when I was living in Italy I woke up one morning and got myself a glass of water from the tap. I almost wound up looking like Cruella De Vil after finding four sheep heads floating in their own blood in the kitchen sink. I’m not talking skeletons either, but the works – brains, eyes, and tongues as well. I later found out from my bemused host mother that as it was Easter, we were going to all have something special for dinner. Not Easter eggs, oh no. A sheep’s head each. I can’t remember if I laughed or cried, but all through that dinner, I felt four pairs of sheep eyes on me. Until they were eaten, of course.
Now, this kind of experience is by no means unique to me – I am sure heaps of you have great foreign food stories. Tane’s spider eating story still makes me shudder if I think too much about it, and someone at my work says that one of the best meals they have eaten was goat testicles.
What’s yours? A virtual chocolate fish to anyone who can impress me!