Sometimes evolution and wanderlust clashes. Never more so than trying and tasting different dishes from far flung places, in situ, snacking off the beaten track. Travel is adventure three sixty, exploring cultures, places of interest, the fauna and flora.And sometimes tasting the latter.
Yet, some dishes turn up gag reflexes and just looking at the raw or the cooked, or even just thinking about it, fills us with disgust. I would never eat that; you say to yourself.
The emotion or feeling of disgust is, according to studies, an evolutionary tool that protects us from consuming potentially harmful stuff. It’s one of the seven primary emotions and experts even call it the emotional immune system by triggering avoidance behaviour.
Sometimes just watching Andrew Zimmern on the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods is enough to postpone dinner to another century.
What are people eating in Asia?
But looks, texture and smell can be deceiving, sometimes. Thailand’s Jack Fruit or Durian smells like poo but tastes like candy.
It was not blessed with the best looks either, but once the mind has convinced the body to ignore the nose, to place thy fork in thee mouth and taste, the rest is history. It is simply delicious.
Fresh or canned, Durian is available at select stores in South Africa. But there are some foods that are best left to Zimmern and armchair gagging.
Sushi ranks as one of the most popular dishes in the world. Extreme sushi though, will probably rank at the bottom end of anyone’s list.
In Japan you can order frog sashimi. Here, a live frog is stabbed, skinned and gutted and served on an iced plate with lemon. While the frog joins the choir invisible instantly, it takes a while for the limbs to stop jiggling in your plate. The ritual of the meal begins when you eat the still-beating heart of the frog.
Ikizukuri is sashimi where the fish is filleted while still alive, sometimes even returned to swim around half-filleted until another course is required. In China, live fish are rapidly deep fried alive with the mouth still gasping. It’s called yin-yang.
Also in China, drunken shrimp are literally intoxicated with rice wine, it stuns them so that they don’t wiggle around too much, empty their stomachs and are deshelled and eaten, pretty much alive.
What weird foods are being eaten in South America?
Across the Pacific Ocean, in the Amazon jungle of Peru, a local staple is barbequed guinea pig. Really a giant rodent. The dish is called Cuy and has been a staple of the country’s diet for around 5000 years. There’s even a public holiday dedicated to the dish.
Here, at home, we prefer to keep them as pets along with hamsters, mice and other critters. For Cuy, guinea pigs are cooked whole, head, teeth, ears, everything. Salt is used to crisp the skin.
What weird foods are being eaten in Africa?
On our continent there are equally stomach-churning dishes that are usually seen by locals as delicacies. Mopani worms we all know, but in West Africa there’s a beetle that is drained of its guts and then braaied or fried until crispy, and eaten as a snack, it’s called Chitoum.
In East Africa the Masai bleed their cows and the warm blood is mixed with milk to create a traditional elixir, usually given to people who need to regain strength during illness or consumed at ritual celebrations.
It’s harvested by slitting the animal’s neck, gathering blood into a bowl, and resealing the wound with mud. This makes grasshopper eating in Uganda seem somewhat benign in comparison.
Closer to home, next time you buy processed meat like polony, viennas and the like. Don’t just basket it, read the label. Sometimes terms are used that really seem rather innocuous at the time, like ‘mechanically deboned meat’.
What it really is, according to Wikipedia, is mechanically reclaimed meat. So, meat that cannot be retrieved normally from a carcass, the stuff that sits tight on the bone, is pureed along with the bone into a paste-like product which is then sieved under high pressure to separate the edible bits from the bony ones.
Bully beef is another story. Read the label. It’s the fine print where beef hearts and other stuff you wouldn’t eat under duress are listed. These, of course can all still be called 100% beef, chicken or pork. But would you really eat that?