Two of my French friends are in Thailand at the moment and like all generation X-ers, have been taking lots of photos and bombarding my Instagram page with the weird and wonderful things they have seen, particularly with regards to food. This got me thinking about how each person's definition of food "strangeness" depends on their culture and past experiences. As a Nigerian, I know that we have a lot of foods that many non-Nigerians would find curious or even downright disgusting. I'm talking for instance about Bushmeat, goat's brain in Isi Ewu, Ondo people (my parent's tribe) eating dogs, chicken feet, cows' legs, the offal and innards of cows/goats/birds, fish head and eyes etc. Even as a particularly picky child, I managed to eat and enjoy many of these delicacies without the slightest feeling of revulsion. However, one of the results of my ajala lifestyle is the fact that I have often been confronted with foods that many people, Nigerian and non-Nigerian, would find a little too strange. Of course my inquisitive nature means that I have tried and even enjoyed some of these dishes. Anyway, here's a short history of my "foodie" encounters.
Growing up, my mum (unlike my very picky dad) was an aficionado of the "exotic," and often bought and brought home various kinds of meat including Turtle, Bat, roasted Frogs and even one time Snake. I soon learnt to be comfortable with considering a lot of these as food items, and although I sometimes refused to eat things that felt too strange to me, for the most part, I tried almost everything.
Years later when I went to boarding school, I got introduced to the idea of eating insects...yummy, crispy-on-the-outside, moist-on-the-inside Termites! I don't know who came up with the idea, (actually Google tells me it's a well-known snack in certain parts of Nigeria), but we'd wait eagerly for it to rain then put buckets of water under light sources. The termites, driven out of their holes in ground and attracted to the light would then somehow lose their wings and end up in our artfully positioned buckets of water. They fell in their thousands, and we schoolgirls, ecstatic about this literally forbidden "fruit" eagerly gathered up the harvest and cooked them over candle-flame. Yes I know what you're thinking, carcinogens, improperly cooked food, fire hazard etc. My school thought the same things too, and this activity was completely verboten. However as you can imagine, the taste of termites, the clandestine nature of our activity and the chance to break rules meant that we did this regularly in the rainy season. In fact writing this takes me back to the good old days of the crispy, buttery goodness that were candle-roasted termites.
Moving to France after having being a vegan for many years, I quickly realised that non-meat diet was a misnomer for the French, and promptly gave up veganism. I then ate and enjoyed Frogs' Legs, having previously refused to touch this with a 10ft barge pole in Nigeria, and tried Caviar which I found much too salty for my taste. A few years later, I tried Horse meat while on a date and didn't like it one bit, although I put this one down to the cook who was also a disastrous date. Steak Tartare which I enjoyed, came later, but it made me worry for ages about getting sick from E.Coli.
For my first Christmas in Paris, I was invited to a friend's place and served Foie Gras (literally fatty liver), a traditional Christmas fare in France. As a former vegan, I was a little bit reticent about eating it, but then my natural curiosity won and I decided to try it...loved it! (Un)fortunately, my principles over the cruelty to animals (geese and ducks are force-fed to effectively make them develop liver Cirrhosis) still cause me to pause each time I am offered this quintessentially French delicacy.
Crocodile meat, I've had this before when I was younger, but I had forgotten what it tasted like and only got to try it again a few weeks ago when my sister visited Brussels. She tried it for the first time at a Congolese restaurant, and fell in love. And honestly, who could blame her? The taste was amazing! It reminded me a little of the Asun (spit-roasted goat meat) my father used to make when I was a kid. However, the fact that it was crocodile (CROCODILE!) stopped me from really enjoying and re-ordering it, unlike my sister who got addicted and ordered the same dish trice in one week.
In Finland, I tried Mykyrokka (blood-dumpling soup) while visiting the then boyfriend's family and had been enjoying the meal until I decided to be polite and ask about the soup. Let's just say I found it a struggle to swallow the rest of my dinner when I got their responses. During the same visit, I also had Venison (deer meat) which was absolutely delicious but made me feel so incredibly guilty. I felt like I was eating Bambi! :(
During my year abroad in Sweden, I tried Surstromming (fermented or rotten baltic herring, depending on who you ask), and nearly died from the odour that had me nauseated for hours. It was an epic fail of an experience which will never ever be repeated. On the other hand, the equally pungent Shrimp and Fish Pastes fermented in earthen pots for about 6 months underground, which I regularly had in Bangladesh was the bomb! It was used to make beautifully spiced blow-your-head-off hot curries, which we ate with Chappatis or rice.
And to finish, I'm not sure how I came about this exactly, but I've had Kangaroo jerky before, and I loved it!
So that's my strange food history. What is the strangest thing you've ever eaten?