YOU CAN ACCUSE THE BRITISH PEOPLE OF BEING MANY THINGS, BUT BEING ADVENTUROUS EATERS IS NOT ONE OF THEM. WE HAVE A REPUTATION FOR STODGE, CHIPS AND MARMITE, AND FOR BOILING EVERY VEGETABLE INTO A MUSH MORE SUITABLE TO FORCE-FEEDING THAN HAUTE CUISINE. OUR MAJOR EXPORT IS FAT-TONGUED OAF JAMIE OLIVER, SO NO SURPRISE THAT BRITISH CUISINE IS STILL ON THE GLOBAL C LIST.
Well, I would like to take this opportunity to state that this is grossly unfair, before a lynch mob of chefs does terrible things to me with an aubergine. British food happens to be great, just not for quite the same reasons that food is great in lots of other places.
British food is great precisely because our native culinary traditions are somewhat lacking. Yorkshire pudding is fantastic, some of our cheese isn’t half bad, and we make better bacon and sausages than anywhere else, but that hardly constitutes a national cuisine, as a moustache-twirling Frenchman would be swift to point out. In order to eat well, the British were required send our giant navy to foreign nations and ‘borrow’ their finest foodie traditions. We looted continental cooking, noodled all over Hong Kong, and invaded the Indian subcontinent to kidnap the secret of spice. Thus our favourite dishes are now stir fry, pasta and chicken tikka massala. It’s hard to imagine we ate before Sir Walter Raleigh sailed home with his ship full of potatoes to fry.
More recent imports like sushi, falafels and the burrito are wonderful, but there’s a nagging sense that British food needs some new tricks. Heston Blumenthal is doing his thing, serving poached lego with truffled typewriter, but he can’t broaden our tastebuds alone, and that’s where you come in. I’ve put together a menu of some of the more ‘unusual’ meals being eaten around the world today, and you can do your bit for Britain by finding them, eating them, and reporting home to the motherland. Keep calm, and keep it down if possible.
If you were booking a one-way flight to weird food, you’d expect to head East first – probably to Japan. We’ll get there eventually, but let’s start somewhere you don’t expect weird food to come from: the USA, home of the triple bacon cheeseburger and freedom fries. Skip that lot, and instead make a bee-line for Montana to experience their delicious Rocky Mountain oysters. Oysters, you ask? In a land-locked state full of cowboys? Well, Rocky Mountain oysters are indeed salty, but you won’t need to prise them out of the shell because they’re not shellfish but rather deep-fried bull testicles. No doubt they’re full of nutrients, and eating them is probably an aphrodisiac – although perhaps not for the bull. Make sure you order a side of squirrel stew and some pickled pig feet whilst you’re at it.
Native lovers of the Rocky Mountain oyster would probably find many European traditions (frogs’ legs, say) pretty sicky, but those are small-fry to the dedicated gourmand. If you want something weird and French, find a restaurant that serves Canard à la Rouennaise – duck in blood sauce. It’s made by flaying and dismembering a partially roasted duck at your table, pausing to think about what on earth you’re doing and then loading the pieces into an antique silver crusher, which gradually extrudes a thick, gloopy sauce of concentrated bird juice onto a plate you’d better be prepared to clear.
If that isn’t unusual enough, maybe you could dine on head-cheese, a tempting cold cut made from slow-boiled, softened pig head, which in some areas of northern Europe you can jazz up with sides of raw herring and putrefied shark meat, which has been buried underground until it is just right. I also hear it’s just about possible to enjoy sizzling Slovenian horseburgers, and the bizarre foodie on a budget can always dine on Scottish haggis (sheep’s stomach stuffed with delectable innards) without even forking out for a plane ticket.
The true gastronomic Europhile will of course settle for nothing less than a lunch of casa marzu, a Sardinian sheep’s milk cheese that is justly famous amongst adventurous gourmands. Admittedly, this fame may be because it’s inhabited by hundreds of writhing maggots, who help digest the cheese and give it a unique, creamy texture. You do need to be careful though, as they can jump up to six inches and can probably live in your brain.
An overview of strange Asian foodstuffs would fill the next couple of issues, so let’s just say that they’ve got the ‘adventurous’ food thing covered. More than covered, actually. I personally love durian fruit, despite it smelling like rancid babies’ nappies, but I balked the time I was offered balut -a Filipino delicacy that involves cooked, fertilised duck egg. I suppose it’s a bit like a creme egg, if a creme egg had crunchy foetus bones and a beak in it.
There’s also a lot of spider and insect eating going on in Asia, which I generally don’t think is that weird, as Europeans love prawns, which are little more than cockroaches with SCUBA gear. I might not be so keen on the Cambodian speciality of deep-fried tarantulas, as it would be hard not to get tickled by their crunchy, hairy little legs. They also love deep fried bats, which I expect taste a bit like chicken.
And then there’s Japan – strange food mecca of the culinary universe. I love Japan, and not just because of the many charming cultural stereotypes I’ve picked up from watching anime and playing fighting games. I also love a country where few people bat an eyelid if you dine on gigantic tuna eyeball, live baby octopus or shirako, a delicacy which achieves gender equality in the seafood the world by replacing lady-fish eggs with only the plumpest and juiciest cod testes. In fact, it seems the hungry Japanese will eat literally anything that comes from the ocean, be it endangered (whale), loveable (dolphin) or poisonous (sushi made from deadly blowfish). I can’t help but suspect their long-running conflict with the sea-dwelling lizard Godzilla might have something to do with the desire to serve him with teriyaki sauce and pickled ginger.
The lover of weirds Asian food lover can also enjoy ice-cream containing raw horsemeat, wine containing pickled mice, purchase dried lizards for soup and tuck into a delectable length of preserved ox penis. Honestly, doesn’t that sound a bit more exciting than yet another pub meal of lasagne, chips and salad? If I don’t see at least one of these on a tennerfest menu in Jersey within the next year, I’m going to be extremely disappointed.