Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"Bizarre" foods?

I generally only turn to the Travel Channel on Tuesday nights (to watch Taste of America while I'm making dinner), so I've never actually seen the show Bizarre Foods, although I've seen the ads and can imagine what it's like: some American guy goes around the world and eats the sort of stuff that would completely gross out the average meat-and-potatoes person.

After writing my post on "ew" foods, I went to the show's site to find out just what exactly this guy has consumed. I found a quiz, asking the common eater to choose the "top 10 most bizarre foods" the host has eaten. The options include items that I think are pretty innocuous, like durian, menudo, and haggis — all of which I've eaten (although the durian wasn't so great). The foods I would object to, if they were ever served to me, were things involving grubs or worms and something called nutria, which apparently is a "large semi-aquatic rodent." Ick. But the voters did not agree with me on the rodent thing, as only 7% thought it was the most bizarre. The worms were actually winning the poll, with a score of 25%, followed by haggis, at 18%. Haggis? Is it the sheep's stomach thing that weirds people out? How is that any more bizarre than eating a rodent? I suppose I'm just biased because I actually enjoy eating haggis, preferrably with a side of tatties and neeps (mashed potato and mashed turnip) and a pint.

Then I saw that the site featured the foods he had eaten when he was in the Philippines. Not all of it was necessarily "bizarre": shrimp pancakes, frog legs, rambutan, lumpia, snails, tuna collar. He, of course, had balut, which is pretty weird but which he described as "duck eggs with legs." To be more precise, it's a fertilized egg with a nearly-developed embryo inside, which is eaten like any old hard-boiled egg. My mom used to feed us balut when I was little, and I remember it being delicious, although I didn't want to have to see the tiny bird's body on the plate. To be honest, I don't think I would eat it now, unless my mom was around to dispose of the objectionable component. (Cooked poultry heads kind of freak me out.)

The list goes on with things like cheese ice cream (which I've seen at the Filipino markets here; I don't know what the draw to that sort of flavor is and may have to try some), sinabawang balut ("balut soup with cow’s feet"), cricket adobo, and dinuguan. That last one is something that always appeared at family gatherings — and I have to say I've never liked it. Perhaps it's because my mother called it "chocolate pork" when I was growing up, and it definitely did not taste like chocolate. Dinuguan is pork or pork innards stewed in pork blood. Considering that I now like blood sausage, I may have to give the stew another try, although my family doesn't make it very often anymore.

My point, I suppose, is that the "gross-out" factor is pretty relative, especially when you're someone who eats or has eaten the things a show is claiming are "bizarre." But then, Bizarre Foods really isn't for those people, is it? Perhaps it's for those meat-and-potatoes viewers for whom sushi would be a culinary stretch — shows like this often like to "shock" the average viewer. On the other hand, maybe this show can be seen as educational, showing us that almost anything that can be eaten is eaten by someone somewhere in the world — and, in that case, can serve to make these "bizarre" foods a little less bizarre.


Michael Doss said...

I haven't gotten to watch it yet, as I haven't had Travel Channel for a few months. But we get it again starting tomorrow, so I'll check it out.

My bizarre food exposure is limited, not only because I'm vegetarian, but because I don't have any Asian family members, and my European roots are several generations back.

Oddly enough, I don't have problems with bugs or rodents, though I'm sure they're both very unique flavors.

sher said...

I haven't watched it either, but now I want to see it. I don't think I'm daring, but like you said, it's all relative. I have friends and relatives who think brussels sprouts are exotic. So, when they hear I use fish sauce, they think I'm incredibly adventurous! :)

Teresa said...

Mike - Apart from durian, which is the only thing that comes to mind at the moment, I guess most weird foods are animal-related.

Sher - My best friend still thinks fish sauce is gross! I guess she doesn't know what she's missing out on.