Odd & Rare Eats

With all the food shows out there on cable TV, we see so many odd and rare eats we that are common in other cultures.  For me, I feel any organ meat from an animal is bad karma, even the liver, which, when done right, is quite tasty.   I think the first time I ate something rare was crocodile in a restaurant in Chelsea in NYC.  It was deep fried, awfully tough and lean, like pork or chicken.  Nothing I would eat again, just because it did not taste good.

Years later I had a salad with some interesting herbs, lettuce and “sweetbreads” I didn’t know what exactly what sweetbreads were at that moment, but I remember eating something really smooth, creamy and delicious.  Later I learned it was cow brains, and while I did not care for that, I remember that not knowing what I was eating was to my advantage.  What was done was done. It was quite good.  Now I see on these food tv shows people in the south eating fried brain sandwiches, but its not something I would go for no matter how good it tastes.

Being Italian, tripe is something that remains a traditional classic peasant dish.  While many might think its fish in tomato broth, its actually cow’s stomach cooked for hours in tomato sauce.  The cow’s stomach has 4 parts, including a part which is like a honeycomb.  It has a horrible mouthfeel, but I decided to eat it while at my friend Vittorio’s because he loved it so much and I wanted to share a meal with him for lunch.  The tomato, garlic, and all other ingredients are good, but the tripe itself is slimy on the mouth, I try to imagine it was fish, or calamari, or something else, but soft, slimy calamari (squid) is as close as it gets.  I don’t like it just because of the feel on the mouth.

Months later I am in Brazil with my girlfriend who is a Brazilian native.  We order whole fried fish on the beach which I believe is red snapper.   She decides to eat the eyeball and naturally I think that is disgusting.  I refuse to kiss her since she ate it but she refused to kiss me ever again if I did not at least try it.  So, we know the power of women, so I tried, and surprisingly, it was quite good.  Again, tasty, creamy and the next time we ordered the same dis a few days later and I wanted to eat, she told me no, it was was no good, and looking at it, I could see that part of the fish went bad before it went to be cooked.

I’ve heard stories about the whole pig, calf, cow, whatever animal being eaten by my grandparents or ancestors.  We’ve even seen it in James Bond films (was it Octopussy when goat’s head was served?)  While some of us will ever understand someone eating an eyeball like a hardboiled egg, we have to recognize that to the old school, there is no waste and even more, these animal parts don’t taste much different than a hard boiled egg.

So, I’ve eaten fish eyes, cow stomach, calf brain, livers, I’ve had my share, even chicken hearts (the size of a large bean) at a Brazilian restaurant here in the USA.  I feel no need to eat Rocky Mountain Oysters (cow’s testicles) or anything else of the sort.  While these things don’t taste bad, again, its about karma and I just don’t feel good eating internal/vital animal organs no matter how good they taste. It might even seem hypocritical from a vegetarian or vegan standpoint, but for us carnivores, trust me, its different.

One thing I don’t have a problem with is whole fried shrimp in Brazil.  They come completely whole in the shell, heads and tails on.  Often, I pull off the head and eat the rest in one bite down to the tail.  These shrimp are different, the shell is softer and an excellent source of calcium.  Some even eat the head down to the tail.  From what I’ve learned, the heart is actually near the head so when you are eating the top half you are also eating the shrimp’s heart.

We hear of people eating much odder things in other parts of the world, even such things as insects.  In some cases its a delicacy, in other cases, peasant food in which they cannot waste a single morsel of food, and then you have people in China who eat things regularly.  The biggest export to China from the USA?  Chicken feet.  Perdue, one of the USA’s largest chicken and poultry distributors export ALL of those wasted parts like the feet to China.  Recently, I’ve seen in my local traditional supermarket chicken feet being packaged and sold.  I don’t have a problem eating that, but there is so little meat there, I imagine they would be best if put in a boiling pot of soup which hours after simmering would bring some more flavor.

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