I’ll try anything once. Well, maybe not cliff diving, or running with the bulls, or a Mohawk hairdo, or snorting angel dust, or silicone lip injections.
But when it comes to food, I’m totally adventurous.
When our military family moves to a new place, I’m always excited to try the local cuisine. Sometimes, our experimentation with native dishes produces an instant fondness, and we adopt local recipes into our regular meal routine.
Early in our marriage, my husband was assigned to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. At first we were bummed that we couldn’t find a “Mom & Pop” pizzeria, which we took for granted back east. Much to our dismay, pizzas in California had foo-foo toppings such as sprouts, gorgonzola, shallots, walnuts, fennel, pears, and chicken. And the waitresses wore trendy glasses, thumb rings and Greenpeace t-shirts. What ever happened to good old fashioned pepperoni and mozzarella, served by someone named “Ang” with bad highlights and a moustache, for goodness sakes?
However, once we tasted the local foods — fresh caught squid, Gilroy garlic, Castroville artichokes, and San Francisco sourdough bread – we were hooked.
Similarly, our next tour in England (granted, not exactly known for its cuisine) added crumpets and Shepherd’s pie to our repertoire. Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs and plump Virginia peanuts became staples after back-to-back tours in Virginia Beach. Germany brought us countless European delights including schnitzel, beer, goulash, beer, spaetzle, beer, chocolate and beer. Oh, and did I say beer?
Now we find ourselves in the Deep South, where we are becoming connoisseurs of fried chicken, hush puppies, shrimp and grits, barbecue, cornbread and biscuits. Dee-licious!
But, hold up. For every delectable indigenous morsel that has passed favorably over my taste buds, there have been countless other native foods that triggered my gag reflex.
I said I was adventurous, but I’m not stupid. Our experiences living in different areas has taught us that every region has its share of really bad foods, and I’m not such a foodie that I will pretend to like them.
There are certain “red flags” — a clear sign that the food you are about to eat is not that tasty. For example, if someone tells you that you have to “develop a taste for it,” that means you will need to consume copious amounts of the substance to desensitize your taste buds to its wretched flavor. When I first ordered southern boiled peanuts at a football game, I found a slippery, mushy nut that tasted like a mutated potato. But after giving them several tries, I find that I can now eat a few without shuddering.
If someone tells you, “It taste’s like [chicken or some other familiar meat],” beware that you are about to eat mysterious animal parts. Whilst in England, I was served black pudding with breakfast, and told it was a variety of sausage. A tiny nibble filled my mouth with the taste of bloody vital organs, no thank you. At a B&B in Scotland, I was offered a sliver of haggis and told that it tasted just like pork and oats. One swallow and I felt as if I’d just licked the salty underbellies of a herd of sweaty sheep.
If someone says, “It’s great with butter,” that generally means that the food is dry as the Sahara. Does anyone really like Irish Soda Bread? No one really knows, because we all slather it with butter so we can swallow it.
If someone tells you, “it just needs a little hot sauce,” they are saying that you will need to distract yourself with pain in order to ingest this foul tasting dish. At the risk of igniting another Civil War, let me say that greens are not as good as southern folk proclaim. Collards, kale, mustards, Swiss chard – isn’t it suspicious that they are all slow cooked in bacon fat and disguised with Texas Pete?
On the other hand, there are, in fact, certain truisms that hold eternal in the world of local cuisine: beware of anyone who tells you to “suck the juice out of the head, because that’s the best part,” and you can always trust someone who says in earnest “it’s great deep fried,” because let’s face it, what isn’t good deep fried?
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