The Displaced Nation

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THE DISPLACED Q: On your world travels, have you ever downright refused to try a new food?

Well, I’ve developed a reputation for having a cast-iron stomach as I’ve traveled around. I’ve never been shy to try new things, even though my own taste in food is pretty poor.

I ate a peculiar insect dipped in soy sauce in Thailand — mostly because I’d just finished telling my friends about this cast-iron stomach of mine, and they felt inclined to put me to the test.

On this occasion I passed — despite the stall holder who’d sold me the thing waiting until I’d taken a good healthy bite before pointing out that I wasn’t supposed to eat the wings and carapace. So why did he leave them on? Sadist. They tasted — and felt — like eating fingernails. Dipped in soy sauce, of course.

But I survived, and since then have graciously accepted all manner of disgusting foods — most notably, vegetables of all kinds, including (horror of horrors!) Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Blech!

I personally feel that there needs to be a very good reason before I refuse to at least try something. What would be cause for turning a food down? I’ll go with Woody Allen’s principle:

I will not eat oysters. I want my food dead — not sick, not wounded — dead.

Known for my stomach of iron…

In many cultures, especially those found in Africa and Asia, refusing food (or drink) is considered to be an insult to the host. Well, I’m never one to insult my host — at least, not intentionally. What comes out of my mouth does enough damage by accident without me refusing to shove something into it.

Generally, I don’t refuse food.

I didn’t even refuse mansaf. At least, not the first time.

I was in Jordan with my wife, doing the touristy thing, seeing the sights. It seemed appropriate to try the local cuisine, especially as I’m all about embracing new experiences whilst traveling. Jordan was the first country I visited in the Middle East, and it promised to be something entirely different from what I was used to.

So we found a nice local restaurant, all tricked out with low benches and huge long tables for communal eating. The proprietor was waiting on us himself because it was a small, family-run establishment. I liked that — made me feel comfortable and safe.

He asked what we wanted to eat, and I told him I’d like to try something traditional, something that the local people ate. The menu was in English, but mostly featured Western food like burgers and pizza. I figured since I was in an authentic setting, I should try some authentic grub. The owner was more than happy to suggest something, and ordered me mansaf.

When it arrived, I caught a slight snigger from my wife, who had just been served her pancakes. In truth, it looked utterly revolting. But I had every confidence my iron stomach would prevail, and I’d soon be one cultural notch up on her and ready to boast about it!

…until it broke down!

The lamb (or possibly goat), still on the bone, was stringy and gelatinous. It had the consistency of those bits you cut off and throw away, the ones you can’t even bring yourself to feed to the dog because the very thought of them being eaten turns your stomach. It was a like a large knuckle joint, all sinew and cartilage and tendons… I had a feeling I’d been given a leg — Which, if you’ve seen a sheep lately, doesn’t do much to whet the appetite. But I ate as much of it as I could ferret off the bone, and then started in on the sauce.

The sauce was made of rancid yogurt. I’m serious – it said “rancid yogurt sauce” on the English menu, although I’m sure it translates into something less off-putting in Arabic. I didn’t want to think about how it was made, or about how impossible it would be to concoct something along these lines whilst adhering to any sort of health-and-safety principles. I just ate the stuff — or, as much of it as I could get down.

That night, my wife mocked me through the door to our en-suite bathroom as I locked myself in for the long-haul. I’d barely made it back to our hotel in time for the first heave.

Whatever it was I’d put into my body, it didn’t appreciate it and was doing it’s best to get rid of it; I spent the rest of the night kneeling on the bathroom tiles — you can get the picture.

Was the mansaf cooked right? Who knows? Was it poisonous? Well, my body seemed to think so. Will I try it again…?

Hm.

A few nights later, mansaf became the only food I have ever officially refused, on the grounds that there is no fun at all in projectile vomiting for several hours straight.

***

So! I’ve shown you mine, now show me yours! Do you have any qualms about refusing the foods offered to you on your travels? Have you ever done so? Or were you too much of a good sport so didn’t refuse — and regretted it later? (And what happened? Apart from, you know, the obvious…) Let me know in the comments!

STAY TUNED for Wednesday’s post, an interview with a Random Nomad who doesn’t eat to travel but travels to eat!

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16 responses to “THE DISPLACED Q: On your world travels, have you ever downright refused to try a new food?

  1. Katja September 18, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    I’ve never outright refused anything – although locusts and scorpion I wouldn’t bother with again, as they weren’t very exciting – but I have, like you, suffered ill effects from my willingness to try anything. Funnily enough, though, the worst occasion wasn’t from anything particularly outlandish; just a plate of mussels in Bristol. However they disagreed with me.

    Violently.

    This was back in my acting days and unfortunately, after lunch, I had to drive to Wales, where I was doing a kids’ show the next morning. I just about made it to the hotel where we were staying, although my stomach was clenching and unclenching at a rate of knots and I felt like death, but once we made it there I spent the night alternately hugging and sitting on the loo.

    Mind you, my castmates’ report of the town where we were staying was that it was all rather ‘League of Gentlemen’, so I think I may have got off lightly staying in …

    • Tony James Slater September 18, 2012 at 11:45 pm

      SCORPION??? Okay, that’s awesome! I would do exactly like you I think – eat it once, so I could say I have, then politely decline the offer if it ever came up again… the things people eat, eh? I mean, where is the MEAT on a scorpion? It’s all nasty, pointy bits and chitinous armour… ugh!
      I feel your pain about Wales though – I did a stint in Theatre in Education too, touring with a stranger danger show for a season. I never got sick, because I can’t cook, so I pretty much lived on bowls of cornflakes the entire time…
      And I can just imagine the town. But probably best not to name names… :0)

      • Katja September 27, 2012 at 7:11 am

        Yes, by far the best. Wouldn’t want the wrath of the Welsh raining on our heads. ;)

        That was the problem with the scorpion, yes – it was just so … *crunchy*. Nothing to really get your teeth into at all. On the plus side, it was covered in chocolate, which did rather redeem it. The best part of that meal, though, was baby bee. It had been soaked in some kind of mead and, when I bit into it, burst in my mouth like a juicy, honey-flavoured berry. Fabulous.

        • Tony James Slater September 27, 2012 at 11:42 pm

          Woah… baby bee, eh? I could go for that. Especially soaked in mead (which I love) – could sell ‘em by the jar! I wonder who gets the job of stealing thousands of baby bees from their pissed off parents though… doesn’t sound like much fun!
          And as for chocolate-coating a scorpion, that’s just plain unfair! Like those gummy sweets in the shape of a bat or a spider… imagine biting into one only to discover it really *was* a bat or a spider, covered in jello… NO FAIR!!

  2. Anne O'Connell (@annethewriter) September 18, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    Oh TJ! I can just picture it… my husband also has bragging rights in our family. I’m much more humble and, although I don’t usually turn an offer of food down as I don’t want to insult anyone, I do draw the line. One time, we were in Peru and I noticed a tiny ribcage in the bottom of my husband’s finished soup bowl. We came to find out that it was Cuy (translation: guinea pig). Fast forward a few years and here we are in Thailand and my husband comes home with a bag of grasshoppers, which he promptly garnishes a breakfast fruit plate with for out of town visitors. Suffice it to say, he ate the whole bag himself!

    My memories of the cuisine in Jordan are a little more pleasant than yours. We stayed at a small guest house just outside of the ancient city of Petra and the food was amazing (and traditional)! Hope you recovered from your Mansaf encounter! I’ll remember not to order that if we happen to find ourselves back in Jordan any time soon.

    Anne :0)

    • Tony James Slater September 18, 2012 at 11:41 pm

      Yeah, cuy are good food! Of course, my wife used to keep them as pets, so it never goes down well when I suggest eating them. I don’t think I’d match your hubbie in his grasshopper eating endeavours though! I used to collect them to feed to the tarantulas when I worked in Ecuador – and then the tarantulas got fed to the monkeys… and to be honest, I never fancied the thought of eating either! Not when compared to, say, a pizza…
      The rest of the time in Jordan we ate quite well, apart from the breakfasts which always seemed to consist of slivers of flat-bread and big bowls of different coloured liquids to drizzle onto it. Oh, I was having sausage-withdrawl symptoms by the time we left there! The felafel was good though, and available pretty much everywhere. If in doubt, we ate that – as in theory at least, there’s nothing much that can disagree with you in a felafel…

  3. Russell VJ Ward (@RussellVJWard) September 18, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    Daal Baht. Just writing those two words makes my stomach churn. We trekked in Nepal a few years ago and this was the staple diet of our guide, porters, and every man, woman, child and beast in the region. I didn’t mind it at first as it’s basically curry and rice. However, by day 21, I was horrified by the sight of it and of the taste it left in my mouth for hours after eating (I think it was the curry powder being used). There is a Nepalese restaurant close to where I work that sells rather good coffee so I often stop by for a cup of the black stuff. Unfortunately, the smell of daal baht oozes from the kitchen and my insides flip flop once again. Lovely stuff.

    • Tony James Slater September 18, 2012 at 11:36 pm

      Oh my God, that is the stuff of nightmares! Stuck on a lonely Nepalese mountain top with only the dreaded Daal Baht for food… There’s a little Nepalese restaurant near me in Perth that I go to quite a bit, so I’ll have to see what this is like some time. Though nothing can recreate the effect of eating it exclusively for a long time… curry overdose! Ye Gods, I bet your sleeping bag needed a wash after that… :0)

  4. Jennifer Avventura September 19, 2012 at 2:30 am

    Oh yes! I have refused some strange foods while traveling. Casu Marzu comes to mind. It’s a local treat for the islanders here in Sardinia, it’s sheep cheese with fresh maggots. Even typing those words brought on the gag factor! Here’s a little video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4CGseBM85gc

    • Tony James Slater September 19, 2012 at 9:30 am

      Oh my God! That is absolutely disgusting! That old bloke in the video is desperate for his shot of red wine to take the taste away… and wash those wriggling maggots out of his mouth! Ugh…. shudder… there just aren’t enough words for how nasty that is! Well found. And I’m very, very glad you refused it when offered! Otherwise you might have a gigantic maggot growing inside you, slowly eating its way back out….

  5. Rachel September 20, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Brazil doesn’t have such shockingly different food, though I will say I won’t eat the shrimp on the beach. A Brazilian friend of mine, who has an iron stomach, used to eat them all the time. One time she picked up a horrible bacteria and spent 3 weeks in the hospital… Then again, it’s kind of obvious that eating shrimp that has spent hours in the hot Rio sun may not be a good idea.

    • Tony James Slater September 20, 2012 at 10:24 pm

      Ha ha! Yeah, that’s asking for trouble: take seafood, marinade in hot sun for several hours, garnish with flies… and DON’T EAT or you risk death!!! Or in this case a pretty nasty illness. Three weeks in hospital? That’s a long time – it must have been some pretty hardcore bacteria!

  6. strollingsouthamerica September 20, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Hmm…I think the only thing I refused completely was a whole live octopus that had been freshly caught in Korea (although cut up in pieces is fine for me). I was scared of gagging on it in front of the Korean TV crew that were there. But my boyfriend went for it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chR9I2Cy3VM&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    • Tony James Slater September 20, 2012 at 10:21 pm

      Oh man, that looks disgusting! I don’t know if I could manage that… well, perhaps if it was on an episode of Fear Factor, and I was doing it to win 50 grand… I’ve eaten little baby ones – that I cooked myself in a Korean-style buffet – but even then I found them rubbery… cramming my whole mouth full of that? Ugh! No thanks! Great video though, thanks for sharing it! Your fella has more than an iron stomach – he has balls of steel too! :0)

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