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…?
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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Images (clockwise from left): Tender chunks of lamb, cooked in aged yogurt, served with rice and topped with roasted almonds — what’s not to like about mansak? (courtesy Lauren Bosak, on Flickr); TJS trying out the local smoke in Aqaba, Jordan; deep-fried grasshoppers and bamboo worms from a snack centre on the Thai-Laotian border (courtesy avlxyz on Flickr).