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Not even on a bet

I try my best not to be ethnocentric, in theory, when it comes to food. I have the caveat 'in theory' there because while I try my best not to apply my particular ethics or tastes to what others choose to eat, that doesn't mean I want to put that theory into practice by actually trying whatever the hell it is. When it comes to food in general, I mostly stick to the basics and I don't exactly feel any particular need to broaden my horizons in most cases. If you need a clear example of this you can ask mock26, Richard, or Melissa about the time they dragged me to an Indian restaurant for the first time. Though I admit I was probably a bit more judgmental that time though that was wholly because I was actually expected to eat some of whatever was served up.

All of that aside, I recognize that the many different cultures of this world all grew up with their own particular idiosyncrasies of diet that those of us not of that culture would find repugnant for one reason or another. Sometimes it's clearly a moral or ethical dilemma such as whether you find the idea of consuming certain animals problematic. Other times it's not so much a moral issue, such as whether dog or guinea pig belongs on the menu, but revulsion due to the way something is prepared or how it is eaten.

I've realized long ago that I have very little room to throw stones in either of these situations as the Chinese, as a people, have probably consumed just about every single thing that creeps, crawls, swims, flies, or oozes across God's green earth, and many in manners that would turn a non-native's stomach, sounding like an marathon airing of Fear Factor. I don't subscribe to all of those culinary vagaries but I figure there's enough cultural/racial guilt to go around. All of that said, I have found what may be the most unabashedly repugnant 'delicacy' I've ever heard described. It's called Kiviak and I discovered it due to anime.

It's holiday 'Free Leech' on my favorite anime bittorrent server and so over the course of the past week and a half I've been filling up a terrabyte drive with ridiculous amounts of anime. I've pretty much run out of well-known series I want to see and have been plumbing the depths of the more obscure offerings, queuing them up for download now on the off-chance I'll actually want to watch it in 2-3 months when I work through my backlog. One anime that caught my eye was: Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture.

It's an anime about microbiology based off a manga about microbiology (who says comics aren't educational?). The main character enrolls at an agricultural college and has the rather unique ability of being able to see bacteria and microorganisms blown up to a visible size and is then able to actually converse with them. I haven't actually watched any of it (or even downloaded it yet) but the pictures make it look like a cutesy petri-dish version of pokemon.

You know you just want to give L. Bulgaricus a hug, right?

Anyway, the anime seems to take its educational role seriously and apparently spends a lot of time promoting the beneficial effects of microorganisms in our lives. One of the ways is through their use in varied food production. I stumbled across a clip from the anime which immediately gave me the willies and prompted this entry. Take a look:

For those of you who can't be bothered to watch the short video clip, here's a description of Kiviak from a food blog:

Kiviak is a traditional Christmas dish from Greenland. It seems to consists of whole small auks birds which are put in a freshly slaughtered seal and buried in the permafrost, under a flat stone, for seven months, then dug up around Christmas. Then they bite the heads off and squeeze out the tart guts, which are slightly toxic. It does not seem to smell worst than a matured Stilton cheese. Otherwise it tastes like a matured cheese and very pungent

There are so many things wrong with this I don't even know where to start. First of all, why the hell would you go through this when you just managed to snag a freshly slaughtered seal? Eat the fucking seal. Right?

Even if for some deranged reason you don't want to to eat the seal, what sort of twisted cuckoo reasoning would make you decide to stuff it with a few dozen pigeons, seal it back up, and bury it under the fucking ground for 7 months? All of that is practically sane compared to the idea that you then dig this up and suck out the asshole of those pigeons, ingesting the putrefied intestinal goo. Jesus Christ on a pogo stick! They don't even eat the seal meat or the bird meat. They're after the fermented goo that you get when you let internal organs and blood putrefy and ooze together over the course of half a year. WTF? Not to mention that the resulting goo is 'slightly toxic'. No shit, sherlock.

If you have ever heard of anything that sounds more noxious, I'd love to hear it because I simply can't believe this doesn't take the prize. I can just imagine eskimos or vikings or whoever came up with this ridiculous shit carrying around little fermented pigeon corpses on their belt, popping the head off of one to then take a refreshing pull of its guts. I can see a soda commercial in this.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 4th, 2010 02:12 pm (UTC)
How could you not like Indian food?!? It's, like, the definition of delicious! I still remember the first time I had it - I couldn't believe food existed that tasted like that. Also, it's basically just meat, veggies and rice; not particularly daunting. :p

Nah, I know what you mean. I'm not a picky eater myself, but there's no accounting for taste. Case in point, my husband gets nauseated by the smell and taste of bananas. I get sick if I taste licorice. It's not about logic.

You probably know some of these, but we've got a few WTF-ish traditional dishes here in Norway too. There's smalahove - the name probably means 'sheep's head' in one of our myriad obscure dialects, because that's exactly what it is; the boiled head of a sheep. It's not a tradtional dish in my part of the country, and frankly, I've tried my best to avoid learning anything about it, so I had to google for the details. Apparently, the traditional way to prepare it is to decapitate a sheep, smoke the head in a smokehouse until til all traces of wool are seared off, chop it in half and remove the brain, then soak it in water for 24 hours, and finally salting or smoking it. The eyes and the tongue are considered to be delicacies.

Slightly less disgusting is lutefisk; dried cod soaked in lye. Yes, lye, the chemical (the name literally means 'lye fish'). Basically, you take dried cod, and soak in in cold water for up to five days. Then you replace the water with diluted lye, and soak it for a further two days. This makes the fish swell up, and also - unsurprisingly - makes it poisonous. It needs to soak for a further ten days in pure water in order to be edible. Well. In order to not kill you if you eat it, at least. The fish is then boiled. This requires no water, as the fish is already mostly liquid at this point. The cooking time is just ten or twenty minutes.

It's said that you have to be at least 40 years old in order to develop a taste for lutefisk. I'm not holding out hope, m'self. People do have lutefisk parties, but tellingly, the side dishes are considered to be more important than the fish itself.
Jan. 4th, 2010 11:19 pm (UTC)
I had never had it before and wasn't interested in any new taste adventures at the time. You could have told me Indian food tasted like the mana of the Gods and I still wouldn't have wanted to tangle with it. The meal itself actually went fine after my initial slew of snide comments. I especially remember the naan with fondness, though I've never had any in the years since.

I actually spent some time watching videos of people trying to eat Surströmming earlier, which was entertaining. I'm not sure exactly how to compare noxious levels but it seems, on the face of it, to blow lutefisk out of the water.

It seems interesting that a disproportionate number of fermented scary things seem to come from you nordic types. Isn't your backyard a freezer at that latitude? Why in the world would it even be necessary to go through something like this just to keep food from going bad.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 4th, 2010 11:20 pm (UTC)
I don't care how drunk you are, there are still probably limits. It's not like being drunk kills your sense of smell, right? This thing would be noxious beyond all belief.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


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