Creepy Crawly Kitchen

Pasta with a thick sauce of pumpkin and shrimp, soft cheese rolls garnished with burnt butterballs, pastry puffs with corn and mozzarella, cherry mousse, Parmesan risotto, ragout of veal with legumes and zucchini pie, washed down with fine Italian wines. Romantic cuisines straight from the world’s exotic kitchen!

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who eat to live and those who live to eat. Food connoisseurs belong to the latter group, travelling in search of local delicacies. Food that may taste like a sinful cup of nectar or that may make you go green in the face until the waiter clears the table.

Food habits, round the world are diverse to the extent of being frequently revolting, more frequently offensive and most frequently nauseating. Food so kinky that short of marrying a native or being marooned for life, I would prefer turning blue in the ears than think of trying some!

It is an everyday sight to see a school going pre-teen with pink dress and pony-tails pestering her dad at the mall for “that brown papa bear”. However, in Africa, this toy-shop ritual is performed almost everyday by every member of the family with a minute change in the picture – the “brown papa bear” is barbequed, served with scrambled eggs, burnt scorpions and bovine urine. A filling dinner! How many of you cherish a long evening beach-side stroll while humming a tune off-strain and chewing groundnuts? Press the nut cover between your fingers, crack it open and pop it in. South Americans do it all the time! But, having taken no fancy for groundnuts, they have substituted it with: Squirrel .Yes – the small tree climbing rodent. The head is severed from the rest of the body for “portability”. Grab a handful, fill your pockets, randomly pick one, crack the skull open and devour the brain! Neat.

In Vietnam, butterfly chips and Giant-bug fries are local junk-delights. One can follow it up with the traditional live-eel burger garnished with camel-hump paste. Spiders and tarantulas! Yes – the scary 8-legged creature – a favourite among the fast food fanatics of Cambodia. Rubbery and elastic when properly cooked. Many Chinese delicacies are more appetizing than they might seem at first glance to the eye; duck tongue sandwich doesn’t make a good case for itself until you taste it. I am actually quoting people here! Breaking the ice with Japanese cuisines might get a tad difficult. Raw eggs on raw beef served with oregano are a harmless bet. Look at the next recipe if I just disgusted you! Octopi Soju. You are given a bowl of live baby octopuses and a plate of soju (Korean alcohol). You pick one octopus up, wipe it in the soju which puts it to sleep and then eat it. An unparalleled delicacy of the house. More fun near the end of the meal when there is less soju on the plate, the octopus doesn’t go to sleep and starts to fight as you’re eating it!

Dancing Shrimp. Large live shrimps are taken from a tank, plopped into a scalding hot clear soup broth and served with red pepper paste. Shrimp prepared this way are usually served in a large glass bowl with a lid. They need the lid because they bring them to the table quickly and the shrimp are still “kicking” and jerking. You bite right into the shells and bodies with your teeth, chew the meat out and then spit out the shells and legs and eyeballs. A regular in Tokyo cafes are “Ham sandwiches”. Harmless breakfast. After a whirlwind of city touring, relax and take a bite. If it tastes a bit weird, don’t peel off the bread to look in. You would probably find yourself looking into the gimlet-black eye-balls of unconscious sardines! While in Korea, one must try their range of sea-slug entrée – salted, boiled and served with a blob of blood pudding (pig blood+ calf-fat + breadcrumbs), sautéed lamb brains and fried monkey toes. Seasoned gastronomes have vouched by its taste…I vouch to throw up! Customs inspectors have lots of amazing stories, since visitors often attempt to hide contraband foodstuffs in their luggage. At San Francisco International Airport, a businessman’s valise, Africa-bound, was found to contain a partially decomposed goat’s head, crawling with maggots. He was quite indignant when it was confiscated–that was his lunch! Partially rotten Goat’s head is an understanding feed when compared to the African Borewors. The unassuming name refers to intestines of cattle, stuffed with lettuce and barbecued meat, served raw and salted.

One often comes across “creatures” being consumed which have always been thought of as anything but food. Perhaps nowhere is it truer than in Southeast Asia. The legally sanctimonious menu card of any Indonesian restaurant would offer deep-fried dragonflies (an excellent appetizer), Sago worms (a meaty pre-meal reward taken raw), Snake steaks (a choice from the cobras of Asia, the boas of South America, the pythons of Africa, the garden snakes of Europe and the rattlesnakes of North America), snake skin (a crispy snack) and bats!! The unclean mammal reputed to be the symbol of death. All said and done, these furry bodies resembling rats, clinging to a cave’s ceiling – are welcomed to dinner table with joy! Due to the fact most bats are small, they generally are grilled or deep-fried, making it possible to consume the entire creature, including the wings, head, and brittle bones, introducing a crunchy sound to the meal.

A typical Indonesian ends his ideal dinner with a satisfying swag – the blood and bile of snakes for a rejuvenating drink! Butterfly chips, locust fries, baby bee salad served with huhu grubs (larva) and seagull wine (put a seagull in a bottle. Fill with water. Let it ferment in the sun) are some of the most outlandish specialities. Let’s not forget the world’s greatest addiction. Aroma that makes you go weak around the knees. Thick, dark and elegant cascades of chocolate! Our bold eaters have drawn no lines here. Silk worm pupae, pork rectum, duck foetus, grass-hoppers, ants, crab spawn cakes, shark, bull frogs, cow liver and the red combs on a rooster’s head – everything dried, sugar-coated and dipped in chocolate !

They call it ‘The Peruvian Viagra’ and they say it’s great for you if you have a low sex drive. It’s the best aphrodisiac. ‘Extracto de rana’ (Frog Juice) is in very high demand at local markets of Lima, Peru! Traversing across the strange Asian food markets you might lay your hands on something that matches the following description – a cylindrical piece of meat, about 1-1/2 feet long and 4 inches in diameter, with an uneven surface, severed at only one end, folded in half and frozen solid. You might want to jerk your hands off. It is a bull’s penis. Nicknamed “Bull Pizzler” and served with pig testicles. The most bizarre combo ever!

I have a theory that the only way you can eat any of this is to have done so as an unsuspecting child so that you acquire a taste for it before you truly understand its components. Understanding taste buds is difficult business. Did you know that a particular restaurant in China serves desserts made of human breast milk! The chef’s explanation is that while you eat the food, thus made, you can experience maternal love. Ultimate…food porn!! In some parts of the world boiled human placenta is concerned a great source of calcium and is hence, consumed! I’d rather drink milk! By the way, how often do you croon over your pet Chihuahua? As a fact, dogs are not exactly the pampered pets in Philadelphia. You can only guess why. And as to how – there are many ways…pickled, tossed, light-fried, herbed, boiled, salted…raw!

Bhavna Tripathy

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