There is an old saying that “You Are What You Eat” and considering some of the strange things I have eaten in my life, if that is true, I am in bad shape.
I grew up in a Jewish household, and some odd items were almost staples, like Gafilte Fish (poached Whitefish, Carp, or Pike), which we always had for at least Passover and which I still enjoy as an appetizer. And then we had Pickled Herring, again something I still like to eat regularly. Also, we had Chicken Feet, which were always present in my Grandmother’s chicken soup, I suspect, because they were the least expensive part of the chicken. And although I have also sampled them as a Chinese delicacy, they are something I would prefer to never have to eat again.
What I remember most about foods from my time in the Marine Corps was being able to have Rare Meat, a delicacy I had never had while growing up. All the meat cooked in our house was either well done or after my mother got her pressure cooker, cooked so thoroughly it fell apart. You cannot imagine my extreme pleasure the first time I had a steak that didn’t require a clove of garlic or pouring ketchup on it to give it some flavor.
There were also two very unusual foods I recall eating in the service—the first being Rattlesnake meat. While participating in a seven-day desert survival exercise, I killed a large rattlesnake using my boot as a club, and after skinning and fileting it, I dried the meat in the sun before eating it. And, no, it did not taste like chicken.
Toward the end of my tour with Marine Corps Recon, I spent almost three months in Central Borneo, and while I was there, I was served Monkey Brains, which the Dyak tribesmen considered a special delicacy. After eating it and then realizing it was raw, I embarrassingly heaved my guts out in front of everyone.
Years later, in the 70s, while I working for IBM, I remember traveling to Montreal for a job interview and going to a French restaurant, and for the first time having fried Frog Legs and Escargot. The frog legs were okay, but who would have thought that snails would be so delicious? Can you imagine an early prehistoric man bringing them home for the first time and telling his wife this is our dinner?
I also recall years later visiting the American Technical Education Association headquarters in Minneapolis, MN, and visiting the directors home and being served Ludefisk, an incredibly disgusting gelatinous dish made from decomposing whitefish in lye. I know it is an excellent way to preserve the fish, but how the Scandanavian people ever learned to enjoy it, I honestly cannot imagine.
Another weird food I had was on my first trip with IBM to Japan in 1983. I had just helped IBM Japan obtain almost two hundred million dollars of financing to build the first PC plant in Japan. It turned out the PCs made in America would not work with the complex Japanese Kanji or Korean Hangul character sets, and the IBM developer in the US couldn’t care less. As a reward to me, the top IBM Japan management had a feast at a fancy Ryokan (Japanese Inn) in my honor. The first dish they served me was a dozen or so live Baby Squids, which were dumped kicking and screaming, or so I imagined, from a colander into a bowl of boiling Miso broth in front of me. Everyone then watched as I ate to ensure I enjoyed the expensive delicacy. Thankfully I somehow, I managed to keep it down.
Also, during one of my many trips later to Korea, I am sure I ate dog meat, which, although it was never positively identified to me, I could deduce from watching the sly grins on my hosts’ faces as I ate it.
Years later, after I retired, my wife and I traveled extensively, especially in Asia. Somewhere during those years of our travels, I remember eating Fried Crickets, Fried Grasshoppers, Shark Fin Soup, and Birds Nest Soup, which is made from extracting the gummy saliva from the nests of Swiftlet birds.
And, of course, because after I retired, I rode Harleys for years, I have enjoyed my share of fried Rocky Mountain Oysters.
Since those bygone days, the only other unusual dish I have tried was Haggis, which I ate last year on my 80th birthday distillery tour of Scotland. FYI, Haggis is a sausage made sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs ground up and cooked with oatmeal and onions.
After looking this piece over later, I realized I had left off Pickled Pigs Feet, Tripe, Vegemite (slurry from the bottom of beer barrels), and Chitlins (fried pigs intestines), which I know I have eaten but can’t remember where.
So, if the adage “You Are What You Eat” is true, I guess then I must be a garbage can!