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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Don't You Make Me Repeat It: Just Eat It

A few days ago, I was flipping through one of our new Reference books, They Eat That? I was fixated: caught between tittering at the unmentionables that people eat and basically being awestruck at the inventiveness of humankind. Each entry gave an overview of an exotic, new food and included various trivia about it. At the end of many of the entries, a recipe added extra reading fun. Who can resist thinking about tulip bulb pancakes or scrambled eggs and brains? Some of my favorite entries reminded me of books I've read:

  • Bird's Nest Soup is a delicacy in China. They use actual birds' nests which are built from the saliva of the male swiftlet bird instead of sticks and strings. An interesting addendum about the nests is that they must be harvested in absolute silence. If the person finding the nests makes too much noise, they will "disturb the cave spirits" where the nests are found and "be punished." This specialty was featured in Lisa See's book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan:

    Swiftlet Nest
    A grand banquet was served with birds-nest soup, salted birds that had been pickled for six months, and wine-fed duck stewed with ginger, garlic, and fresh red and green hot peppers. Through it all I missed Snow Flower horribly and later wrote to her as many details as I could recall, not thinking that they might remind her of the dreadful oversight.
  • Mopane Worms are actually the larva of a moth, and therefore are really caterpillars. They are incredibly popular, and can be eaten alone as a snack or mixed with vegetables and sauce as a meal. Alexander McCall Smith talks about them in the first book of his series, Number One Ladies Detective Agency:

    Mopane Worm
    She offered the bag to Mma Ramotswe, who helped herself to one of the dried tree worms and popped it into her mouth. It was a delicacy she simply could not resist.
  • Earth is eaten across the globe. It is particularly well known in places like Burkina Faso and Ghana, where choice selections are available for purchase. There is a special clay in southwestern Burkina Faso called aloko, or caolin (kaolin) which contains a silicate with aluminum. Kaopectate, an anti-diarrhea medicine in the U.S., is made from the same thing. Who knew?! Eating earth, or geophagy, was mentioned in The Known World, the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner by Edward P. Jones:

    Balls of Clay
    He was the only man in the realm, slave or free, who ate dirt, but while the bondage women, particularly the pregnant ones, ate it for some incomprehensible need, for that something that ash cakes and apples and fatback did not give their bodies, he ate it not only to discover the strengths and weaknesses of the field, but because the eating of it tied him to the only thing in his small world that meant almost as much as his own life.
Now, go on out and have a nice, bland lunch. Next time you're traveling, though, or just out and about trying a new restaurant, why not try something new and exotic? Camel Kefta Burger, anyone?
Deutsch, Jonathan, ed. They Eat That? Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2012. Print.


  1. Thank you for helping me to work on my menu for the weekend!

  2. That spit soup is irresistible, isn't it?!


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