February 18, 2007

Yuck or Yum

My friend Chad served a mission in the Philippines for two years. He'd had only studied the language briefly and when he first arrived was unable to speak with the locals. He was strolling through the outdoor market one evening taking in all the commotion. In the crowded stalls he saw a tiny puppy tied to a vendor's stand. Since this dog was probably the best chance he had of communicating with anything that evening, he bent down and started making a fuss over the dog. The shopkeeper noticed and came to his side. "Cute dog!" said Chad in English. The shopkeeper didn't understand but responded with a flurry of words and a smile. Chad continued petting the dog and admiring him. The shopkeeper began speaking to him again but my friend just shook his head apologetically. With an patient smile, the man made a gesture to Chad to stay where he was then disappeared into a shop with the dog. A few minutes later he returned and handed Chad a brown paper bag. One peek inside the bag and Chad realized that the puppy was now in take-out format. He dropped the bag, backed up apologizing and ran off down the street in shock.

We had a strict rule growing up - Never Yuck Another's Yum. It doesn't matter how gross applesauce mixed with cottage cheese may sound to you, when you see Mom eating it, do not make a face or comment on her foolish taste buds. This same graciousness was returned when Mom would find me and my Dad eating our stinky sardines in mustard straight out of the tin. It's just not nice to yuck another's yum. Because I've lived in America my entire life, I've never put this principle to the test. I wonder how I would hold up under a real challenge.

My husband lived for two years in Poland as a Mormon missionary and while the local cuisine was nothing he'd make himself, he managed to get back to America alive. Once for breakfast a woman served him up a slab of bread with a piece of raw horsemeat on top. Then to garnish the dish she cracked a raw egg over the whole thing and presented it to him expectantly. Trying his best to be polite, he ate the whole thing. But even my superman had his kryptonite.

While in Poland he and his missionary companion were invited to an acquaintance's home for dinner. It was a rare occasion for the locals to entertain Mormon missionaries and they showed up at the apartment complex ravenous, excited about a home cooked meal. Spike knocked on the door. "Come in," came a yell. Spike opened the door. There standing over the kitchen sink was their host. He held a pig's leg in one hand and a Bic razor in the other. "I'm just getting these ready to cook," their host said as he ran the razor over the hairy leg. Spike's stomach dropped but his friend did some quick thinking, "we're really sorry, but we just dropped by to tell you that we can't make it for dinner tonight - we had another appointment come up." Their host was disappointed, but Spike and his friend managed a graceful exit without having to worry about whether their dinner that night had razor burn.

I've seen shows on t.v. about people who eat worms, crickets, cockroaches and grubs. I hear about countries who have brains and bloodclots as their national cuisine. I've seen cow tongue packaged up at a ghetto grocery store here in L.A. But I've yet to refuse a food that was offered to me by a gracious host. The odds are against me though and 2007 may be the year I find a gigantic eyeball staring up at me from the bottom of a soup bowl. Will I smile, pop it in my mouth and pat my belly? Or do I let down Mom and with a disgusted, "Yuck!"

12 comments:

Jill said...

That's a pretty good rule. I think I might adopt it.

amanda said...

one time i was eating with a family in spain, and they had made spaghetti with some kind of mussels or clams or something--some kind of seafood that was chewy and weird tasting. i thought that i could handle it until they proudly told us that they had put an american sauce on it--"mayonesa" (mayonnaise). i tried to choke it down, but i accidentally gagged on a clam. oops. i was expecting my first child at the time, so my stomach was a little sensitive. they were lucky that all i did was gag a little.

Adrienne said...

I'm pretty open to weird cuisine (remind me to tell you the fruit bat story some time) but I'm sorry, I draw the line at cute. No puppy for me, thanks.

Actually, man, nothing chaps me more than picky eaters. I work with a girl who came in one day and FOR TEN MINUTES went on and on about how gross my palak paneer was (indian... a spinachy-cheesy thing...) which... hi, we have like, six indian restaurants in our tiny town, this is not exotic. But on she went about how gross it looks and how it must taste gross and I was gross for eating it. This from the woman who only eats potatoes and beef...

Bex said...

My brother in law served a mission in the Philippines too and I've heard a few stories from him.

I am not a picky eater and I like your philosophy...but I have to agree with Adrienne. No puppies for me. EVER.

s'mee said...

As a little kids we ate all kinds of things to keep on a less than generous budget. One's mom's favorites? Beef tongue. Literally and figuratively GAG! Big brother got to a certain age and politely told mom:"No, thanks, I refuse to taste something that may be tasting me back." He also got excited over "chicken ovaries".

AzĂșcar said...

POP in mouth and rub ya belly.

Sardines and mustard sounds delicious (I am being serious.) The again, as a Spaniard, I'll eat anything. Tongue, liver, collagen, marrow, anything that lived in the sea at one point, you name it. Just about anything can be delicious or disgusting depending on how it is prepared. I'll try anything at least once.

Conversely, I married the pickiest eater on the face of the planet (I am serious.) He's mature enough not to mention how he hates certain foods, or complain about it, but he's certainly not going to eat any of it either. Boo.

FoxyJ said...

The two worst things I ate in Spain were blood sausage and whole piglet. The piggy tasted pretty good, it was hard to get past seeing it laid out on the platter smiling. And then I was served a leg with the hoof attached. Nice.

Heather O. said...

Ok, seriously, you have to WARN us that you are going to take about eating puppies and raw horsemeat. I almost lost my lunch about halfway through.

Silly Marie said...

Living in China I saw and ate some WEIRD stuff. I do not recommend walking around in the meat market if you like meat. It was sick. Skinned animals that resembled dogs, hanging in the window, unrefrigerated.

And then there's choda. Rotten tofu that's fried. The first time I smelled it I thought I'd wandered into the wrong part of town. I seriously thought it was raw sewage in the streets or something. I couldn't bring myself to eat it, but one person in my group did and she said it was as bad as it smelled.

The worst thing I actually tasted was 1000 year old egg. I was at a student's house. I got a couple bites down, but it was a true battle.

Sarah said...

Oh goody! I didn't want to come right out and ask everyone to share their disgusting food stories, but I'm tickled that they are rolling in. Why am I so fascinated by this?

The mayonnaise thing is revolting, cow tongue on your tongue is unfathomable, piglet, collagen, 1000 year old egg! I'm so sheltered! But as you all are living proof, it didn't kill you. Kudos to your bravery :)

Marie said...

One of my biggest pet peeves is picky eaters and I"ve always loudly and proudly proclaimed I'd try anything once, which is why I recently found myself nibbling a chicken foot at our favorite dim sum parlor. But this post and the icky comments are a big ol' slab of humble pie. Mmmmm -- humble pie. Much tastier than pigs' feet with stubble.

kaff said...

Thank you sill marie for knowing the proper name to what I have always referred to as "stinky tofu". I don't think I have ever smelled, or tasted anything that was quite so bad! China was a great and fun experience, even with all the unidentifiable foods :)