I’ve tried sheep’s milk cheese that tasted like armpits and the feet of a hockey player after a play-off game. Vegemite and Marmite tasted remarkably similar, although Australians will continue to praise the vitamin content and nutrients of what smells like death spread on toast. When I was in Africa, ailing quite dramatically from shigella (my fecal-oral syndrome that blew my body up with bacteria), Debby, who has an Order of Australia and was an expert on most things, insisted that Vegemite would cure me. I figured if I had already eaten shit inadvertently, what difference would Vegemite make?
In Costa Rica I drank “cheecha” from a folded banana leaf. The texture was precisely like vomit, with a potent vinegar whiff that made swallowing the drink (that had to be slightly chewed) almost impossible. Then there was the murky drink of frog’s eggs that slid down like tapioca balls, but tapioca never left me with nightmares about tadpoles growing in my stomach.
Having a grandfather who was a pig farmer meant that pork was a large part of our lives. The quickest way to get Kiley to cry was to point out the pork hocks in the boiling pot of lima beans. The pig’s feet didn’t bother me much, I was more horrified to watch my sister beg for the fat off the roast beef Sunday nights and chew on it like Hubba Bubba bubble gum.
When I was young and exploring my eco-warrior, I’d-rather-go-naked-than-wear-fur-self, I took on vegetarianism for possibly a year. That notion ended when I went to Admiral’s Subs on Dalhousie street in Brantford and asked Gus for a double cheeseburger which came with four greasy beef patties (and the equivalent of seven pounds of french fries). Since, I have eaten pheasant, duck, moose, 56 goats in Africa, rabbit, oxtail, ostrich, emu, venison, octopus, guinea pig, deep-fried quail and caribou jerky straight from Nunavut (thanks Michelle!). Who knew it paired nicely with Limoncello as a post-midnight snack!
The guinea pig was a bit touch-and-go as it came to the table in Ecuador with teeth, ears and eyes, all deep-fried in a KFC-esque crust. Again, I was with an Australian, which points to a pattern of the Aussie belief in eating disgusting things.
Some disgusting things I have eaten on my own sober, free will. I knew grasshopper season was fast approaching in Entebbe, and by god, when the guy came around the market with the bucket of fried grasshoppers I nearly knocked him down with my enthusiasm. They tasted just like crispy chicken wing skin. And termites? With closed eyes I might have guessed that I was eating fried eggs. When I brought grasshoppers home (cheaper in bulk), I had to fight off Juwa the cat who nearly scratched my eyes out trying to get her paws on them. Then there was Ruth, our cook, who was equally aggressive until I bought her a bag of her own which she microwaved with salt for breakfast. Nothing like hot insects first thing in the morning!
I laugh at other moments in my life where I have been brave and eager to down something gross. But then there are unexpected gross moments like the can of “brown rice beverage” that I bought on Bloor to drink with my Korean walnut cakes (which are mostly like Tim Bits, but because they are Korean they are cultural, and not fatty donuts in my mind). I shook the can up as directed and snapped it open. It was a hot September day and I took a thirsty slug. OH GOD. I had swallowed 500 maggots. The pedestrian traffic was too thick to spit out the wormy gob on the sidewalk so I let the mass slide down my throat. I looked in the can, expecting to see swimming things. I poured some out on the cement so I could see what exactly I had ingested. Oh, brown rice. What a terrible idea—rice in a can that you drink? The ick-factor almost tied with the millet drink I had in Uganda which the locals raved about. It tasted like tomato soup beer. And the banana gin? That was like swallowing fire with a penicillin aftertaste on your palate.
In Ireland, I was all over the oyster beer in the Temple Bar district. Beer with oyster juice! The girlfriend I was traveling with at the time was an avid traveller and even more avid drinker–who was also deathly allergic to seafood. Finally, I had found a beer that would be all mine! She couldn’t help me finish that one off, or that would have been the finish of her.
An even better drinking experience was had at the Local 4 on Dundonald street in Toronto. Dax and I had worked our way through their beer list and found love at first sip with Church-Key Brewing’s Holy Smoke beer. It tasted like a mouthful of campfire smoke. We wanted marshmallows and fireflies, but had another beer instead.
I actually have a list of willy-nilly things that I have yet to eat. Gorgonzola gelato kinda pales beside the prospect of eating sweetbreads. I’ve eaten at least three generations of snail families with Kelly on pizza at Il Fornello on Church, but have yet to try haggis. I broke up with my Scottish girlfriend too soon. However, she did introduce me to Rocky Bars which are essentially chocolate bars that have been accepted as a Edinburgh breakfast food to be enjoyed with tea.
I’ve had the green goop on the lobster’s head and could eat liver pate like some people eat peanut butter. If the chocolate has garlic, flower petals or jalapenos in it, I’m interested. Once upon a time I ate sushi like Tic Tac’s, but one bite of a roll with salmon that had swum in sewage (or that was my guess), and I was done. I was barf-ridden for three days, barely able to roll over from right to left. I’ve tried sushi twice since with dry-heaving results. I will continue trying as I believe it is an issue of perseverance.
It was a simple cup of coffee that made me think about all the zany and ridiculous things I have eaten over the years. That simple cup was from Caffe Artigiano in Vancouver, and carried a pretty price tag of $10 for eight precious ounces. But, I wasn’t moved. I didn’t feel the velvet undertones or citrus notes. I smelled scam. Half a pound for $105? It could have been a Tim’s for all I was tasting. I cleansed my palate and followed the barista’s strict protocol. Suck it in to aerate, let the flavours unfold. As it cooled it was supposed to develop an even richer taste experience. Hmm. Nope. Jet Fuel on Parliament still gets my vote for the double espresso shot mochacinno that makes you hear voices in your head.
So what next? Any recommendations? I’ve had the deep-fried Mars bar, Haida oolichan grease, dandelion wine, Newfoundland moonshine, cattails (the wetland variety, not kitty cats, sheesh), truffle oil this-and-that and a daddy-long-legged spider that I ate in grade 9 for 10 bucks. I’m running out of ideas.