There are five flavors: sweetness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness, and umami (short version: it’s savory). Sometimes, though, the experience of eating goes beyond taste and into unexpected areas of the other five senses. If you leave your immediate geography, this will be found; if you leave your country, you will find bewildering, intimidating, and damn interesting stuff in your meal.
More importantly, as famous as music is for being soothing, it truly is a unique peace and diplomacy you take part in when you share a meal with someone. I like to think this is what foodies and chefs alike think.
If memory serves me right…
Preserved eggs, AKA century eggs, AKA millennium eggs are that Chinese dish that… Well, looks like a geode and smells like floor cleanser. These things might appeal only to a foodie. Yet these eggs made most commonly by preserving the desired bird eggs in clay, ash, salt, quicklime, and rice hulls for several weeks to several months, are quite tasty.
I recommend duck eggs if you can find them, because duck eggs inherently have a sort of butteryness to them, so a preserved duck egg tasted like the finest soft-boiled egg I’d ever had when I bit into my first one.
I just don’t recommend smelling them too much, unless you can stand the scent of quicklime.
Grass tea is quite literal, and many of you are more familiar with tea made out of grass’ taste than you think. Do be careful with jellied grass tea; the gelatinized texture was a struggle for me to swallow. That being said, many canned varieties do taste very like Jelly Belly grass flavored jelly beans, even in the levels of sweetness.
Acorn jelly (or Dotorimuk) is a Korean dish that is also almost exactly what it sounds like. In the United States, you’ll most commonly find that jelly is a spread (think peanut butter and jelly sandwiches). In the Korean sense, think of “jelly” instead as what the States call “jello”. Acorn jelly is a “jello” made out of acorns. It tastes exactly the way an acorn smells, and has a very thick jello consistency. The earthy, almost root vegetable taste goes surprisingly well with fiery garlic and pepper sauce that it’s often served with. Extremely well, actually. Just beware the heat of the pepper sauces. They are delicious, simultaneously cooling and “Oh Lord, get the Pepto Bismol! Run! Run!” levels of spicy burn.
Any foodie that wants to enjoy a truly American cold compliment to a spicy dish should try mochi ice cream. The inventors took a Japanese style sticky rice cake and figured out how to serve the normally warm cake so that it could be used to wrap a ball of ice cream without damaging the normal consistency of the cake or the ice cream. You can find them in a variety of ice cream flavors. So far, I’ll say green tea ice cream cakes and strawberry ice cream cakes taste the best.
EPIC meat snack products came out of nowhere for me. Picture walking into 7-Eleven (or your local convenience store) and suddenly seeing Bison sausages with cranberries in them on the shelf. Next to Pop Tarts, no less.
They make several other products with turkey, lamb, and cow, among others. These things are such a novel product. Get a look at the sausage/bar boxes for any of the meats, and tell me that box doesn’t look like a box of cheap cigars when shut.
They’re all quite tasty, but I recommend Bison the most. The rest of the sausage/bars are progressively drier than the Bison.
Thanks to Rangoli restaurant, I have finally enjoyed a full goat dinner in their North Indian entree Handi Goat Masala. White rice, chunks of goat meat slow cooked with tomato, onion and spices was as greasy a meat dish as I’d heard advertised by various chefs (goat is greasy like a very good Philly Cheesesteak slice of steak), and pleasantly spicy. The spice was the most surprising part; with my knowledge of North Indian Masala, I thought it was going to be a tasty but painful burn. What I got instead was a hearty, slightly greasy meat (that tastes somewhere in between chicken, pork, and beef simultaneously) and vegetable dish that had a pleasant burn going down. It’s similar to how a good whiskey burns your throat on the way down.
If you want a foodie haven that’s across the U.S., find the local Renaissance Festival. One can find things like smoked turkey, oyster shooters, and even mead in restaurants. But only at a renaissance festival can you wander dirt roads, mulled cider in one hand, chewing on the turkey leg in the other while wandering through bustling , laughing crowds in t-shirts and plate mail. Only at a Rennfest bar are you encouraged to pound back oyster shooters, shots, or mead, singing raucously the whole time.
Who takes it?
My dear Foodie, keep your eyes peeled for the well-hidden, or the seemingly out-of-place. This sort of traditional hole-in-the-wall eatery tends toward lovely surprises. Take Tijuana Tacos & Deli VI, a place I drove past for many months until I finally drove into their parking lot. It’s in a long stretch of development that’s almost nothing but gas stations, delivery services, and offices, so this weathered but still bright bright bright facade kept catching my eye. Walking in, I found that boy is this pace Mexican. Both of the unpictured walls had T.V.s; one playing football, the other playing a soap opera. Mexican flags, streamers, photos of railroads, and some… armed men (I still have no idea, I should ask) are just as enthusiastic decorations on the walls as the bottles of Cholula hot sauce are on every table.
The lone dervish of a cook behind the counter that day was no exception to the energy and welcome of this place. I swear to you, before he paused in cooking and prep to greet me with a big smile, I could barely see him move as he went back and forth between five different kitchen stations, he was so fast.
The food matches the atmosphere, nay, beats it. Among many other delightful things in the ways of meat, fish, fruit, and vegetable, Tijuana Tacos & Deli VI helped me find out I love pig esophagus (or buche, en español). If cooked well, it’s extremely soft (you barely have to chew it to break it apart), creamy, slightly sweet meat. Have it in a taco, burrito, it doesn’t matter. It’s quite good, especially with savory and crunchy stuff.
Whose cuisine reigns supreme?
You can even find wonders by just talking to your neighbors. I found chef George Duran on Food Network way back in 2006. This Venezuelan and U.S. raised gentleman stood there on T.V. and told me “You can take any bread, any cheese, and any jelly, and grill yourself a delicious sandwich.”
That was so very odd, yet so very easy to make, I told the man in my T.V. “Challenge accepted!” I went and tried making grilled cheese and jelly sandwiches with a variety of cheeses, bread, and jellies. The findings? He was not wrong. The combination I recommend the highest is a baby swiss and pineapple preserves sandwich on Italian white bread, cooked in a frying pan with liberal amounts of butter.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
-Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad
I’ve met so many people from other countries, even though I’ve never traveled to one. That’s been such a joy, and so much learning, that I will travel.
Maybe I’ll see you at the ramen shop or the pub.
Igor, possibly a box