i can now count two times in my life that i’ve made a food decision that i’ve regretted. one was sixteen years ago in viet nam. the other was last night.
the parallels are these: i was/am feeling restless in my “home”, knowing i was /am on the verge of something different, but with no clear leads as to where i was/am going. i was/am also sweating a new person every fifteen minutes.
maybe these are the conditions that make me particularly adventurous when it comes to food, or maybe it’s just my generally curious palette and commitment not to waste anything-including opportunity.
so when my rich great uncle came roaring into town gathering a caravan to go on a snake-eating excursion, i enthusiastically signed up.
my aunts warned me not to go. i should have listened.
or perhaps just asked how long the affair would be. i did not. it was l o n g.
i don’t remember how long the car ride was, or how far away from home we were. i just knew that i had made a mistake when we sat down and the server went to the yard to “catch” a prospective snake for our supper. not unlike the process of bringing a live lobster to the table for a diner’s approval before it’s cooked, a giant snake was brought to our patriarch, and he sent it back because he thought we deserved bigger.
upon receiving the nod of approval, the server returned with the right snake in one hand, and a machete in the other. its head was quickly lopped off, and its tail was still slithering because it did not yet know it was dead. somehow the heart was coaxed out of its body and into a shot glass, and cooked with the hot snake blood squeezed from the now upside-down scaly tube and mixed with some kind of liquor.
this is the first shot of honour, famed for ensuring virility. it was offered to me-i declined, as a celibate non-drinker, and added a feeling of light-headedness to my existing portfolio of nausea and regret.
the first dish was a soup of the other organs-i bit into something that burst, in the worst possible way that food can explode within your teeth.
the next thirteen (or so) dishes were each more terrible than the last, but i committed to taking the tiniest bite of each, just to say that i did. the thing about snake is that it’s an animal that is mostly skin, which is not only our largest organ, but definitely theirs-and it’s very muscular so unlike other wild meats, you cannot convince yourself that it’s chicken, or even remotely chicken-adjacent. it’s snake through and through, and you can never forget it. the only course that brought me a moment of respite was the roasted bones, because those could be fish bones.
i was chastised and “i told you so’d” when i got home, and was up all night certain that i was going to die, either from the snake dinner, or by some insect crawling into my ear and laying eggs that would hatch and eat my brain.
i am happy to report that neither of those things happened, and that last night’s episode was much less dramatic.
i am so great-full that i landed in a butcher shop last year, and was rejected from flight attendant idol. (phew!) it’s strange to be an essential worker in the time of a pandemic, but i finally feel like i’m adjusting to some of our new day-to-day realities and practices, and am glad to have a place where i learn new things every day.
years ago, when we still had a cookbook store, i actually saw my current employer do a presentation about offals. it was there that one of my most long-term adult friends expressed a gusto for eating testicles that i should’ve remembered at the time i did not share.
but yesterday was lamb day, and i was palpating a “therapy kidney” and a pair of lamb balls were pressed into my hands so on a whim, i decided that i wanted to have them for dinner.
one of my favourite butchers showed me how to clean them (split and separate them out of the membrane and bisect) and shared the recipe that he learned from his time working in the middle east (boil them a bit, season with salt and pepper, and fry-breading optional).
i still had some merguez oil from breakfast, so i decided not to fry, but to quick confit and bake and broil and serve over steamed greens.
the texture was quite smooth, but i think i looked too closely at the blood vessels and had that same uneasy feeling after the first teeny bite. perhaps i should have fried them? i don’t know.
but they are now in the compost and i’m good for the next decade and a half of radical eating.
someone else take the reins. there’s no need for me to pretend that i’m tony bourdain.