The first time I laid my eyes on natto was while studying abroad in Japan. To me it was nothing short of disgusting. Fermented soybeans? A raw egg? A simple stir with the chopsticks that made strands that looked like spiderwebs? For breakfast? It was not a pleasant experience, but it was certainly an experience to be remembered.
You know that whole “tastes like chicken” thing that was popular back when The Matrix came out? Yeah, I thought it was annoying too. However, when it came to eating guinea fowl (also known as bush chicken), I was eager to put that old adage to the test. My opportunity to dine on this fowl came in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and perhaps the best part of eating guinea fowl for dinner was the fact that I saw flocks of wild guinea fowl wandering the grounds of the restaurant earlier in the day.
The ostrich is a strange creature. A relic of a world ruled by birds, it is both flightless and the largest bird on Earth. These factors combine to make it ideal for food, and if it weren’t the fastest bird on the planet, I have a feeling its meat would be a bit more ubiquitous on the dinner plate. Ostrich is certainly not the strangest of meats, as it can be found as beef alternative in healthy burgers. Yet, it is unquestionably abnormal.
It’s not often you get to eat one of your favorite characters from childhood, but on my trip to South Africa and Zimbabwe, that’s exactly what I did. I took down Pumbaa, at the first possible chance. And I didn’t just do it once, it was so good I kept coming back for more.
Is it a nut? Is it a fruit? Is the question of whether or not it’s a nut qualify to make the lychee a strange fruit? I sure think so, but if that’s not enough for you, consider that the lychee is the only member of the litchi genus. That’s right, it’s an orphan, which automatically makes it strange. While canned lychees can be found pretty much everywhere, they really don’t do the fruit justice. It must be eaten fresh to truly appreciate its strangeness and flavor.
Once upon a time, I was biking through the rice paddies of Yangshuo, China, when my local friend stopped at a small tree to pick the strange, small berry-like fruits off of it. She handed a few to me to try and told me they were called kumquats. Growing up in Michigan, I had heard of kumquats before, but had never seen one with my own eyes and had no idea what one should look or taste like. This was a strange fruit, indeed.
For my birthday, my lovely girlfriend got me something called a beer class at L’Epicerie Market [EDIT: Now Closed] in Culver City. This was exciting as it turned out to be a multi-course set meal with a glass of beer per dish. Yet, as exciting and delicious as the beer and meals were, there was a particular course worth its own blog. It was one of the strangest meats I had ever eaten: frog legs.
After Shanghai, we headed to Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors. We landed at night and although it was pretty late, I was a hungry unvegan. I remembered Xi’an having some great late-night street food, but after four years so much had changed in China and I hoped this was not one of them. I took a quick stroll just south of the Bell Tower and found just what I was looking for. While Shanghai had some good street skewer food (none of which I actually had on this trip), it was nothing compared to what could be found in Xi’an.
Just what is chou doufu (pronounced cho dough-foo)? If you don’t know Mandarin, you might think it sounds pleasant. The words roll off the tongue pretty cleanly and it sounds like it could be some sort of doughy deliciousness. Like a doughnut or something. But if you know Mandarin, then you know the true meaning of the words and they are nothing at all like a doughnut. Chou doufu means, quite literally, stinky tofu. And the name is certainly appropriate. As with much of the rest of Chinese cuisine, chou doufu comes in many forms, but the form I know best can be found on the street.
In my experience, I’ve learned that some of the best food in the world can be found on the street. No, not literally on the street (although the 10 second rule certainly applies for some of this food), but food that is sold on the street rather than from some brick and mortar building. A major part of the allure is the tracking down of the street food. There’s no address, so you really just have to stumble upon it. Plus, since it’s mobile and there are no hours, there’s no guarantee the food will be there again the next time you look for it. The biggest part of the allure, though, is the taste. It takes someone with an iron will to seek out this kind of food, but when you find something great, the payoff is huge.