Luxor, Egypt: ‘And a side order of feathers?’
It was nestled quietly on the menu between Cassoulet of Goosnargh duck and Corn fed chicken ‘Bois Boudran’: “Rib eye steak with snail butter”. To most, it went un-noticed, but not me. Although no expert, I do know that butter comes from milk. Milk comes from cows. And goats, and yaks…but snails? I pictured a dairy farmer in some backwoods snail farm, gently and earnestly milking his purebred livestock between deft little fingers. Although an interesting thought, it was not a pleasant one and I opted for bangers and mash instead.
There are things I have eaten while travelling that I wouldn’t touch with rubber gloves at home. And not just items that should usually be white, but were served to me in a mysterious green and furry state. I consider exotic cuisine to be a very important part of travel and the more exotic, the better…within reason.
In the back streets of Luxor, Egypt, I found pigeon. The little carcass was presented on a bed of couscous like a miniature roast chicken. Sadly, I could barely see the meat for the bones and although it tasted fine, it really wasn’t worth the considerable effort expended. The consolation was that I was at least able to derive evil pleasure from devouring something that had pooped on me once too often!
In Australia, I just had to grace my palate with witchetty grubs, the infamous and oh-so mouthwatering fat, wriggling, moth larvae. Ours were so fresh that we found them while foraging beneath a log, as you do when you’re hungry! The African equivalent is the mopane worm which, when prepared by a master chef, still tastes like dry, gummy, over-cooked bland walnuts. In Asia, there are crickets and grasshoppers which are especially great if you’re a leg man.
Although not particularly appetising, these are all great sources of protein and an important part of local diets. In fact, very little goes to waste in developing countries and I always feel ashamed of our own spoiled and wasteful existence in the first world. Whenever travelling, I try to never leave anything on my plate when I consider that the person serving me probably eats less protein in a week than I have in a single sitting.
I was once served two pork chops devoid of all meat. Not wishing to seem ungrateful, I struggled with my blunt knife, valiantly trying to obtain every single last morsel of fat and gristle. Each tiny piece was then diligently chewed 5000 times before being washed down with a mouthful of orange Fanta. My jaws ached by the time I finished. I reclined exhausted and far from replete as the waiter came to collect my plate.
“Was it good?” he asked, gesturing to the well-gnawed and impressively bare bones.
“Excellent” I lied, with as best a smile as I could manage with numb facial muscles.
He looked at me with surprise.
“Oh,” he said, “It looked a bit too gristly and fatty to me.” And away he walked with a shrug.
Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008