Thursday, February 16, 2006

THAT’S OFFAL GOOD.


[Note: This is an essay that I published in Expatica Spain a few weeks ago.]

I travelled to Edinburgh, Scotland a few weeks ago, and experienced the unique pleasures of haggis. And as the black, peppery essence of pureed sheep guts cascaded across my tongue, I had a striking thought—Europeans seem to eat all the stuff that Americans throw away.

It’s true in Scotland, and it’s certainly true in Spain. And to prove it, I’ve compiled a list.

Now...some folk may use this list as a roadmap for identifying foods to avoid. Others may use it as a treasure map for foods to seek. I’m fairly certain, however, that everyone will use it as a checklist for tormenting unsuspecting friends and family visiting from abroad.

Let’s go!

- Cabrito (Goat): I don’t know why people are repulsed by goat. It is, after all, just an ugly lamb without the afro. Cabrito is a revered delicacy here in Castilla-LaMancha, where it is roasted in a wood-burning oven in the style of suckling pig or lamb. All of my guests who have tried it...loved it. As do I.

- Oreja de Cerdo (Pig’s ear): I suppose the philosophy “Waste not, want not” inspired the first Spaniard to eat a pig’s ear. Either that, or he mistook it for a nacho. Whatever the reason, its popularity has spread throughout the country. Many bars offer pig ears as a snack; the most common preparations being deep-fried or braised in a tomato-based sauce. No matter how it’s prepared, I find pig’s ear to be a chewy, flavorless mouthful of cartilage and goo.

- Percebes (Barnacles): These little shellfish plucked from the icy waters of Galica are worshipped by shellfish lovers throughout Spain. Percebes (pictured above) are ugly critters. They look like a newborn space alien. But alas, they taste much better than they look. Briny, chewy and flavorful...eating percebes are like eating the sea. Just try to be in the restroom when the bill arrives.

- Sesos a la Romana (Batter-fried Brains): I often saw these offered as a Menu del Día second course when I lived in Barcelona. The flavor of sesos is irrelevant. Why? Because the texture—which I can only describe as that of a incompetently-prepared soft-boiled egg—is all that you’ll notice. Believe me...it will send even the strongest man diving for a waste bin. Please Mr. Waiter...bring me any organ. Just not THAT one!

- White Asparagus: Don’t get me wrong. I love white asparagus! But let’s just say that...some people have trouble getting past appearances. Do yourself a favor. Skip the mayonaisse when serving these to the uninitiated.

- Kokoxos (Hake cheeks): Who would’ve thought that fish cheeks would taste so good? Who would’ve thought that fish had cheeks?!

- Peine de Gallo (Rooster comb): Can you believe it? Some people eat the red, spikey hunk of rubber that grows on top of a rooster’s skull! Why? How? What chemical imbalance caused the first person to gaze at that unsavory-looking appendage and think to himself, “Hmmm...I wouldn’t mind a plate of that.” Quite honestly, I can only think of one other comb that I’d be less inclined to put in my mouth—and that would be Paul Wolfowitz’s.


The above examples are just a fraction of the list that I compiled. The word limit set by my editor prevents me from elaborating on such vittles as morcilla (the Spanish haggis), callos (the Spanish menudo), huevas (a compressed block of dry, sandy-tasting salmon eggs), angulas (those exquisite baby eels from the Basque Country) and most famous of all (although I’ve yet to find any bar or restaurant that offers them)...bull’s nuts.

But don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not knocking Spain’s fringe cuisine. I am, in fact, quite fond of many of the foods that I’ve listed above.

Besides, every nation has its own examples of food items that are greeted with horror by non-natives—even my home country, the US. If you don’t believe me, then fly to Chicago and buy yourself a sack of White Castle hamburgers. You might soon find yourself yearning for a plate of brain.

26 Comments:

At 5:55 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Forgive me, dear readers, but I am going to steal the thunder from some of you.

The critters in the photo above are Percebes. They are gooseneck barnacles that are "plucked from the icy waters of Galicia." They taste great and cost a fortune.

Yes, yes, yes...I know what they look like. YOU know what they look like. WE ALL KNOW WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE.

'Nuff said. [Or so we shall see.]

Sal

 
At 6:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If one thinks about what is in hot dogs or bologna, these options don't seem half bad. I first had goat in 1982 - very tasty - I would recomend it, and take it any day over a hot dog.

Great blog!

-- DJG

 
At 7:05 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Hey DJG:

Thanks for checking in (and for not posting the photo that you sent to my email box). :-O

It's funny that you mention bologna and hot dogs. In my first draft of this essay, the last paragraph talked about bologna and hot dogs...rather than White Castles. Demented minds think alike.

BTW...you're not the lurker from ap.org in New York, are you? The one who linked-over from Frannie de Coer's website? If you are, then damn!...it's about time you finally posted a comment!

Sal

 
At 7:08 PM, Blogger woman wandering said...

dear god!!!! (exclaimation not title) you appear to have intricate means of spying on lurkers.

nice posting ... didn't touch what they looked like ... see ;)

 
At 7:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: BTW...you're not the lurker from ap.org in New York, are you? -- No, not me - although I have been a reader/lurker(& posted a few comments)for a while now (since your July 25, 2004 post). I'm form the Cincinnati, Ohio area. I was in Spain for 3+ weeks in Aug., 2001. My wife's Grandfather was from madrid. I've traveled to Peru, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Spain, Portugal, & Canada...in addition to most of the states in the US. I grew up in Minnesota, Wisconsin, & Ohio.

-- DJG

 
At 7:42 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

AP.org or not, welcome nonetheless. Now that we've all been introduced, we don't need to refer to you as "Anonymous" anymore. I hereby dub thee..."DJ G!" Or is it "DeeJay G?" Or is it "Ali G?" No...that one's already taken.

Lady Di: That little "Site Meter" box at the bottom of the blog knows all and tells all. Although it doesn't quite know who the AP.org lurker is.

Sal

 
At 8:13 PM, Blogger Nyana said...

Sal, great article my friend. I actually have tasted many of items listed: will try everything once. But the rooster comb just blew me away?! How, why, *gulp* it's stuck -call the fire department!!! Anywho, I really enjoy reading your blog, esp. the foodie parts. Have you tried cat/horse or donkey meat?

 
At 9:06 PM, Blogger The Big Finn said...

I've discovered over the years that Brits think that root beer is the most disgusting swill they've every tasted. Root beer? What's the matter with these people.
Wankers!

 
At 9:07 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Hey Nyana:

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I like food. And foodies.

I have tried horse. It's pretty easy to find here. The first time I tasted it was in Paris in 1988 (as a college backpacker). I've since had it a few times while living in Spain. I like it, although not as much as goat.

I also had donkey involtini in Locorotondo, Italy two summers ago. The owner of the B&B I stayed at insisted that we request it from the chef at a restaurant in town. It was kinda the house specialty; albeit off the menu. That was really good, although I suspect that the reason had more to do with the tomato sauce than the donkey meat.

Nyana, what is your home country? I know you're not Canadian, but I didn't find mention on your blog (Ceteris Parabis...see my sidebar) of where you are from. Warning: Your answer will surely lead to more food discussion.

Sal

 
At 9:09 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

TBF:

How can you do this to me so close to dinner? Now you've got me thinking about A&W root beer floats. With chocolate ice cream.

Damn! That's one more for my Register of Frustration and Deprivation.

Sal

PS: The Brits don't like it because it doesn't have alcohol.

 
At 9:46 PM, Blogger The Big Finn said...

My God!!! What...you don't have anything better to do than wait around the computer for the "ding" that tells you that somebody has left a comment on your blog? 3 minutes!!! Man, you're sick!
Oh...wait a minute...I checked your blog forty minutes later to see if you had responded to my comment.
Oh, ohhhhhh!

 
At 10:34 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Big Finn:

I know it looks bad, but the truth is...I have a staff of four interns that monitor these boards and draft "my" responses.

I only get involved if there are questions about semi-colons or reflexive pronouns.

Nothing boils my blood like the Bad Use of Reflexive Pronouns (aka, BURP).

[On behalf of] Sal

 
At 11:35 PM, Blogger christina said...

Ding! Incoming message for Mr. De Traglia...

Rooster combs? I can't even begin to imagine.

Check out my posts on white asparagus here and here.

 
At 3:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of "interesting" foods & drinks, while in Peru I had the opportunity to partake in the local delicacies. In the highlands I had fried guinea pig. Guinea pigs were domesticated by the Andean Indians, pre-Incan I believe, as a food source (no chickens in the Andes at the time). There's not much meat on those critters so, except for the digestive track the internal organs are left in - offal good! Luckily **?** there were dogs roaming about IN the restaurant and most of the non-muscle portion found its way to them. Guinea pigs taste like rabbit - not bad - just not a lot there. In the Amazon River basin, actually on the river itself, in a floating restaurant, I had some monkey soup - the meat was cured with salt - so, it was salty soup, but if you told me it was beef I would have believed you. Also, in the Amazon River basin I had a lovely (not) beverage called Chicha. Chicha, a thick beverage of starchy manioc root that indigenous women first masticate and spit out to aid the fermentation process.

Chicha de Yucca is the traditional favorite.
After peeling the yucca root, women pound it in a mortar then they masticate a small quantity until it turns into a smooth white paste they call levadura. The levadura is then mixed back into the rest of the yucca paste. The saliva facilitates the fermentation. The preparation is then covered with bijao leaves and left to ferment for 3 days.

Chicha de Maiz
Fresh or dried kernels are pounded and boiled inside leaves (like a tamale). Then the paste is masticated by women and put it in a covered container to ferment.

Many other chichas de frutas are made usually with sugar cane juice to the help the fermentation.

Another version of the chicha de maiz is lightly boiled sugar cane juice mixed with corn kernels and left to ferment from one to three days.

-- DJG

 
At 8:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Big Finn/Sal's staff of four interns:

You're falling down on the job. I thought for sure you would have made a comment about my comment by now.

Maybe I need to leave a little more enticement:

The cooking water for the restaurant came right out of the river - poured through a cloth /left to settle some / then boiled...But, whoever engineered the "facility" put the facilities UP RIVER from the kitchen! If you get my drift (or what was drifting)! I would order tea or coffee (boiled water) & when finished with the cup there would be mud/river sediment at the bottom of the cup every time. But, this was much preferred over chicha!!
The US, Canada & Europe are fun, but the 3rd world offers such interesting adventures!

-- DJG

 
At 10:53 PM, Anonymous Alison said...

and here I was all proud of myself for trying Reindeer... Andrew has had horse here in Belgium but so far I haven't crossed that line. I can't eat anything I've had as a pet.

 
At 10:55 PM, Blogger Nyana said...

Sal, I should be travelling with you! It seems like you have able to dig out the best of everything - respect!
My nationality (or lack thereof) poses much concern to many. I'm a mut really, a blend of Turkish, Greek and Italian. (don't ask how that's possible, the answer is embarassingly obvious) There's no "home" concept for me - travelled and moved around so frequently since childhood. Moving to Canada seems to have accidentally established the concept. Bring on the foodie talk tho, I love it!
Your virtual mut, Nyana.

 
At 8:41 PM, Blogger GC PHILO said...

Hey Sal,

We must be on the same brain-wave frequency! I just wrote an article about Spanish food too! Nice to see the barnacle pics at the top! ;)

 
At 10:03 PM, Blogger Lisa said...

Horse meat, huh. I'll forget I heard that, and I'll forgive you anyway.

 
At 10:40 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Hi everyone:

As you might have guessed, I was away for the weekend. The Madrid and Malaga hashers did an away Hash in Javea on the Mediterranean coast. A little blurb on that will come soon.

It's 10pm, I just got home, was driving for five hours straight and at one point...drove through a snowstorm near Cuenca. Ironic, in that I was driving in running shorts. Anyway, before I go downstairs and eat every last morsel of food I can find in my pantry, let me respond to the points above:

Christina: I hadn't noticed your post of white asparagus until now. I hadn't seen them either before I moved to Europe. My friend Kath (of Fatty Piggy) was in Madrid for a meeting last October, and we had dinner in a restaurant in Madrid. You should've seen her face when the waiter brought out a plate of white asparagus. The conversation turned very blue after that. And yes...I had had no choice but to bring her a tin when we were in Ediinburgh.

DeeJay G: I gave the interns the weekend off. Well, so to speak. They're locked in the basement, but I'll let them out now that I'm back. A former Spanish teacher of mine (an Ecuadorean) told me about the "delicacy" that is Guinea pig. To be honest, it doesn't sound terribly appealing but I'd be willing to try it. But monkey? I'll give credit where credit is due. I'll eat almost anything once, but I'd probably draw the line at monkey. As for your Chicha drink (with it's secret ingredient...Amazon women drool), I remember Michael Palin discussing this in his travelogue "Full Circle." The fermentation made the drink slightly alcoholic, and he said it tasted a bit like yogurt. Sorry my friend, but I'm afraid that I must add that one after monkey on the list. If I must French kiss an Amazon woman, I'll do it the old-fashioned way...

Alison: Reindeer?! You should be proud. That's a Finnish specialty, although I'm surprize that our special Finn (the big one) hasn't commented on that. I didn't have reindeer the one time I was in Helsinki, because my colleague took me to a Russian restaurant...for reasons that involve vodka. But I did have reindeer sausage with several breakfasts during my post-law school trip to Anchorage, Alaska. I liked it. I like anything with antlers. Monkeys, by the way, don't have antlers. But if they did...nah! I still wouldn't.

Nyana: Turkish, Greek and Italian? Wow! What a combination! I really, really want to come to your house for coffee and dessert. A spot of Ouzo wouldn't be bad, either. You and I are going to have lots of foodie stuff to talk about in the future.

GC: As I've said in the past, demented minds think alike. And when it comes to Spain's food, there's plenty of material for all bloggers. As soon as I get something to eat, I'm heading over to your naughily-titled blog to read up.

And last but not least...

Lisa: Ummm...oh yeah...you raise horses, don't you? I forgot about that. If it's any consolation, I'd choose reindeer over horse if given the choice today. Not much consolation, eh? OK...how about this one. I chewed the horse steak, but didn't swallow? No? Didn't work for Bill Clinton, either. I know! The menu said it was horse, but I have no DNA that the steak I ate really was horse. I'm quite sure that the restaurant's corrupt, penny-pinching chef actually served me hedgehog. You don't raise hedgehogs, do you?

Sal

 
At 2:57 AM, Blogger Nyana said...

Hey Sal,
I was wondering where you where and what a trip! You must have been wiped out.
You're always more than welcome to come over - my house usually operates like a restaurant on the weekends! Looking forward to the food discussions!

 
At 6:01 PM, Blogger ironporer said...

Though tardy, thought I'd add my 2 centimos de Euro...

You and I think alike on the pig ear Sal- too chewy. I also never could get to like the taste of Morcillas (blood sausages)...not 'cause they're made of blood, I just don't like 'em. Cabrito is good, though I never ate the eyes from the heads I tried in Zgza, nor do I suck out the brains of Langostinos- and I have been severly chastened by Spanish friends for being so 'piky-sniky'. I did try rocky mountain oysters and liked'em- but never could swallow a real oyster- raw or other. If I want to swallow snot that tastes like fish...nevermind.

My wife still thinks we Yanks are less than human for our love of Peanut Butter, Root Beer, and Dr. Pepper- imagine!

 
At 3:38 AM, Blogger Lisa said...

Sal, No, hedgehog is not in the family barn. We could open up a whole can of worms by going the "pets vs meat" thing but just too darned tired tonight. I really have no objection to eating most animals. Its just that when you love horses and treat them more like pets than you do farm animals its hard to imagine them on a plate. I HAVE eaten cat (I think). We ate at a restaurant (which I won't mention the nationality) and the next day it got a suprise inspection in which they found cat hanging in the freezer. They had been substituting the cat for the main meat in a dish which we all had eaten. Nothing closes down a restaurant here faster than having Puss In Boots hanging in the freezer. (tasted like chicken)

 
At 5:39 PM, Blogger James said...

Scary!! (I'm a vegetarian, but I'm not too radical about it. Everyone can eat what they want in my book)

 
At 9:01 PM, Blogger harsh said...

I recently had a full roman meal, which of couse consists of everything left behind once you sell the real meat. Sweetbreads, intestines, tripe, brain, tail, tongue, liver, in short basically everything. Of course most of it was fantastic, but personally I feel you should never cross the blood brain barrier for a bite.

 
At 9:35 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Harsh:

That Roman meal sounds awesome. Except for YOU KNOW WHAT.

Wasn't there an old Simpsons cartoon (or something) where zombies were walking around saying, "Brains...brains..."?

Not much of a zombie, myself.

Sal

 

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