Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires...courage.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

More Jellyfish, anyone?

Karl here, finally with a minute to spare for some cultural sharing. So aside from the business aspects of my trip, the last week or so has been dominated by the food. I’ve eaten Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, Korean, and the Asian attempt at a western breakfast. Most good, all different. I will say that I have eaten things that I would previously not have considered food. One example: My host for the first week is a man who goes by Joshua, although that is not his given name. He is Chinese Singaporean, and as such has an appreciation for Chinese food that I will likely never match. We met one of his friends for lunch the other day at what was a very upscale Chinese restaurant. In this region, the concept of the “set meal” is very popular, and because of this, I never have to worry about deciphering a menu that in written in a language other than my own. One person orders for all. The set dinner is inclusive of all courses and is served to all members of the party, often family style. In this particular restaurant, meals were served in individual portions, but all of us were eating the same thing. The first course to arrive was the appetizer, which was some sort of wanton served with a side of pickled jellyfish tentacles, served cold. They were of course wet, but slightly crunchy, a hint of sweetness, but definitely tangy. Not something I would sit and eat during a football game, but not as bad you might think. This would be the only dish that I correctly guessed during the meal.
I forget the next course, but the third was some sort of soup with large hunks of onion. I had only chopsticks and a plastic soup spoon, and not wanting to fumble around trying to break these large chunks into manageable pieces, I just began eating the small pieces of onion, thinking I would just leave the larger ones in the bowl to be removed by the server. They didn’t taste exactly like onion, and Joshua eventually stated, “Oh, I did not mention. These little pieces there, that is shark fin. This is Chinese delacacy.” Really? I have heard of this before but never seen it. It was nothing like I imagined it. I always pictured large meaty chunks in a bowl. Not so. They must only use small sharks, we’re not talking "Jaws" here. These were just tiny little fins. What they do is remove the skin, and eat only the underlying cartilage, which taste almost like a crunchy onion if you hold your mouth just right. I didn’t like this as much as the jellyfish, but not terrible.
Next up is the course that I am never likely to forget and the only one that I will likely never try again. It was a small piece of abalone and this large brown, not really gooey, not really solid, chunk of something. I took one bite and instantly decided that I was not going to ask or think about what this thing was until I had finished it completely, because I definitely did not want to know what this had once been while it was in my mouth. Good call.

It was a Sea Cucumber.

If you don’t know what these things are or what they do, here is a brief description. They come in many different forms and colors, but they are sand sifters. A sea cucumber is basically a big slug that writhes through the sea floor eating fish waste and detritus that is mixed in with the sand and muck. Not to be too gross, but it was kind of like biting into a cross between a kitchen sponge and… no that is too gross. I don’t really remember what was included in the subsequent courses. I think I blacked out. I would love to show you guys pictures but I felt it would be rude to take them at the table. Usually it is no big deal, because it's "wow, I've gotta show this to my family" but I'm afraid this whould have come across as "wow, I've gotta show this to my family." So i included links in the text above as well as a picture I downloaded off the net. enjoy.

This was one of the most unique meals I have ever had, but sadly one of the least enjoyable. Fortunately it only got better from there. Next up, Japanese Teppanyaki with a personal touch.


Anonymous said...

What an awkward situation. Having to eat things like that and trying to be polite to your host. I never knew people ate things like sea cucumber and jellyfish tentacles. What they need is a good serving of black-eyed peas and hog jowls on New Year's Day! Thanks for the lesson in culture shock. Love, Aunt Joanne.

Wendy said...

We'll be ready to hit Red Robin for a real American burger when you get home!

twofinches said...

What a delightful post! You are a brave man! I have eaten roasted ants, a horsemeat sandwich and ground dried worms. But in each case they tasted like something I was familiar with so it wasn't bad. A chinese friend once cooked me a special fish soup at her home and floating in it were several fish eyeballs. I took every opportunity when she was not looking to dive my spoon in and get them out.I think I would have physically gagged if I had tried to swallow them!

ShamrockJews said...

It is practically a right of passage to go through those crazy meals with the sea cucumber. In the 3 years we were there though, the only time I was ever served that ever-so-appealing dish is when big important folks were in town. Quite the honor. And once, I think I even tried it - very small bite.