2007.05.23 If the potato salad is moving, shoot it

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

Had any strange grad food yet this year? You know what I’m referring to. You go to the open house for some 2007 graduate and the food table looks suspicious.

Just what is this stuff, anyway? Is that meat loaf, or is it German chocolate cake? And why is the cole slaw quivering? Yes, it’s probably a good time to go on a diet, one that lasts until you can leave the party.

I started thinking about this after reading an article by the Travel Channel listing their choices for the “Top 10 Most Bizarre Foods.” All-time favorites like menudo and haggis are included, of course, but so are several others I’ve never heard of.

Take, for example, mangrove worms. Popular in the Philippines, the iron-rich worms are long, slimy and said to taste like oysters. Yummy! Then there’s the coconut grub, a delicacy in Ecuador.

My favorite food on the list has to be durian, from Malaysia. The fruit is said to have custard-like flesh and can be served many ways, but the article adds “its powerful aroma is so offensive to some that airplanes, trains and buses often prohibit the fruit in passenger areas.” Maybe I’ll just stick with strawberries.

But when it comes to strange food, no one holds a candle to Malcolm Gay, writer of the “Keep It Down!” column for the Riverfront Times in St. Louis. Readers are requested to send in suggestions of foodstuffs that they are too timid to taste and Malcolm will try to, well, keep it down.

He has an amazing success rate, considering some of the items he is asked to consume. Some are pretty benign choices, like the week he had to eat a Little Debbie Marshmallow Pie. Then there was the week the selection was Armour Corned Beef Hash. Malcolm was a bit hesitant at first.

“Before the lid is even off, the room fills with a familiar odor—neither corn nor beef, and definitely not hash,“ he wrote. “This can’s contents seem closer kin to Friskies than to any deli item.” But once fried up, Malcolm was won over.

When trying the new Coca-Cola Blak beverage, Malcolm was concerned that the bottle is covered by a solid label, meaning he can’t see the contents beforehand. He wondered, “Will it taste like cough syrup? Like tobacco spit? If only.” Instead, the Coca-Cola Blak “invades the mouth with all the subtlety of eight ounces of vomit.”  I think he didn’t care for it. 

Just last week, the featured product was Micro Bak’n Artificially Flavored Bacon Strips. Malcolm described the texture as a “cross between Styrofoam peanuts and pork rinds,” the appearance “less like bacon and more like a breath strip engineered by the American Pork Council.”

Column after column, Malcolm tries items ranging from canned escargot (“For starters, the directions instruct you to sterilize the shells—not an encouraging serving suggestion.”), octopus, and pickled lemons (“I’m chewing, but only sparingly. Each clench of the mandible unleashes a barrage of scorched-earth strength citric acid...I’m finding it impossible to swallow. Who wants a chemical burn down the esophagus?”). But swallow it he eventually did. What a professional!

He’s sampled creamed smoked roe (fish eggs) from a tube, which he pronounced “an acquired taste. So far, I’m not feeling very acquisitive.”

A few weeks ago, he made his own sheep’s head stew from a sheep head bought from, of all places, Schnuck’s, the local chain supermarket in St. Louis. This reminded me of the days long ago when I’d be shopping for hamburger at Kroger’s in Adrian and see a pig’s head for sale. Who buys these things?

Anyway, Malcolm made his stew and offered the eyeballs to his guests as is supposedly the custom in some cultures. Finding no takers (on the stew or the eyeballs), Malcolm bit into the eyeball himself. His verdict? “Rich and tender, just as a meatball should be.”

But a jar of cured pork rinds and vegetables proved to be too much even for Malcolm. “There are times when the body rejects what the mind wills. This is one of those times,” he wrote, adding “before you can say boot, the glutinous mass spews forth, landing atop the cutting board with a shimmering plop.” In his defense, Malcolm later discovers an expiration date nearly four years past. Bet he checks them more closely now.

I hope this doesn’t deter anyone from attending any open houses. You just might want to bring your own sandwich, though. Or at least avoid any food that moves. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

    –May 23, 2007 
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