It all started with brussles sprouts. I was at the grocery picking up things for dinner when I decided to make my famous roasted brussels sprouts. I headed back to produce with my friend to pick up a package, and as I stood in the asile blocking traffic scanning the ice-packed rows of veggies, I spotted what appeared to be sprouts growing from a three-foot long stalk. Yes, I’m aware that brussels sprouts do not grow in styrofoam packagaes in the wild, but the giant, unweildy stalks threw me for a loop. I wrestled a stalk into a ridiculously small produce bag and asked my friend who she thought the first person was who decided to eat the suspicious-looking branch of baby cabbages was. Her reply was a blank stare that clearly said, “Why would I wonder that?”
Food is much more interesting than it gets credit for. I know most people probably don’t wax poetic over their bacon and eggs, but I just can’t help it. It intrigues me. Have you really ever looked at what you’re eating? I don’t mean have you looked at your plate to make sure the waiter got your order right, I mean have you ever really looked at the actual food you’re salivating over? I’m betting you haven’t, and I’m not talking grease-burgers and hot dogs (you probably wouldn’t want to look too closely at those anyway), I mean real food- fruits, veggies, seafood- food that’s just naturally odd looking.
Since the brussles sprout epiphiny, I tend to look at food a little differently, wondering (silently now) who the brave, gastronomic pioneers were who paved the way for the delicasies we enjoy today. I’ve been making a mental catalog of pecuilar looking foodstuffs over the past couple months, and decided to look at some of the oddest things that we eat.
Eggs. Eggs have given us so much: They’re in your cookies, your fried rice and on top of your $18 gourmet burger, not to mention eggs benedict, deviled eggs, migas, quiche and the fact that poached eggs are a pure delight when cooked properly. But that doesn’t change the fact that they’re pretty weird if you think about what they are and what they look like. I realize that hunger was the driving force behind food selection aeons ago, but I seriously doubt that I would have been the first person to snatch an egg from a nest, crack it open and scramble the mysterious contents on a hot rock.
Pomegranites. In their defense, pomegranites are really good. They also just happen to be really suspicious looking and it takes about three hours to eat a teaspoon of actual fruit. They’ve been around forever, but someone had to take the first bite, and I want to know who put in the hours to consume the first pomegranite. Crack open a pomegranite and take a peek at those sinister looking little seeds.
Artichokes. If vegetables were dinosaurs, the artichoke would be a triceratops. This vegetable is neither aesthetically pleasing nor particularly inviting. It looks like it has armor. They are, however, pretty yummy when dipped in warm butter and when served on salads, pizzas and other wonderful confections. But that doesn’t discount the fact that should I have found myself wandering the ancient world in search of nourishment that I would have steered clear of the ominous-looking artichoke.
Crawfish. There’s a reason they’re called mud bugs, and it’s not because of how delectable they look. First there’s the issue of catching them, followed closely by the issue of preparing them, and I’m guessing that whoever ate the first crawfish did not do so after lovingly boiling it with bay leaves, cayenne pepper and lemon juice.They’re small, messy and a lot more trouble than the miniscule amount of meat is actually worth, but they’re darn good. So thank you to the person who took one for the team and opened the door for that miracle that is Cajun cooking.
Saffron. One of the most distinctive flavors out there, saffron is also one of the most difficult spices to harvest (read: really expensive). Plucked from the saffron crocus, each flower only yields a couple of strands of saffron, which seems to beg the question: Who thought this was a good idea? Going off the assumption that hunger was the issue behind most of these food choices, harvesting saffron seems a bit superfluous. Then again, we’re still coughing up $10+ for an ounce of threads and upwards of $100 for the really good stuff, so it must have been worth it.
Mushrooms. Considering how many mushrooms are toxic, it’s a wonder that anyone survived the tate-testing phase to pass along which ones we could actually eat. I know I certainly wouldn’t have plucked a huge Portabella, taken a bite and hoped for the best, but I do appreciate a nice stuffed mushroom. Take a good look at the next mushroom you eat and tell me they’re not the tiniest bit strange.
Oysters. On a recent trip to New Orleans we treated ourselves to oysters galore, and every time the waitress plunked a heaping tray of the delicious, briny bivalves onto our table, I couldn’t help but think: Who decided to eat these? First of all they look like rocks, and second of all they’re impossible to get into. I’m really glad someone did though, but I’m still curious who the first person was who identified an oyster, hacked it open (without the aid of a shucker, nonetheless) and said “I think I’ll slurp this down for dinner. Raw.” I’m guessing it was a man on a dare.
I realize that my list excludes a great many questionable-looking foods, and that if I had infinite time that seafood would have a disproportionate number of entries, so for that reason I’d like to hear about any foods y’all think are particularly strange. I’m also curious to know if anyone else ever wonders about food, (mostly to make myself fee like less of a geek). Happy eating.