When I was in culinary school, we were told two things on the first day that some of us found a offensive, though we eventually changed our tunes. First, we were told, “If, after graduating from this school, you still eat at McDonald’s, except for financial reasons, then something is wrong with your palate.” Second, we were told, “You should be willing to try any food, as long as it is prepared properly.” At first, some of us were not sure that we agreed. But now, after having graduated culinary school, lived a bit, and spent years in China, I can say that I wholeheartedly agree with those two statements.
But, that having been said, I also understand that no every human likes every single food. It is important to at least be willing to try new foods, and to at least understand why certain cultures enjoy their dishes, their delicacies. For example, I am not entirely keen on eating fried tarantulas, but I do understand that many Thai people enjoy them as a delicacy, because of their nutty, crisp flavor. So I respect them for that.
Even so, I can completely understand that everyone has that certain food that they just cannot stand. For example, Andrew Zimmern, who is the host of one of my favorite TV shows, Bizarre Foods, has a food he cannot stand. Mr. Zimmern, who has eaten eyeballs, head meat, organs, live insects, a drink made of human saliva, and other things for his show, hates walnuts. Why walnuts? I have no idea, and he probably does not either. I believe that we can hate certain foods for their flavor, but mostly it is for psychological reasons.
For example, when I was but a small child, my father would eat bananas for breakfast. Alright, so the banana is a harmless, innocuous fruit that is eaten worldwide. Fine. But the sounds that his chewing made while eating bananas drove me insane. So, to this very day, I do not like bananas. I will eat them to be polite, or in the right dish, but I hold a grudge against them. Thus, I understand that particular phenomenon — hating certain food for psychological reasons.
But some foods — let’s be honest — have a very acquired flavor. Certain foods come to mind — hákarl (rotten shark) and casu marzu (cheese with live maggots still in it), for example. But I believe that each of us has that one, certain flavor that we cannot forget, that horrific food from hell that we tried, maybe ust to be polite, or maybe out of curiosity. Mine is — stir-fried jellyfish. Yes, jellyfish.
When I first moved to Beijing, a colleague took me out to dine at a popular restaurant known for its delicious Beijing Duck (which remains one of my favorite dishes in the world). Well, this restaurant also had many other interesting dishes. I had come to China to experience a new life, a new culture, and new food, so I decided that there would be no dish that I would not at least try. I saw jellyfish on the menu, so I had to order it.
English has the largest vocabulary of any language on earth. It is estimated that, while French, for example, uses about 100,000 words in the speech and writing of most people, English is closer to 1,000,000. Thus, I find it very frustrating that I lack the precise words to tell you just how horrific the taste of jellyfish is. I wish that I were an English scholar a thousand times over, throughout hundreds of lifetimes, for then I might grasp just one word to describe this monstrosity. I will try, however.
The texture was not so awful. It was firm, yet yielded to the teeth, like a dried forest mushroom that you have reconstituted in boiling water. No, it was the flavor that was so repulsive. How can I describe it? It has undertones of rotten grass, with plastic, chemical flavors, all wrapped in an aura of alien flesh. Yes, I say alien flesh because I truly do no believe that there is an English word that truly describes the main flavor of jellyfish. Perhaps there is such a word in Chinese, but my level is not yet high enough.
So, to me, the worst flavor in the world is that of jellyfish. It is simply unnatural, as if humans were not meant to place that particular meat in our mouths. But what about you? What is the most disgusting, repulsive flavor that you have ever tasted? Leave a comment for us here at FoodSided, and let’s continue the discussion!