Funny Foreign Food? 

Count me in!

You had to feel sorry for them, a young American couple in a foreign land, trying to make head or tail of the menu. Actually they were in London in a South Bank fish restaurant. And they weren’t trying to order anything all that complicated – just good old British fish and chips.
It had all begun so well. Granted they might have got a more authentic experience had they opted for the chip shop further down the street, but here they were, doing their best to join in with Londoners and sample the local delicacy.
That was until the waiter asked them whether they’d like some mushy peas. They just stared at him as if he’d begun spouting Ancient Greek. I suppose it doesn’t really sound very encouraging, does it? Mushy … peas? Imagine if you’d never had them, never heard of them even, what that name might conjure up. Sadly for the unfortunate pair, the waiter wasn’t a native Brit either, and couldn’t really manage to impart the ambrosial delight that is mushy peas. They politely agreed to try one portion between them. When their meal arrived they examined the bright green goo, poked at it with a spoon before drizzling the tiniest amount on their chips, sampled it gingerly with eyes closed, then decided against further experimentation.
Apparently they weren’t the first visitors to these shores to have similarly baulked. During Euro 96, dozens of Turkish football fans billeted in Nottingham were reportedly flummoxed by the “strange green sauce” that the chip shop had dolloped on their takeaways.
As it happened, Mum and me had the fish and chips too. We were off to the theatre and in traditional mood. The problem was that, while the meal was excellently cooked, plentiful and lovely to look at, those mushy peas lacked a certain something. I think it was tradition. They were elegant, and while I’m not morally opposed to elegant eating, there’s something about mushy peas that is inherently unsophisticated.
These mushies had been expertly crafted from fresh peas and pureed with mint. They were lovely. But just weren’t a patch on the ones they used to serve at our local chippy on Stanton Street.
There are some things that are delicious and wonderful despite their lack of refinement, perhaps because of it. I mean you really can’t beat cinema nachos. We all know that real cheese has never been that texture, or that colour, and yet with the promise of the latest blockbuster, there’s simply nothing better.
At least with mushy peas the description is fairly explanatory. Some foods are not at all what they seem, as I found out in a small town neighbourhood restaurant in Colorado, where they were serving something called Rocky Mountain Oysters. The waitress asked if I’d had them before. I assured her that I’d eaten plenty of oysters and she seemed content. Perhaps her initial hesitation should have stopped me in my tracks.
Anyway, the appetizer arrived. Everyone had a taste and agreed it was really quite scrumptious. Sort of mushroomy actually. So there I am three days later, still congratulating myself on my new discovery, when I overhear a conversation between our tour guide and a fellow passenger, and then I come over all nauseous.
Guess what? Rocky Mountain Oysters have nothing to do with oysters, or even mushrooms. They’re buffalo meat. And they come from the part of a buffalo that, how shall I put this, accommodated part of his manhood. I won’t worry you with the method of acquisition, let’s just say it’s not necessary to kill the buffalo and that further information would make your eyes water.
Now I’m normally quite happy to live on the culinary edge, but although I eat fish and seafood, it’s more than 20 years since I’ve willingly eaten a piece of meat. At the time it wasn’t a moral choice, but now I felt guilty that I’d consumed the most delicate part of a poor buffalo, and, let’s be honest, enjoyed it.
The previous day I’d been introduced to some buffalo that had appeared in the Kevin Costner film Dances With Wolves. Now I couldn’t help but wonder whether they had known that I’d just eaten the crown jewels of one their brethren.
Oddly, when I’ve recounted this cautionary tale, it’s been my more carnivorous friends who’ve been the most appalled. But I’m not surprised; I’ve heard a coach load of holidaymakers in Norway refuse point blank to sample reindeer meat on the grounds that it would be “like eating Rudolf”. Funny that, because the previous evening they’d happily munched away on a leg of Larry the Lamb. We're talking Shaun the Sheep here, people!
But who am I to judge? And besides, if you can stomach it, I can recommend a very tasty, appetizer.