Lea Lane

Lea Lane
Florida, USA
August 26
author, Travel Tales I Couldn't Put in the Guidebooks, available at Amazon.com and on Kindle
“I’ve discovered the secret of life,” Kay Thompson, the eccentric entertainer and “Eloise” author, once said. “A lot of hard work, a lot of sense of humor, a lot of joy and a lot of tra-la-la!” And that's been my life: As a travel writer for over 30 years, I've been around the block (more like around the world), and I write true stories about interesting people and places. (Check out my travel site, Travels With Lea.) I've lived an unconventional life in conventional trappings. Been a corporate VP, worked with foster kids, acted in an Indie ("Nurse 1"), was on Jeopardy!. I've been managing editor of a travel publication, written for the Times, and authored books. OS is my home, but I also blog on The Huffington Post, and I've contributed (mostly anonymously) to everything from encyclopedias to guidebooks. Married young, divorced late; married late, widowed early, I dated lots in-between -- and survived a scary illness. After being happily, peacefully solo for many years, I'm now happily married again. I founded and still edit www.sololady.com, a lifestyle Website for single women. I'm truly grateful for each precious day, each well-earned wrinkle, my family, my cat. Truth, laughter, friendship, late love. And this blog -- on this wonderful site!

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Editor’s Pick
AUGUST 19, 2010 10:11AM

The Weirdest Meat I Ever Ate & Other Food Oddities

Rate: 40 Flag



photo credit: deadspin.com


When traveling I'm often conflicted when offered local specialties. And the anecdote at the end of this post is a great example of why.

As a travel writer who’s eaten my way around, I’ve consumed local products that I’d never find again, or anywhere else. Wild boar, squid in black ink, raw seal liver, air-dried whale blubber, zebra. I’ve tried them all, and have had my share of turista.

And I’ve consumed proteins connected with exterminators, sometimes by chance. In a café on the Pan American Highway in Mexico, a crouton in my bowl of tomato soup turned out to have six legs. And in a well-known Washington DC restaurant, a baked cricket was an unwelcome addition to an otherwise ordinary veal casserole.

(After the apoplectic owner comped the bill, I mock-whispered to my friend, “Got the cricket? It worked again!”)

In Bangkok, our group of Thais and Americans working on a video project made faces at each other as we consumed unpeeled, whole shrimp that looked like magnified bugs. The Americans removed the tops and consumed the bottoms, and the Thais did just the opposite.

“How can you eat the eyes and brains?” asked the Americans, disgustedly. “How can you eat the intestinal tube?” asked the Thais, just as disgustedly. We wasted nothing by exchanging both disgusting parts, much to both groups’ satisfaction.

Worms to some are as delicious as eels to others, but many of us can’t stomach either. I have passed on sheep eyes, grubs, ants, Amazonian rodents, and cat. In the northern hills of Vietnam, I admired dogs that I learned later were raised to be eaten. That would be a no for me!

I have eaten alligator and iguana, which yes, taste like chicken. (Would people used to eating these two say that chicken tastes like reptiles?)

In Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, after a trek on an elephant named Sarah, my friend and I chose a restaurant with a snake pit at the entrance, set much like a lobster tank at a neighborhood seafood joint. The boa became a burger, filled with what tasted like pebbles. The cobra was tender, but left funny ribs on a plate. And snake also tastes like chicken, perhaps because reptilian dinosaurs were the precursors of birds.

In Tokyo I savored a porcelain bowlful of blush-pink jelly that turned out to be jelly –fish. But that’s nothing compared to my son Randall, who once ate fugo, a potentially deadly blowfish prepared by only a few Japanese chefs, for a magazine article. At least he got paid well, and lived to write about it.

And now for my favorite carnivore memory. It was 1984 in Hong Kong, at a new restaurant on the Kowloon harbor. I was invited along with a rather snobby writer for a science magazine. I called him Macho Man.

The owner took us first through a kitchen that looked like a mordant petting zoo, with cute, caged bunnies, birds, turtles and such and an aquarium full of colorful and presumably delicious fish.

Our pre-chosen menu was highly unusual, in honor of our visit. Our appetizer was sashimi of geoduc, a bi-valve as big as a pizza. The waiter wheeled it in and sliced the raw foot. Ouch.

Shark fin soup followed. I’m not sure if this is still served, but it is said that the entire shark can be thrown away, just to get the fin, which is considered an aphrodisiac. I wasn’t interested in making love just then, and felt awful about the waste.

The restaurant owner sat with Macho Man and me, Buddha-like, eating nothing, saying little. And his wife picked at tea and rice, silently, head down. Macho Man bragged throughout the feast of the many icky foods he had eaten, including monkey brains and locusts. I didn’t care for him or his culinary sophistication.

He downed the first course with gusto, and I liked him less and less with each enthusiastic bite. When he learned that dessert was to be sea fungus in milk, he exclaimed that he had enjoyed it recently.

The main course was the most unusual of the meal, a sliced meat, mild flavor. Macho Man chewed carefully, but couldn’t recognize the taste, and finally asked our host what we were eating.

The restaurant owner’s wife, who had been silent throughout the meal, looked up from her rice, and whispered, “deer penis.”

Well now. Macho Man threw down his chopsticks, in a reflex action.

“Finishing that?” I asked innocently. 

 And yes, it tasted like chicken.


















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Thank you for putting the various, um, delicacies in boldface type. This vegetarian made it as far as "sheep eyes", then had to look away. You are one brave eater!
But Greenheron, you missed the ending. On second thought, maybe it *was* better to look away when you did.
Was it followed by a stir-fried placenta? : ) R
Lea, you are a brave woman...barf bag anyone? :)

The ending was great. And yes, you are a brave woman.
No, Trudge, The placenta was pickled, I do believe. :)

joyonboard, I've learned to carry the barf bag from the airlines in my purse. (No kidding,)

Ladyslipper, congrats on making it to the end. I remember it well! And I have the menu in my house.
Well, there go MY plans for lunch.

Exquisite and deft turn of the knife, Lea. Love these travel tidbits ... ahhhhhh ... stories, rather. Not sure I could handle many of the actual tidbits mentioned above.
Boa, looking back on what I've consumed, even a bite, is enough to turn my stomach too. But while I'm doing it I must be in a kind of daze. And I don't like to insult my hosts.
you are one intrepid traveler, lea, and a gracious guest. that's some ghastly food in a great piece. excuse me. i'm going to go have a piece of buttered toast. ;
I am reminded of the Chevy Chase movie 'Funny Farm'. He goes to the local diner and orders lamb fries. He east so many he sets the record. A man comments to him that he was someone who knew when he had something good in his mouth, then after his 23rd lamb fry, someone mentions that he was eating sheep testicles! I guess not knowing would be better than knowing, although if something is staring back at me, I would not be inclined to ingest it! I am so envious of all your travels, the meals, not so much!!! R
Candace, tea and toast were often my meals of choice, in-between.

Libmomrn, testicles are often called by other names. I'm sure I've eaten them without realizing it.
Yikes! In spite of the things you chose not to try, you definintely rate as an adventure eater (as well as traveller) in my book.
Yes, please, I will take a handful. The sea fungus dessert didn't fully agree with me, it appears. Deer Pecker, sounds like a sick advice column for the angry love scorned.

Trudge, geez, man. Stir-frying would cause the placenta to get all stringy. As Lea pointed out, pickled is the only way to go. Dropping some on the floor is however, really bad luck in almost all cultures.

“Finishing that?” I asked innocently---HA!HAHAHA!
I'm conflicted but sometimes have no choice, Owl.

Spud, pickled *is* the best. You can't taste it that way.
I had a sixth grade student who grew up on an Indian Reservation; he once told me that when he was three, he found a cockroach on the floor and, thinking it looked good, ate it!
And I thought I was weird because I like bone marrow! -R-
Daniel, I never ate a cockroach voluntarily.

Christine, osso buco is one of my faves.
sixtycandles, how about veggies?
This post just triggered some childhood issues... :)
Loved it anyway, Lea._r
I read your post, Joan and I hear you.
I guess if you're going to eat a penis, it's best not to know until you after dinner. I always say, I'll eat most anything if I trust who's presenting it. Just don't tell me what it is.
you're a more adventurous eater than I've ever been, and your culinary tales are terrific, but the last one is the capper, of course no true Macho Man would ever eat cock!
Outstanding!!! I'd be enthusiastically at your side for each of those meals. The most exotic I've managed is a deep-fried scorpion sans stinger in Guangzhou.
Yeow. The weirdest thing I ate was a bat- yes in SW China. Rich is in Japan and ate crab guts sushi last night-- he said it was delicious. In Korea you can order and eat "the whole cow," -- Rich did and ate everything. Then again, he grew up 20 miles from NYC and trapped critters, and his family ate everything he caught, including raccoon and squirrel. I can try most anything, as long as it's not slippery.
bluestocking babe, far be it from me to tell you not to eat a penis.

Roy, as I was saying to bluestocking ....

Stim, I love your spirit. As far as I know I have avoided scorpion. Those pesky stingers.
And geoduc is fabulous if fried- they're related to my favorite food, razor clams! They're from my neck of the woods (the NW)!
Denese, it sounds like you're way ahead of me. A bat? And yes, most cultures eat most everything from the animal. We do too, only it's in sausage.
You're braver than I am. I think escargot is probably the weirdest thing I've tried.
I would only eat deer penis if I was assured it had been properly refrigerated.
You are my hero. I like to think I am that adventurous, but I'm not. But I have eaten gooeyduck, which is the way they pronounce it in the Northwest. Laying there on the crushed ice at the Pike Place Market they do look pornographically phallic. I guess that's the closest I've ever come to, you know.

I especially enjoyed the counterpoint of your sweet, smiling photo with its patina of innocence, with your oh so worldly article. You little fooler, you.
Caroline, I love snails, especially in a buttery garlic sauce. But then I'd even like deer penis in a buttery garlic sauce.

Joan, you're right. Nothing worse than warm deer penis. :)
I have eaten some of the strangest foods in Japan...so I didn't have too much trouble digesting your article. Well done.
David, missed you back there. Yes, I smile as I go along my way. I've found it works best when confronted with strange and awful things. And the geoduc is the gooeyduck--scary thing.

Sheila, anyone who has traveled to Asia or less urban areas of the world has seen the imaginative cuisine I mention. Locals eat local things, and eat all of it.
I absolutely love this post. On my travels I've been fortunate enough to sample some local delicacies - my most unusual were the Mopani worms in Zimbabwe.
Yes, yes Geraint. The Mopani worms are succulent. But have you tried the grubs? Ok, I'm kidding. But I am impressed!
Sometimes it is best to learn the identity of what one has eaten after one has eaten it and not before. Even then some things are best never to know. I actually enjoyed monkey brains until I was told what it was. Consuming the brains of a primate crosses the line for me, though if starving all rules are off.

There is a Chinese dish where the fish is served in a vat of simmering oil, but he's half submerged and still alive and cognizant. It is not uncommon to begin eating the fish while he is still alive. I think this takes the concept of "fresh fish" a little too far and is surely horrifically cruel.

Do the Thais truly discard the shrimp tails? I would not be surprised if the practice of eating the heads began with the poor people. The wealthy bought the shrimp and discarded the heads and poor people got them either for free or very little money. The peasants figured out some tasty ways to prepare them, one day a rich person tried some and they became popular amongst that population. Italy has lots of examples of this sort of cuisine evolution.

Last line was a killer Lea. Dorothy Parker would be proud.
So you passed on dog and cat, but not zebra and whale? Yean, uh, interesting moral compass you've got there.

When does "culture and tradition" give way to compassion? Only when you don't wish to insult your hosts? Just because idiot humans have been doing something for hundreds of years, it doesn't make it right. How sad.
Vesper, whale is the staple of the native people who live in Greenland. They are given a quota and they eat all parts of the animal. As for zebra, it was served in a restaurant in South Africa and it is not endangered. I understand your feelings.
Ablonde, the Thais I were with preferred the shrimp heads and felt the exact opposite of the way we did. Whether they normally consume that part in a home, I'm not sure.

I find the whole alive thing especially difficult, and have stopped eating lobsters since I was with someone who boiled them in front of me. I believe in dignity and minimal suffering for all creatures.
I'm sticking to foods I can peel.
But you can peel lots of the foods mentioned here. Even the dp.
Oh my, lucky for me the writing made this delicious as I don't think I could stomach half of the listed menus.
ha! great stories. I'm a fairly adventurous eater for an American, but I would definitely be reluctant to try some of these. Someone I know once ate an insect platter that was considered a delicacy at the formal dinner she was attending so as not to offend the hosts. I would definitely feign fainting or actually do so to get out of that.
Sparking, bet you just can't taste one.

Nelle, I have no doubt you could get yourself out of the obligation. It has often been a situation where the chef was sitting next to me, and I had no choice.
You're an adventurous woman! I appreciate your ability to set aside your cultural preconceptions in the name of local color. As as child, I heard stories about monkey brains. I don't know if I could handle that.
I don't want a Tums and I don't think I'll have dinner tonight either. You, my daughter and Indiana Jones. Yuck!!
"Ewww...and wow. You're brave," she says, whilst munching a lightly salted rice cake, the safe choice for cautious eaters. Great post, Lea!
Grace, I heard stories about monkey brains from MachoMan.

Fay, good for your daughter.

Deb, rice cakes sound pretty good about now. With peanut butter.
We were on a family vacation in Utah. My then grade-school-aged son ate something that did not agree and told us that he had "Brigham's Revenge."

Loved this adventure story!
Honey you know I love ya and I am so rating this without finishing the read.
mhold, I've had Montezuma and Chairman Mao and just about every other leader's revenge. But never Brigham's!

Gabby, you are a sweet friend to have faith in me, but the best part comes last and worth the nausea, I think.
Rocky Mountain Oysters? Like Ablonde, I draw a very firm line at brains, and am generally not keen on the heads of anything. Geoduck just always looks and sounds so nasty; whenever they trot it out on Top Chef, there's a collective groan. Rocky Mountain Oysters used to be a staple on menus in the nicer restaurants in our area, particularly in Jackson Hole, but I managed to escape without ever trying them. Reproductive organs have too much of an ewwww factor. Glad you've tried these, though, Lea; this made a nice piece.
hysterical...but about that picture...
Thanks, Peter.

Kathy, I'm not surprised that you've sampled many of these things. I find brains sweet, like sweetbreads. And I used to cook kidneys when I was in my Julia phase.

A picture is worth a thousand words, Nikki.
You're my kinda woman, Lea.

I'm not finicky, so long as it's cooked.
excellent my weirdest by far was being served at a banquet in North China, HAI-XIN/GIANT SEA SLUG. It's boiled, looks like a brown cobra and nearly as big, and served over what looke like an ocean of rice. Gee, Lea: thanks for the memory! r.
And yeah...tastes much like I imagine a boiled, fishy tire would taste like....
And thereafter, he was known as Flaccid Man. Great piece, Lea!
Belinda, you mean raw dp doesn't turn you on?

Jonathan, what is it about the Chinese and sea slugs? I'd rather eat sea fungus myself!

Steve, I guess that meal did knock the macho out of him!
Belinda, you mean raw dp doesn't turn you on?

Jonathan, what is it about the Chinese and sea slugs? I'd rather eat sea fungus myself!

Steve, I guess that meal did knock the macho out of him!
Well, maybe if it's been lightly salted. ;)
Yes, and perhaps with a grind of fresh pepper!
I never thought I'd hear a woman referred to as one who "eats around".lol

How about you tell all the rabbits here about Rocky Mountain oysters;-)
XJS, and proud of it!
My kinda woman.
Lemme hold yer chair, lady.
Oh my, Lea, what a brave woman you are ! I'm glad that you lived to tell the tale. rated
Rosycheeks, there were times when I was really sick afterwards. But it was "research" and someone has to do it.
But Lea, have you been to Scotland, and eaten haggis? It's as delicious to eat as it is weird to hear described. I just got back from a visit home, and I had a ton of it.

My own weirdest sounding thing was smoked mongoose (quite delicious). I used to drink regularly with a Hawaiian taxidermist.
I had snail once....it was rubbery just like I thought and if you could see me you would see my face all scrunched up in distaste mode. You are very brave!
I'm sorry Lea...but this one.....was hard for me to read......
Excellent otherwise!
Bizarre stuff Lea, truly a smorgasbord. I'm assuming the photograph was from the illustrated menu. I've had sharkfin soup, by mistake, and it tastes so nondescript...adds insult too the fatal injury of so much of the world's shark population.
Well Lea, I never thought I'd say this to you but this post is absolutely gag-worthy!
GeeBee, yes I've had haggis ( my nephew-in-law is Scottish) and I agree it was delicious.

LL2, as I've mentioned it's the garlic and butter that makes the snails taste so good. Otherwise they remind me of earthy shrimp.

Gary, I appreciate the effort.

Gail, no the illustration was not from the menu. And I agree about the sad waste of shark fin soup and hope that the custom is no longer so sought after.

Nancy, I do understand.
Silly Macho Man, always aske before you eat, that's my motto
Deear penis and pork bungs! Breakfast of champions.

I'm so glad I'm not a champion.

Great story Lea.
Lindsey, it's not a bad idea to ask first about most things.

Boomer Bob, it was dinner, but I get your gist.
At dim sum in Hong Kong, a friend of mine once innocently asked what the straggly things in one bamboo container were. They were perfectly ordinary chicken feet, but the Chinese people at the table answered "Phoenix talons," a surprising enough answer that he also dropped his chopsticks reflexively, just like Macho Man.

Good post -- I've really enjoyed reading about your eat adventures! They're the best kind. R.
I was always taught to eat what was put in front of me -- so I'd be right there with you. Tums!
Wow, you've tried so many things! I've eaten crocodile and anteater (pangolin?) and eel... and sago worms and crickets, just to see what they were like. But I'm Chinese and it is said that the Chinese eat everything. I like braised chicken feet, it is yum!

Unfortunately shark's fin soup is still often served over here in Asia (I live in Malaysia). It is served at almost every Chinese wedding banquet, but I believe sometimes they write "shark's fin soup" on the menu and use a faux substitute instead. Not very sure about that one.
Wow, that was something else! I am a chicken when it comes to stuff like this, so glad you were brave and lived to tell about it! R
You certainly have an adventurous palette. rated!
Leah, Bell, Wilful, Sheila and Caroline, thanks for stopping by. Some of you couldn't abide some of the stuff I've eaten, and some of you would probably be right next to me, eating up. I hate to hear of the shark fin soup, still a tradition at Chinese weddings. That is a sad thing, as sharks are endangered in many areas of the world.
The shark fin soup nonsense continues pretty much unabated. As pointed out in this piece
sharks kill 10 to 15 people a year worldwide, while humans kill around 100 MILLION sharks.
Disney caught a lot of flak a few years ago, when word got out that the Hong Kong Disneyland was to serve shark fin soup at one of its function rooms which people would be able to hire for wedding banquets. Due to the efforts of Sea Shepherd and other conservation groups, they stopped doing so.
Thank you for giving me the best laugh I've had in ages. I'm flabbergasted at your willingness to try so many foods that sound sickening to the American ear. Bravo! Not eating another country's food could be viewed as similar to refusing to learn any of the language spoken in a country one is traveling through. Thanks, too, for checking out my blog piece re Judith Fein's new book "Life Is a Trip." You are a fabulous writer!
GeeBee, really sad to read about the slaughter of sharks. Like wolves, they have gotten rotten press.

Marlan -- thank you much! I'm friends with Ellen Barone.
Was the DP circumcised? If they collected three of what they cut off, they could have served tri-tip!
en ,through your article ,i seem go into an beautiful sense .it seem that i visit it myself.thank you ,give me chance to enjoy so beautiful sense.by the way do you love Gucci handbag?