This Is Food?

by Chikashi

There is exotic food, and there is exotic food.  

When I travel to Japan with colleagues who have not visited Japan before, they invariably ask that they dine at ‘typical’ Japanese restaurants.  As is the case in any country with a rich culinary tradition, ‘typical’ covers a broad range including regional and seasonal specialities, some of which may seem rather more exotic than what is usually available at Japanese restaurants in their home countries.  The unfamiliar bit might be the animal or plant itself, the way it is prepared, or the parts being served.  

I am sometimes told (usually by an American), ‘This is really good, but I don’t want to know what it is.’  Fair enough.  As long as you are enjoying it, I am happy even though sometimes I agree that you may not want to know what it is.  To be truthful, we Japanese are quite wasteful in comparison to the Chinese who eat a much broader range of animals and their body parts than we do.  

Or, in comparison to the French.

We used to go to the Provence regularly.  On one such visit, we decided to leave our base and visit Avignon for an overnight visit.  We walked down the street from our hotel and found a restaurant that looked clean and inviting, so we popped in for dinner.  

The waiter told us about the specials of the day.  Grilled andouillette was one of the main dishes, but we had no idea what it is.  The Brunette asked the young waiter what it is, and he replied that it is a kind of sausage.  Knowing that I like sausages, the Brunette suggested that I take the andouillette — wives are always telling their husbands what to do, no?  It seemed like a sensible thing to do, so I ordered it.  As long as it is not a blood sausage, which I do not like, the chances of going wrong with a sausage is fairly remote.  Right?  Wrong. 

So utterly and completely WRONG.

With the first bite, the optimist in me, who rarely makes an appearance unless I am desperate, thought that it might be a little undercooked.   The piece was really rubbery, and the texture hinted that it contained little or no muscle tissue.  And then there was the smell.  

Like someone shat in my mouth.  

I looked round to check the periphery of our table.  I found no dogs making a mess or anything else that might be the cause of the smell.  I could not spot the door to the loo, so it must be far enough.  It did not even occur to me that the smell was coming from the stuff that I was chewing.  I did a stint long time ago as a tutoring assistant for a statistics and probability course at a business school, but the probability of the origin being in my mouth just did not figure in my calculation.  It was a bit like the fifth dimension.   The formula, never mind the variable to account for it, wasn’t even there.

So, I swallowed it, cut another piece and popped it in my mouth.  Same texture, flavour and smell.  It can’t be, I thought as I continued and finished an entire sausage.  By this time, I was so focussed on the overwhelming smell that I hardly said anything; it was as though I fell into a septic tank.  I finally started to consider the possibility that the smell is coming from the thing I was eating, but I was not yet convinced.  Still incredulous — I am not into scat, as you may have figured out already.    

The Brunette asked how it is, so I said that it is a bit different.  She asked to try a piece, so I cut a relatively big piece of the second sausage and gave it to her. She popped it in her mouth.  The expression on her face told me that she immediately put two and two together, giving me the necessary validation that the sausage had everything to do with the smell.  She got all cross with me because she thought that I had withheld key information from her, but in reality I had not been able to process the empirical data until I saw the look of horror on her face.

The strength of the smell was such that it lingered in our nostrils until the next evening.  Pure torture.

For those of you who are not familiar with andouillette, it is a sausage made from the colon (chitterlings) and stomach of pigs and may contain some cattle offal.  The colon is the principal source of the rather distinctive smell.  It can be served cold or hot, the latter version benefits from amplified aroma as I learned.  It is a speciality in some regions of France, such as Lyon, Troyes and Cambrai, but not Avignon.

I told a Lyonnaise friend about my andouillette experience and was told that it can be good when it’s made a certain way.  I thought, ‘Good when made a certain way?  You are so full of shit.’