Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Omnivores Limited

When I discovered this list of "100 foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their life", I thought it would be fun to share with the kin-folk in an group email. As I should have anticipated, it quickly turned into a competition, as things among siblings often do.

My brother, David created a shared Google Docs spreadsheet to track how many of the 100 foods each family member had tried, compared to each other. The battle lines had been drawn, and the contest to see who would reign supreme in the kingdom of omnivores had begun.

From the get go my mom was the far and away leader, having already tried over 60 of the 100 items. David and my Dad were vying for second place, and the rest of us were pretty far behind. But, visiting family in the Seattle area over the holidays gave us the time and opportunity to make some progress on the list, especially since international foods are more available there than where we live in Utah.

Ryan's brother, Shaun, just happened to have purchased some scotch bonnet peppers a few days before we arrived, which was one item on the list I hadn't planned on facing so soon. But, seeing them in the fridge, I knew the time had come:

The face of true fear.
The raw scotch bonnet pepper (Ryan and I ate one whole pepper each) was just about as hot as I had imagined it might be. At first it tasted like green bell pepper, but it quickly turned into the kind of spicy that registers not as flavor but as searing chemical pain. Scotch Bonnet peppers typically score between 100,000 and 350,000 units on the Scoville scale. For comparison, Jalepenos are between 2,500 and 8,000, but it seems like the numbers are irrelevant at that scale. It might as well have been 100 million Scoville units; I can't imagine the feeling of burning being any less bearable. And of course, just one pepper made me visibly sweat.

I really wish I would've taken a video of Ryan sticking his entire head in the kitchen sink under running water, but I obviously did not have the presence of mind to pull out my camera, as I was doubled over in spicy agony as well. Four glasses of chocolate milk and 20 minutes later, my lips were still numb, but I wasn't in pain. Victory.

Here are some other items that one or both of us tried for the first time over Christmas: 


Eggs Benedict.
(Ryan declared that he would eat this for breakfast
every day if he could, as would I)
Steamed Pork Buns. Delicious
Hum Bao (pork buns) at Capitol Market in Olympia.

Stining Nettle Tea (doesn't sting, just tastes kind of like
hay smells. Not bad with a little honey)
 Carob chip cookies - which tasted about as good
as this picture looks (which is to say, not very. )
Things were going well, we thought. We were having fun trying new foods, some delicious and others not as good. Even the pepper was within my expectations. Everything changed when we met this spiky, malodorous, horrible fruit. Durian:

The spikes should have been a warning.
I could try to describe the horrible, acrid, stench and flavor of this fruit, but I doubt I'd have the words. It brought to mind onion, gym socks, mango, and gasoline, but none of those is quite the right descriptor. Needless to say, we were barely able to force ourselves to fight through the gagging and eat a few bites of this fruit.

If that weren't bad enough, the stench lingered in the entire house and the flavor stayed with me for the rest of the night. It also made Ryan burp noxious durian fumes for hours afterward. I walked away from this challenge not so much with a feeling of victory, but one of complete regret.

It took nearly six weeks for us to recover from the durian and be willing to try another unknown mystery food on the list.  But, we knew the worst of it had to be behind us, and next up on the list was Indian food, which didn't sound so bad, so we forged forward.

I had to call around several places to find a restaurant that served Aloo Gobi. When I found one, I was hoping they might also serve two other items we wanted to try: Salt Lassi and Phaal. They did not. I inquired with the waiter anyway, and he brought the owner to our table. I asked if they could please make us Phaal and Salt Lassi even though it wasn't on the menu. He blinked and asked "Are you sure? Phaal is very very hot, and the lassi is not sweet." We insisted, he shrugged, and in his great Punjabi accent:   "Okay. Why not. But no sending back."
Salt Lassi at India Palace in Provo. 

Ryan's review: "It tastes like a milky ocean."
 The Aloo Gobi was just tasty veggies in curry sauce. Nothing to be scared of.  The Phaal on the other hand was a little intimidating.  When the owner brought it out, even the smell was enough to burn the nostrils a little. But, we figured nothing could be worse than raw scotch bonnet pepper, and it turns out we were right.

It was hot, don't get me wrong, and the requirement to eat an entire dish of it was pretty daunting (at least the scotch bonnet pepper was over after a couple bites). But with enough naan and water, we finished the entire plate of lamb phaal. Left us sweating, but not crying.
Ryan stares down his nemesis: Phaal.
(on the left, extra chili sauce, which we slathered
on to make sure it was as hot as it could be.)

A couple weeks later, coming home from a trip to Salt Lake City, we noticed a sign for "ALL U CAN EAT SUSHI & BUFFET $6" at the Lotus Garden. The price probably should have been a red flag, but after learning that they did in fact serve eel meat, we forged on, bound by our need to mark it off the list.

In hindsight, I completely agree with the single person who has reviewed this restaurant on cleanliness at this establishment did not seem to be a top priority. From floaties in the water, to grimy-looking buffet dishes, we were not enticed to ever revisit Lotus Garden. But, I have eaten worse-tasting Asian food and Ryan got to try some eel nigiri for the first time.

His review: "Mnmm. Tastes like tuna. Are you going to eat that crab wonton?"

Just last weekend we had another chance to knock a few things off the list, at Siegfried's Delicatessen in Salt Lake, which we discovered at the suggestion of a helpful Starbucks barista.

There, we were able to find not only blood sausage, but head cheese, goulash, spaetzle, and currywurst. Five items off the list in one go! We were pretty excited.

Head cheese. Yum!
Blood sausage (left), head cheese (right)

The blood sausage tasted like salami with a heavy dose of iron. It was tolerable as long as you tried really hard not to think about what you were eating. The head cheese on the other hand was quite delicious. Just chunks of pork in some kind of pork jelly.

I'd like to apologize for everything about this video. It's lame. See for yourself.

Goulash with Spaeztle
Currywurst Mix with Knackwurst Sausage
Curry wurst.
Tom Yum Soup at Spicy Thai in Provo. Note the sweet 6' tall carved elephant.
Bottoms up!

 Out of respect for the origin and history of these foods, I knew it would be unfair to simply look up a recipe online for something I had never tried and expect it to come out tasting like the real thing. So when it came to baba ganoush, I faithfully followed the recipe, shopping, and serving instructions of my Egyptian Arabic teacher, Salima (in part: "Begin with a bathenjan [egg plant] that's firmer than sharihat al hum moutboha [well-done steak]").

Baba Ganoush with olive-oil toasted challah.

It turned out even tastier than sharihat al hum moutboha! Thank you, Salima, wherever you are . I would totally give you a Mubarak-stepped-down high five right now.

Shaun came all the way from WA to eat baba ganoush with us in Provo (I assume).
On Saturday, the owner of Amano Artisan Chocolate in Orem was nice enough to let us sample a variety of chocolates made from cocao beans which he personally sourced from villages all over South America. It was very educational. But even more tasty.

Each box of chocolates comes with individual tasting guides, explaining how to get the most out of that particular bean, with suggested pairings and flavor notes to hunt for. (Is this one a plumb/blueberry/coffee or more of an almond/apple/yeast flavor?) Who knew chocolate could have all the pretension of perfume and fine wine?
Tasting Guide step 1: smell the chocolate.
We went home with some chocolate made from Chuao beans, which are apparently among the most coveted on earth. This cocao harvesting village of Chuao is so remote it can only be accessed by boat, and only during certain times of the year, when the water levels are just so. Who knew? Good chocolate though.

It's been an adventure, and we still have a long ways to go, but as of this posting, Ryan is now in second place in our family. He's tried over 62% of the items, so he's just behind my mom. I'm pulling up third place. Go us!

The list (stricken are the items I personally wouldn't try because of religious preference):

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo 40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut 50. Sea urchin

51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu or shaojiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail

79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
 92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake


  1. Wow, you guys are blazing through that list! I'm impressed. I and David will have to step up our game =) I was wondering why every time I logged onto Google Docs that list was recently viewed. And those bangs are way cute. We miss you!