This is part of the Star2 Monthly Challenge: #Squealmeal which is on through November. Readers are also invited to take part in the challenge. Click here to find out how. You can also read about what was eaten and watch the videos to go with the stories on Star2 Facebook.
Weird is relative. Just ask Bizarre Foods host, Andrew Zimmern, who has made a career out of stuffing his face with the oddest, most revolting foods imaginable.
Zimmern once quipped, “One man’s weird is another man’s wonderful. Try explaining individually wrapped Kraft cheese singles to an African desert nomad.”
While I can’t agree more with the man, I don’t think we have to look too far for references. Thanks to its multiculturalism, Malaysia is a vast and varied culinary landscape in itself, filled with a plethora of underrepresented ethnic flavours.
I know many people – my husband included – who find the Malay delicacy of paru goreng, or fried beef lungs, worthy of a Fear Factor episode. But it was one of my favourite dishes growing up in a mixed race household; my grandmother used to cook it every week, these phenomenal strips of chewy meat that’s marinated in chilli and turmeric and then deep fried with a litany of spices.
I don’t blame them though, as I have my own issues with a few local – and some might even say, commonly found – dishes.
So imagine my horror when my editor suggested I try eating the things I have long had reservations over: fish eyeballs, chicken feet and, wait for this… coagulated pig’s blood.
A part of me wondered why people would ever want to touch these “spare parts” with a ten-foot-pole – let alone a chopstick. My family were never that adventurous when it came to food either – apart from the occasional lung or stomach – so I was never encouraged to tread beyond my comfort zone.
Until now, that is.
And so, in hopes of currying favour with my boss (oh, the things I do for work), I took my first – and reluctant – bite of a glistening fish eyeball.
Steamed and then seasoned with vinegar, ginger, garlic and onion, it looked like the least intimidating of the lot.
However, this was when I truly learned my lesson: never, ever judge a book by its cover. That tiny, harmless-looking orb of flesh tasted like someone took a piss in my mouth. All of the ginger and garlic in the world cannot conceal the awful, fishy smell of the pus-like goo that flowed out as I chewed for a grand total of two seconds.
I spat it out.
Maybe the eyeballs were prepared the wrong way but I gave up.
Next, it was the chicken feet, sautéed Chinese-style with some sweet soy sauce and drizzled with carrots and cilantro for colour.
I bit into it – or at least I tried to but the skin just wouldn’t budge. It was like taking a bite out of rubber. (A less rubbery way to have chicken feet is to stew or boil it until soft. Lol. – Editor)
Feeling every bit as resolute as an IS militant embarking on her first mission, I tried again, this time tearing off a toe as I went. Finally, a microscopic piece of flesh came off!
This was when I learnt that eating chicken feet requires a certain amount of practice.
ALSO READ: The beauty of eating chicken feet
While I can understand how this bone-and-flesh gnashing exercise could be enjoyable for someone who fancied themselves as a bit of a he-wolf, my jaws were sore and I was ready to move on.
This was not going as I planned. I expected to emerge all radiant and triumphant from the experience – a food hero who, after conquering her culinary phobias with a mixture of grace and bravado, had a few wise words to share with her readers about embracing food of all sorts – but it’s backfiring the more I tried.
The last and final dish was waiting, mocking me the more I stared. This was the famed Penang white curry noodles, where chunks of coagulated pig’s blood can often be found swimming in a heady, rich curry sauce. I took the smallest piece I could find and popped it into my mouth.
This took me by complete surprise: I had expected the blood to taste mineral-ly and crumble in my mouth, but it had the texture of bouncy tofu and it tasted like nothing in particular.
My God, this was actually the least offensive of the lot!
The million dollar question, however, is whether I’ll eat it again if given the chance. Thanks, but I’ll stick to tofu for now.