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Dare-To-Eat Foods

Tarantulas

Photo courtesy of Travel Channel

For a 55-year-old father, All Hallows’ Eve means costumes and treats, the occasional trick and a feeling of bonhomie in our neighborhood when parents unite to admire our kids as they run around the block, sacks in hand, getting ready to sort the Smarties from the SweeTarts. It also means an uptick in media requests for listicles running the gamut from My 10 Best-Tasting Spiders to A Culinary Gallimaufry of African Rodents. To satisfy everyone’s curiosity, I’m creating my own list of five odd and scary foods that I hope you’ll eat as soon as possible. They’re delicious.

COCONUT GRUBS The larval grub of the red palm weevil, Rhynchophorus ferrugineus, is also called the Asian palm weevil, sago worm or uok. I call them delicious and seek them out whenever I’m in South America, Australasia or Africa, where they’re renowned for their tastiness. Sadly for diners, the weevil hasn’t found a consistent foothold in Europe or North America. In Vietnam, the larvae are sometimes eaten alive with fish sauce. I’ve seen them stewed, sautéed and steamed. In Ecuador and Peru, they’re often cleaned, marinated in sour orange juice and grilled until the fat, creamy larvae are crispy like chicken skin. They’re served five or six on a skewer along with a piece of steamed yucca or potato. Heaven.

TARANTULAS These spiders are sold in street and jungle markets, primarily in South America and Southeast Asia and mostly to tourists who are looking for a good Instagram photo—they’re gimmicky, to say the least. In Cambodia, the spiders are harvested live, defanged, cooked and sold on the roadsides and in cafés, mostly by single mothers trying to earn a living. They’re also cooked en masse and dried, then shipped to bigger cities for sale in markets. But trust me: Fresher is better with tarantulas. When cooking them alive (like lobsters or crabs), the first step is to singe off the poisonous fur. Then toss them in a wok with ginger, chilies and scallions. They eat like soft-shell crab, especially the bigger ones, with sweet white meat in the legs and a delightful “mustard” in their fat bellies.

BATS In the West, we see bats as wild, seemingly erratic because of their kiting flying style and scary to look at. None of those elements is considered in the far-flung Pacific Islands, Southern Asia or West Africa, where small cave bats and even giant fruit bats with 7-foot wingspans are routinely eaten in small towns and villages. On some remote islands in the Samoan atoll, fruit bats feed only on wild breadfruit in the trees. To catch them, you lie in wait, like hunting deer, shotgun in hand. At dusk, the bats stream out of their habitat and head right for their first meal of the night. After a few well-placed shots, it’s time to build a fire, squeezing wild ginger juice over the roasting animals and eating them by hand like good barbecue. In the rest of the world, smaller cave bats are typically deep-fried whole (a favorite of the local children), and medium-sized cave bats are chopped and cooked in a wok in the local style. The meat is sweet and porcine.

SNAKES On every continent on Earth, you’ll find people eating snakes, but it’s a tough animal to cook. Stewing the meat for hours and hours will do the trick, but all cold-blooded species lack fat, and braising, for me, results in a paucity of flavor. The best snakes are the local pythons, often sold in markets from Shanghai south to the Philippines. The animal is skinned, butchered and washed before being pressure-cooked for 10 minutes. The meat is then meticulously dried and dusted with rice flour and seasonings, deep-fried to crisp it and drained. Afterward, the fried meat is wok-tossed with chilies and scallions and doused with salt and pepper. At that point, it would stand up to any other animal for eating pleasure.

BRAINS Organ meats have gained popularity again after being eschewed for several generations in America. Brains, liver, kidneys, heart, ears—they’re all delicious, especially from the animals most popular here: chicken, cow, pig and lamb. The reasons we don’t see them in markets anymore? Lack of awareness. (That’s changing!) Also, we’ve sped up production in our factory farms to the point where we can’t guarantee that the “other parts” of the animals are safe to eat. Thankfully, local butcher shops and family farms are harvesting animals a different way, and that’s good for eaters. Fresh brains from pigs, calves or lambs, gently poached and cooled, can be mixed into scrambled eggs, pan-fried for tacos, sliced and fried for sandwiches—you name it. I like to poach and cool them, dredge them in seasoned flour and pan-fry them in butter until crisp. I deglaze the pan with a bit of white wine, shallots, parsley and capers, adding a teaspoon of butter right at the end, and then pour the sauce over the brains. Eaten with toast, this is my favorite meal for October 31.

Spill It: Tell Us What You Think!

Jill Carpenter
Encouraging people to eat bats, which are being hunted to the verge of extinction, is absolutely asinine.
10/30/2016 10:43:36 PM

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