Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Foot in Mouth


I've eaten all sorts of things here in France that I would never touch when I lived in the states. I was never a particularly picky eater but I'm not really into raw anything for instance. But since my arrival here, I've eaten raw oysters, raw mussels, raw snails, raw beef, raw fish, all sorts of fish eggs, raw chicken eggs and raw sea urchins. (In case you're wondering, one uses malt vinegar on raw mussels and lemon juice on raw oysters.) Mind you, I have not said I like all these items but I have voluntarily put them in my mouth.


I've tried blood sausage, partaken in pigeon, I regularly eat lamb and duck which I just didn't care for all that much in the states, and I adore a good foie gras.  I've explained before some of the odd (gross) stuff that people eat here in the south of France. And the anxiety is….okay, the dread is that I'll be actually expected to eat some of this stuff.

The moment of truth came last weekend. I was at a large dinner party, the sole American amidst a group of born and bred Marseillaise. All was going well. Too well. The hors d'oevres, though at times curious, were all things I've put in my mouth before. The champagne flowed and with it my ability to get along in conversation with very little trouble, in spite of some very thick Marseille accents. But there was a decidedly odd smell in the room. The smell of doom.

We were all seated and the hostess came to the table with a colossal caste iron pot, opened it up to serve and amidst all the oohs, ahs and ooh la las, my throat closed up as I recognized what was in the pot. It was the dreaded, disgusting, oh-my-I-could-never-in-my-life-eat-something-like-that, pieds et paquets (feet and packages)

I've explained these before but for a refresher, they are a mixture of sheep feet and little packages of sheep stomach (tripe) filled with some sort of stuffing which are cooked in a tomato based sauce. Here's a lovely, appetizing photo of these delicacies before they get to the pot.


What to do? The hostess saw the look on my face in spite of my best efforts to hide it. She said, "these are a little special. Would you like to try them?  Otherwise, I can find something else". Eleven sets of eyes stared at me (maybe they weren't but it felt like it). My mind batted the options back and forth in rapid fire. Do I risk offending the hostess by refusing? That would put me in the weeny American category.  Do I risk eating them and possibly vomiting at the table? George Bush, le père, vomited once while eating with the Japanese Prime Minister and his life went on. I could just go hide in the bathroom but I'd have to stay there a long time and french toilettes are so tiny. In the end, I really didn't feel there was a choice; I had to go down with the ship.

I said, "Of course, I'd love to try them. But not too much please. I ate too many hors d'oevres."  She FILLED my plate and I grabbed several hunks of bread to help push them down and asked for more wine.

I took a tiny, delicate bite. Hey, not bad. I took another as somebody began to explain exactly what it was it that I was eating. The hostess stopped him and said "after...it's better to explain after". He didn't need to explain, I already knew. But in fact, I enjoyed them very much as long as I didn't think about what it was I was eating. I can't say the same for the feet, which are cooked long enough so that the hoofs and bones sort of congeal. Eew! The texture was a little far more than I could handle. I tried them but left the remainder on my plate and in order to make amends for my bad manners, I asked for seconds on the paquets and ate them with a certain theatrical gusto.

I believe I won some brownie points for my handling of the situation because afterwards a few people asked me what I really thought. When I explained that I honestly liked the paquets but simply could not handle the texture of the feet, several people agreed with me and said they skip them as well. Well, now you all tell me! It's just too much fun to mess with the American, isn't it?  I was also informed that this dish can often be crucified if the cook doesn't know what she or he is doing and this particular hostess is know for her excellent pieds and paquets. So at least my baptism by fire was overseen by someone with experience in pyrotechnics.

I can assure you I won't be making this Provençal treat anytime soon chez moi but I consider it one more culinary adventure under my belt. And it didn't come back up! Yesterday at lunch I was served little, tiny octopuses on a salad. I don't know if they were cooked but they were marinated in something which turned them a sort of rosy red. I cautiously popped the whole thing in my mouth, head and all, clamped down and began to chew…and chew….and chew. After all that masticating with no perceived value for my palate, I'm now adding whole, marinated octopus to the list of things I don't need to eat again. This list includes congealed sheep feet and raw snails. Somewhere along the line, a girl's just gotta have limits.

I would love to hear what sorts of weird things you've eaten and if they were worth the effort.



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P.S. To all my American friends, please don't neglect your voting privilege today. We can't ever take that for granted.

P.P.S. There's a sale going on over at Provence Rugs and new items coming in this week. Check it out!


27 comments:

  1. No one has ever offered me pieds and paquets, thank goodness.

    I once ate boar balls which I regret to say came back up later. My head just couldn't cope with the idea of what I was eating. I was also being thrown around in a car going round sharp provençal corners which undoubtedly did not help!

    I can't stand tripe but seem to remember tripoux is not the same and was much nicer. Only eaten it once though. :)

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  2. Living in the countryside we can avoid any 'difficult' foods, although I do remember a dish of squid. Dangled round the edge of the plate for a while, then slid the whole plateful onto my husband's plate. It went un-noticed by our host. But I have got our own home-grown pig's head in the freezer waiting for something to be done with it. Am saving that experience for a day when I feel very brave!

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  3. I enjoy offal....but draw the line at andouillette.
    The smell is indescribable...well, I could, but not in a public arena.

    A visitor in France returned from shopping enthusing over the cheapness of the lamb kidneys she had bought for Sunday breakfast.
    We cooked them as part of the traditional English Sunday morning murderer - bacon, sausage, kidney, tomato, mushroom, fried egg and fried bread - and she commented on how much more delicate French lamb kidneys were.

    They were, needless to say, not kidneys but balls.

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  4. More power to you! No, I couldn't possibly get that down. Really.... don't know what I would have done!

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  5. I will eat pieds & paquets but never ever andouillettes - they stink! And the strangest thing I ever ate were crispy chicken feet at a Chinese friends house. They were actually pretty tasty.

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    1. God forbid, andouilettes. I thought the paquets stunk!

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  6. This was in the US ... a cousin's wife and I were both familiar with eating squid in seafood dishes where it is little round slices of the tentacles. Fine. So she ordered fried squid, expecting something resembling tiny onion rings. What arrived looked like a plateful of stiff black spiders. We're both arachnophobes and practically jumped back from the table. "Get them outta here!" she ordered the waiter.

    France, andouillette ... ate late at a brasserie one night and ordered the brochette, which listed several perfectly acceptable types of meat. The waiter returned to say they were out of the lamb, could they substitute a sausage. Same for another of the meats. Finally a brochette with chunks of black andouillette was served. Expecting a nice sausage taste, we each bit into it: the texture of gravel and the flavor of -- hmmm -- blech!

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    1. So besides the nasty smell, andouillette has no mouth appeal. Why do people eat them?

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  7. There isn't anything I wouldn't try...but some things are harder than others for sure!

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  8. You handled it all very well. I try everything but I don't want to feel like I have to eat it, I think your hostess gave you an out which was very nice.

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  9. You, my friend, are a very brave woman! I draw the line just above the feet, and have never been able to handle raw (other than oysters). Early impressions while living in Japan as a child did me in. Shopping in the fly-infested markets in 1950's Yokahama left its mark on my young senses. Most recently I tried scrapple in Baltimore, MD. This is a regional favorite for breakfast, a pasty mixture of "every part of the pig except the oink," as the waitress explained. It is formed into a loaf, sliced and deep fried. Pate it is not. The after taste was so earthy, it stayed with me all day...

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    1. Linda, I was just in Morocco and those fly-infested markets took my appetite away completely. Except for that dumb apple I ate (so I wouldn't have to eat another fly covered tangine) which gave me a whopping case of Montezuma's revenge. My theory is deep frying masks a lot and probably makes all but the oink much better!

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  10. Hi Delana! Your posts always make me smile!
    We had porcupine 'up north' in Sept. Son shot it and cooked it, he's also a chef, or I don't know if I'd have eaten it, as it was, I willed myself to think "beef, beef" with every bite! It did taste similar to beef. Or maybe that was the red wine he cooked it in!
    Hubby once had 'cow teats' in France- he doesn't recommend them :) lol
    Melody (OHS/77)

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    1. Melody, red wine cures a thousand ailments…in all its forms. Cow udder? Really? Oh no, I hope I don't come across this one.

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  11. Hi Delana!
    New on your blog. I love the way you write and I love what you are writing about.
    I made the other big move - from France to the US. Yes, it goes both sides. LOL!
    When I am not teaching scarf styling classes, I am teaching French cuisine classes and sometimes I hear "yuk" soon followed by "yum". Like I have heard with salmon tartar. It's really fun to share culinary experiences.... You are brave, but all in all the pied paquets were good, right?
    All the best from Florida,
    Anne (playing with Scarves)

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  12. Great post !
    It's so much fun to experiment with food . I have no problem with most of it : octopuses- yam, pigs feet - o.k, ripe cheese - awesome ( except casomazu - full of maggots, Sardinian cheese). Generally - if my food is not moving - I can eat it :-)
    My taste buds trauma - sandwich with cow udder, served warm...ughh! Awkward texture, weird taste and the milky smell...Like eating lactating boob.
    If you like to try it - Florence, Italy , downtown. Little outdoor stand. Proudly serving also sandwiches with tripe :-)
    Monika from WI

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    1. *Casu marzu - correct name of cheese from Sardinia

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    2. OMG Monika, I just looked up Casu Marzu

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casu_marzu

      That's disgusting. I can see why you don't eat it. But you grew up on this side of the pond. I think people are more open to "unusual" foods here. I think I'll skip the cow udder as well!

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  13. I'm a pretty adventurous eater. France offers a lot of opportunities to do that. Normally, it all tastes wonderfl though. The one thing I had that was so horrible I almost spewed it out as soon as it landed in my mouth - seaweed soup. Had in NZ and apparently it wasn't prepared wrong because many Asians were refilling their bowls as quickly as new pots were brought out from the kitchen. But my American tastebuds couldn't handle the hot dishwater slimy sludge. Never, ever, again.

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    1. I love seaweed salad. Obviously not the same thing. Okra is like that. Great green gobs of greasy, grimy, gopher guts!

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  14. Oh, Delana, this isn't a post to be read while having my breakfast!
    My strangest experience was eating cod's tongue in Norway, they were cooked in so much butter that any other flavour was hidden, so I can not say they were bad.
    I am naturally curious about food, I would try almost (almost) anything provided it is not crawling around in my plate.

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  15. Hi Delana, I had a similar experience a few weeks back when I was in Pontoise. My hosts took a group to dinner; we were seated at an impeccably dressed round table of 10. Of course, they ordered everything and plates landed and took off until the main course was served. I noticed the mystery meat on my plate was covered with a fruity sauce as I sliced it open. But still not a clue of it's origin. Looking at everyone else chowing down, I decided to quietly give the dry, dark brown nugget a try. YUCK, I wanted to spit it out, but instead very discreetly pretended to chew a few more bites. I definitely do not like pigeon - but, my experience is nothing compared to pieds et tripe - you are brave! Have a great weekend!

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  16. Sigh. I've eaten things in France, Scotland, Germany and Norway that I just don't care to discuss. You are a brave woman, but then, I already knew that. My Grandma Hansen, who was a Bohemian / German married to a Dane, used to fix and eat pickled pig's feet, pig's weed, too. She was a depression mother, and fed whatever she needed to fix to keep her family fed. The good food (like eggs and her chickens) was sold in town to raise cash so she could buy graham crackers to make mush and so on. Yikes. Suddenly, packets sound not so bad...

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    1. Granny would have considered them a feast!

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  17. Here at the Girl and the Goat in Chicago they have a dish of "pig's face"--I liked it. In Italy, I ate a lot of offal, including a pasta dish made with calf intestines in which remain bits of curdled milk from its nursing--pasta pajata (or pagliata). Also tasty but maybe best not to think about it too much.

    For me it's texture that gets me more than taste. I might also have trouble eating brains, just knowing about mad cow disease and the like. And bugs--no bugs. But other than that I am pretty open to at least trying odd foods.

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    1. A restaurant actually serves something called "pig's face"? What exactly is it and apparently people order it….YOU DID! I agree with you about the texture. As a kid I couldn't even eat mushrooms. I'm over it. At least the mushroom thing.

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  18. Have you really eaten raw snails? I love escargot but I didn't know that you could eat them raw. What were they like? While I've always loved raw oysters, I hadn't tried raw mussels until this summer, I like them, but I'm the weirdo who puts lemon on them instead of vinegar.
    And yeah, the secret to eating something like pieds et paquets (which I do not like at all) is definitely lots of bread, and large gulps of wine :)

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