One of the surprising things I’ve learned writing a column about random grocery store food items that seem “weird” or “gross” is that there's a strong potential for cultural insensitivity. The subjectivity of “ew!” can be touchy ground if you overthink it.
I have yet to receive any angry emails from anyone peeved at the “WTF!” columns about food popular in their cultures. but in researching (i.e. “googling”) strange-to-me food items, inevitably I discover that most things I deem gross (to be fair, I taste my curiosity and so far have come out on the “not too bad” side) have a huge fanbase somewhere.
Goetta. Skyline. Larosa’s pizza sauce. These are things I’ve eaten my entire life, like bread and water. But I can wholeheartedly understand why those things, when described to people outside of the Cincinnati area, elicit an “ew." I’d feel ridiculous to ever get offended by that.
So, I decided, screw it — I’m going all in. With apologies to my Jewish brothers and sisters right up front (Mazel Tov!), I decided to do my first Gefilte Fish tasting. As I gazed at the grey, testicle-like globules floating seasick in city-river-cloudy water (seriously? a clear jar?), I have to admit I expected my first column-related vomit session. Just in time for Passover!
Praying that the serving directions weren’t “Squeeze one out and pop that sucker in your mouth,” I searched for some preparation suggestions, a few that even sounded mildly appealing. but most of the recipes had some sort of “it won’t actually be good; it is Gefilte Fish, you know” disclaimer. I felt less guilty about my unshakable disgust to discover that some see it as the misfit toy of the Seder table. It’s known as “filthy fish.” Lovingly, I’m sure.
I grabbed from the omnipotent (at least in the Passover display) Manischewitz collection of Gefilte Fish at Bigg’s. Vowing to go the easiest route (it’s the purist in me) with prep work, my heart sank when the Manischewitz web site instructed me that the fish “can be eaten directly from the jar.” Somewhat apologetically it also offered, “it is very good with a salad.” (Say it in an old Jewish man’s voice in your head.)
Have you ever been cliff-diving? When jumping 30 or so feet into a lake, the seconds before you jump you realize the power of your brain, which you can practically feel telling you, “This is not what you should be doing.” That was what it was like getting ready to eat Gefilte Fish. The odor is instant and dank. The texture is bumpy and turdy. It’s very light and airy and looks like chicken when sliced open.
With the encouragement of knowing that the faster I eat it the faster I can get rid of its putrid smell, I finally stuck the fork in.
It may have been the most difficult thing i have ever eaten. As it hit my mouth, I pinpointed what that smell and gelatinous consistency reminded me of: canned cat food. I’ve never eaten cat food (or dog food, for the record), but I imagine it’s not much different. The closest consistency I’ve ever experienced before is deviled ham. I imagine it’s like Spam. Jewish Spam! There’s a little peppery, lingering spice to the grainy spread. The fishiness is in there somewhere, buried. It’s probably better that way. (While I didn’t vomit, it was a little dicey there for a minute.)
I know that many people love Gefilte Fish, or maybe it’s just a religious obligation. Either way, my apologies if you’re offended by my taste buds and occasionally uneasy stomach. And get in touch with me — I have a jar of five fish globs with your name on it.
Now what do Buddhists eat…
LOST IN THE SUPERMARKET is a monthly column devoted to exploring weird and weirdly named foods. Suggest what Mike should try next: [email protected]