Based on the data published in December by the Dominican Ministry of Agriculture, Dominicans consume about 200 times as much chicken as the next most popular meat: pork. This is not strange at all: chicken is less expensive, abundant and easy to cook. Chicken is also one of the least controversial meats.
When it comes to classifying unusual foods as disgusting, I’m firmly on the fence. As a person who rarely eats meat, there is no huge difference in contemplating the flesh of a chicken or a cat as something potentially edible, as far as I’m concerned. The same could be said for snails or locusts – why should these evoke horror from people who will happily tuck into a plate of shrimp or lobster? Isn’t it just a matter of what you’re used to?
It reminds me of an English friend who visited China, where neither dairy products nor bread feature in the diet. She said that people would recoil in disgust at her ‘foreign’ smell, which is more pungent to Chinese noses because of the milk products westerners consume. Try not eating garlic for a few days and you’ll see what I mean. Once it is out of your system, you’ll start to smell it on everyone else. This visitor to China also told me that children used to call out to her in the street: “Hello foreigner, where’s your bread?”
So now we’ve reminded ourselves that what is normal and commonplace for us can be alien and revolting to others, comical even, let’s try and open our minds to some new experiences:
I set about searching for unusual recipes on the net, and found that locusts are also known as ‘sky prawns’ – as if to make the prospect of crunching on an insect more palatable. Conversely, I’ve heard people describing prawns as ‘the cockroaches of the sea’. Given the choice between a locust and a cockroach… I know which one I’d opt for, although it would probably also have to involve a gun to my temple. The locust recipes come from several countries, and involve frying or roasting. They all specify that you should remove the legs beforehand.
In the Dominican corner, the obvious nomination for a dish guaranteed to repulse some people is mondongo, but as has been mentioned before on these pages, many culinary traditions include the consumption of entrails. The English have stewed tripe and the Spanish have their callos. The Scots take the art of cooking innards a step further, with their national dish, haggis – a sheep’s stomach bag cooked with sheep’s liver, heart and lung, oatmeal, suet, stock, onions and spices. Tempted?
On the vegetarian side of the fence, we present the smelliest fruit in the world, the durian. It is said to smell like a combination of faeces and vomit, but once you get past that and taste it – and it’s a marvel that anyone does – it is said to be divine. It comes from Asia, so unfortunately I’ll have to wait and see whether I am made of strong enough stuff to sample it, if and when I ever go there.
Not so extreme, but universally loathed, are those mini cabbages known as Brussels sprouts. Not content with generating the stinkiest wind expulsions this side of habichuelas con dulce, they tend to smell like sewage while sitting on the plate, well before they go into your mouth.
I first came across the notion of worms as food when reading about a project in Indonesia, where a yummy and nutritious ‘worm omelette’ was on the menu at a day centre for street children. Since then, I’ve read about attempts to promote worms as an excellent source of protein in North and South America, but I don’t know how much this has caught on.
Our South American cousins eat ants, fried with fiery spices. They also eat roast cuy, which is guinea pig. For some people, this may sound like the moral equivalent of putting your pet kitten on the barbecue, but then again, isn’t it simply a question of cultural conditioning?
Snake is a delicacy in the East, the French eat horses and frog legs. The Arabs are said to eat sheep eyes. Closer to home, iguana meat is consumed in Central America and here in the Dominican Republic as well, apparently. That is a recipe we have no intention of adding to our collection. For now you will have to settle for another chicken recipe.
- 6 chicken breasts
- ½ cup of pitted olives
- 2 bell peppers
- 4 garlic cloves
- ⅓ cup of olive oil
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 tablespoon of oil
- 4 sprigs of cilantro
- Using a very sharp knife cut alongside the breasts, going deeper to carve a pocket.
- Season the breasts, inside and out, with a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper. Reserve.
- Chop the peppers, mix with the olives and garlic and pulse using the food processor until it turns into a coarse paste.
- Stuff the breasts with the paste, close using toothpicks.
- Heat the oil in an skillet over high heat.
- Brown the breasts, both sides, being careful with oil splatter.
- Reduce the heat to medium and cover with a tight-fitting lid. The stuffing will release enough liquid for the breasts to cook.
- Turn regularly so the breasts cook evenly on both sides.
- When all the liquid has evaporated remove the breasts from the heat.
- While the breasts cook mix olive oil, lime juice, cilantro and a pinch of salt in a food processor.
- Remove the toothpicks and serve the breasts garnished with the cilantro sauce.