There’s nothing that can’t be eaten with closed eyes and an open mind.
At least that’s what I decided after gulping down a can of horse meat in Kazakhstan.
Since then I’ve munched on scorpion, crunched on cricket and been tongue-tickled by the hairy legs of a fried tarantula. There were frogs, slugs and grubs, too, but they weren’t nearly as interesting as the Lao cobra wine that gave me sweaty nightmares instead of the godlike virility that was promised.
My greatest culinary adventure, however, came in Cambodia, a tiny corner of southeast Asia where the Chinese zodiac is more menu than horoscope.
I was dangling my feet from a guest house balcony in Sisophon, daydreaming of nothing in particular, when a local shouted “Hello!” from the street below. I looked down to find the man excitedly miming, pointing first at himself, then me, and finally eating from an imaginary bowl in his hand.
Taking the stairs two at a time, I flew out the front door and shook the man’s hand as I slid to a stop on the dusty street. With a grin he bonked a helmet onto my head, and then we were off, weaving between buses and ox-carts on a motorcycle whose only speed was faster.
Going out for dinner in Cambodia is apparently no small feat. From the main road we skidded onto an impossibly narrow country lane, then bounced over a jungle path that seemed to be made entirely of tree roots and potholes. It was all part of the plan according to the driver, who kept hollering “A-okay!” as he pumped his fist in the air.
At last we came to a little bamboo food stall. Presiding over the counter and its collection of covered pots was an old man with giant sunglasses and a smile to match. He warmly greeted my motorcycle friend, then both men turned to me and clapped like kids on Christmas morning.
You don’t need language lessons to read foreign faces. Whatever lay under the lids was clearly a point of pride.
I leaned over the pots and shut my eyes to inhale all their tempting aromas.
“Chkae,” explained the cook.
I swallowed hard. “Chkae?”
The old man whisked a lid away with a flourish. “Chkae!”
I gaped at a roasted dog’s head. Heat had made the hairless, eyeless visage taut, pulling the skin so far back that a set of ivory teeth were bared. As the other dishes were revealed I found the creature’s legs and tail, not to mention its guts, which had been squeezed into an enormous coil of glistening sausages.
There was nothing to be done. My hosts had wanted to share something special with someone new, and as far as I was concerned, that was hospitality defined. I thanked the cook and filled my plate with pooch.
I could say it was delicious, but that would be a lie. In actual fact, I don’t remember how it tasted. All I recall now is the way two men beamed when I took my first bite.
I am currently off the road as I save funds for the next leg of my journey. Regular posts will continue, however. Each week I will publish a flashback – a story from my past travels that never found a home on this site. Enjoy, and please remember that your comments, likes and shares are always appreciated.