J.R. Tolkien

"Not all those who wander are lost." - J.R. Tolkien

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Bizarre Foods, Louisville Edition

In honor of the New Year, why not resolve to be bold, adventurous and bizarre with your foods? The affable and fearless Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods has long enticed, grossed and intrigued us all with his adventures in exotic and bizarre foods from around the world.  But you don’t need the budget of a big television network to jet set around the world for a taste.  Louisville’s food scene offers some of its own bizarre and disgustingly intriguing dishes. You just need to know where to look.

Here's my list of 12 interesting and bizarre foods in Louisville you should try.  Don't judge the food by its cover, you might be in for a few fun delicious surprises!

1.  Tongue and Brain Tacos.  Take your tacos to the next level by stuffing it with meaty/chewy tongue and creamy/buttery brain.  For only $1.75 each at Taqeria La Mexicana, you can sample these unique tacos and brag to your friends about it.  Need an incentive to help gulp it down?  Per my momma, it’s a no brainer that eating brain will make you smart.

2.  Black Eggs (Century Eggs). Want a little color in your eggs? Try it in black.  The egg is preserved in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime and rice hulls for several weeks to months to give it a slightly salty taste and soft chewy texture.  At Oriental House, the egg is chopped into smaller pieces and cooked in a delicious thick congee (rice soup) and pork.  It’s perfect for a cold day.

3.  Oxtail.  The bony and gelatin rich meat from the tail of the cattle tastes extra special when slow cooked in authentic Jamaican herbs and spices at Roof Top Grill (the owner is Jamaican).  You’ll have to work to get the soft flavorful meat from the large piece of bone in the center, but the reward is oh so delicious.

4.  Durian.  This spiky monstrosity of a fruit is one of the most loved/hated fruits in all of Asia for its unique pungent aroma.  In Singapore, durian is banned in hotels, airports and public transits.  Those who hate it compare it to gym socks or even raw sewage.  Those who enjoy it, as I do, can only smell its pleasantly sweet aroma enhancing the taste of its custardy sweet flesh.  To see and taste what all the buzz is about, stop by any Asian grocery stores (especially the Vietnamese ones).  All the durians in the stores are frozen so the smell is dramatically reduced.  You can also find it in ice cream or candy form at Viet Hoa. Photo: vietbao.vn.
5.  Snail Sausage.  If you’re bored with the French-ified buttered laden escargot from fancy and expensive restaurants, stop by DaLat's Gateaux and Cafe for a more Asian and flavorful version.  The small sausage tube contains pieces of snail cooked with ground pork, black pepper, ginger and lemongrass, all for less than $2 each.
6.  Game Meat.  Bored with chicken and beef?  Stop by Game on Lexington Road for some wild time with their kangaroo, elk, antelope, wild boar, duck or bison burger.  Then head over to Mayan CafĂ© to give your taste buds an extra hop with their tasty oven roasted rabbit, dressed with pumpkin seed mole and a side of grilled cactus.  If you want your meal a little more exotic, try the fried gator or the blackened creole pasta from newcomer Roux.  It tastes like a cross between chewy frog leg, chicken and meaty fish.
7.  Balut or Duck Embryos.  Balut is a fertilized duck egg containing a developing embryo, usually on the 18th – 20th day of its 28 days development phase.  You can buy uncooked Balut at the local Vietnamese grocery stores and boil the egg for 20 – 30 minutes, eat while warm with a dash of salt and pepper. The entire contents of the egg is edible.  You'll get crunchy tender pieces of yolk, developing beak, bones, claws and all parts of the duck.  Whatever you do, don't do a Google image search!
8.  Bone Marrow.  Game, Proof and Veranese.  This fatty buttery beef flavored treat can now be found in many of Louisville’s trendiest restaurants.  Sounds gross but it’s basically just delicious fat that’s been eaten since before ancient times.  The fatty acid found in bone marrow actually played an important role in our early evolutionary past.  Look it up, I promise it’s not complete B.S.!
9.  Sweetbreads.  Don’t be fool by its innocuous name, sweetbreads has nothing to do with desserts or bread.  It’s the culinary name of the thymus gland.  You can order it a la carte at Palermo or as part of the La Parilla, a plate of mixed grilled meat. I haven’t had it myself, but have heard it described as having an intense veal flavor with a solid heavy cream texture (Robin Garr). Photo: Shal V. - Yelp.

10.  Chicken and Pork Feet.  If you got a thing for feet, you can do it three ways.  At Shirley Mae’s Cafe, the pork foot is cooked until the skin, gelatinous meat and fat falls off the bones.  Douse with a little hot sauce and it’s delicious with a side of cold water cornbread, greens and cabbage.  At Cafe Thuy Van, the pork foot is firm and chewy and served in a savory pork based soup (Banh canh gio heo) with udon noodles, liver, blood sausage and pork.  At Jade Palace, you’ll find chicken feet slowed cook in aromatic Chinese seasoning and served as a dim sum item.

11.  Intestines.  No bizarre food list could be complete without mentioning innards.  Come to Jade Palace for Sunday dim sum and you’ll find white, crunchy and chewy steamed tripe, or cow stomach, on the menu.  At Shirley Mae’s, Big Momma’s, Southern Express, give the chitterlings (nicknamed the Kentucky oyster or pig intestines) a chance.  At Jasmine, they have intestines cooked 5 ways, including an intestine hotpot. Photo: foodspotting.com.

12.  Fish Liver.  You can find this bizarre food on CNN's list of 50 most delicious foods in the world and also in the appetizer menu at Hiko-a-mon.  Ankimo, or monkfish liver, is steamed and served with ponzu sauce, a citrusy soy based sauce.  I haven’t had it yet but can’t wait for a taste. Photo: Paul W. - foodspotting.com.