What’s For Dinner?

by Rachel Pieh Jones on June 13, 2014

what's for dinner1

My husband once ate camel hump with the former president of Somaliland. He said it was gelatinous and flavorful. A big, jiggling pile of fat. Yummy.

Our first night in Somaliland we ate fried flying ants. Our boss plucked them out of the air and dropped them into a pan of melted butter. “Tastes like bacon,” he said. Welcome to the country.

In an effort to meet people and learn language, I drank unpasteurized camel’s milk in Somaliland. The ladies selling it said, “you can’t learn Somali if you don’t drink camel’s milk.” I don’t know if the milk helped me learn but I do know it helped clean out my intestines. I had to run home and barely made it to the bathroom before multiple explosions rocked my body.

At a wedding in Djibouti I received a delicacy of small bits of meat dried until beef-jerky-like and soaked in rancid butter, kept in a tightly sealed wooden jar buried in the ground for months and then smoked to add a burnt charcoal flavor. I’m sorry Somalis, I struggle to appreciate muuqmaaq.

My language helper invited me to a diiqo – the gift-giving party after a wedding, like a wedding shower. I watched her two mothers (her father has two wives and they all live together) prepare the gifts. Muuqmaaq placed in aluminum bowls and set inside xeedhos, woven baskets shaped like inverted hourglasses. The xeedhos were sealed with a mixture of dates and black pepper. The dates and pepper were mashed with the women’s bare hands until it was a sticky mush and then smeared all around the outside of the baskets, to be eaten later, when the gifts were opened.

All of this could hardly be as bad as what I prepared for my family our first years in Africa. I had no idea how to cook and lived in a country with few packaged or convenience foods and limited variety. This is a great way to lose weight. But losing so much weight is also a great way to lose wedding rings (true story).

I’ve learned a thing or two since then and I’ve moved countries and now live in a former French colony where there is Cheese! Chicken! Eggs! Refrigeration! There is even bacon and wine. Still, we are short on peanut butter, non-chocolate cereal, and brown sugar but honestly, I have nothing to complain about.

djiboutiliciousI, oh master of the disgusting food so bad we still gag when we talk about it, actually self-published a cookbook, Djiboutilicious: celebrating culture and cooking in a country as hot as your oven. It is a compilation of recipes from men and women (and even a few kids) who have lived in the Horn of Africa for years and includes loads of photos, a few local recipes, and mainly Western food recipes using locally (in Djibouti) available ingredients. And I’m serious about that hot as your oven line, a few weeks ago my daughter and I baked cookies in our car. Just saying.

I’d like to give two copies of the book away (assuming my end-of-the-road Djibouti post office can find your end-of-the-road post office) and I’d also like to try some of your recipes. Leave a comment about the grossest thing you have ever eaten OR share a favorite recipe and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Djiboutilicious. I’ll randomly choose the winners June 20 and will inform them via email. I’m asking for your one-uppers here, so while you should probably bite your tongue at the next dinner party in your passport country, but no holds barred for this post!

What is the grossest thing you have eaten in your life overseas?

What is one of your favorite recipes?

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About Rachel Pieh Jones

Rachel was raised in the Christian west and said, ‘you betcha’ and ate Jell-O salads, she now lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Family Fun, Running Times, and more, and she blogs for Brain Child and Babble.
  • Dan

    I don’t think it is necessarily gross, but it was the most difficult thing to eat. I had cute baby octopus as part of a Japanese nabe (pot cooked on the table. Here is what they looked like. http://img.21food.com/20110609/product/1305265580203.jpg

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Cute – yes. Looking edible? Not so much!

    • Judith

      Loved everyone’s comments! The weirdest thing I ate wsd cow hoof soup. It was a prize dish on NewYear’s in Russia. It was actually tasty but I wish she had not told me what it was before I ate. I would have enjoyed it more. Something I have never eaten but is a delicacy in Russia is sala or pigs fat….raw. sliced thin with cilantro and on bread. Meat jello doesn’t look too appealing either.

      • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

        meat jello? thank you, but no! And raw pig feet…yikes.

  • Sarah

    Generally the things I eat in Cameroon aren’t gross, just different. I mean, I tried some termites once and they were weird but not gross. But one time when I was staying in the village, my host family served me some meat from a bush pig that had gone a little… ripe. It tasted and smelled like blue cheese. So I ate around it, sopping up the sauce and leaving the meat untouched. Usually what I don’t eat for dinner becomes the kids’ breakfast, but in this case, that hunk of meat showed up on my plate for breakfast the next morning. And for dinner. Finally at dinner I pulled my host sister aside and apologized and said my stomach was hurting and I couldn’t eat it (which was true). We were both mortified. And since they didn’t have much else to give me (it was July, a lean time for them), I ate sweet potatoes and peanut butter for dinner. It was surprisingly delicious. 🙂

    • Sarah

      whoops… didn’t log in to comment. this is me.

    • JoAnna

      I LOVE sweet potatoes and peanut butter 🙂

      • Richelle Wright

        isn’t just about everything better with peanut butter? 🙂

        • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

          Peanut butter and ketchup, at least according to my kids.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Too funny that it kept showing up on your plate. Getting riper by the meal! Way to go for telling her about your stomach. Thank goodness for peanut butter. Seriously.

  • JoAnna

    hmmmm… grossest thing – probably goat intestines in stew, both the
    little tiny kind all braided up, and the big chunky towel-ly kind. It
    really is a texture thing. Favorite recipe: stir fry sauce for whatever
    meat an veggies come home from the market that day: 1/4 c. fish sauce
    (we can actually get it on my country – YAY!) 1/4 c. sugar, 1/2 c.
    broth, 1 T cornstarch, 2 T lemon juice, 1 t. ground ginger, 1/2 t. dried
    red pepper (fresh pepper and ginger are even tastier) Marinate meat on
    the sauce, drain and stirfry the meat, add garlic and veggies, fry until almost done, then pour
    the sauce over and cook just until it bubbles. serve over rice with
    fresh cilantro/dhania and basil.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Hmm intestines…hmmm. Or not! Can’t wait to try this recipe, thanks!

  • Amanda

    I had knee cap, which was very very chewy. But I think the hardest to get down was snail soup. I’m not talking big fat snails, I am talking these small little guys about half the size of your pinky and black. It smelt and tasted like rotten fish left out in the sun of a few days. When it is served, you get this bowl of grey/black matter with black things floating in it. After eating a number spoonfuls, I find out that most locals don’t even like it.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Knee cap? Who knew?! That’s awesome. These comments are seriously making me laugh.

  • Richelle Wright

    I’ve eaten several things and just haven’t asked… back in my younger, braver days. Fried grasshoppers are edible. Goat/sheep intestines and offal are were often in the stew/sauces we’d be served in W. Africa. The kids would catch and eat flying termites, right from the air (I was too “dignified” to join in). Roasted rat was the one that was the hardest to wrap my head around. Fried rattlesnake was actually pretty good.

    My girls and I loved trying to find recipes and adapting them to use in W. Africa. One birthday party (after no one traveling could find and bring these out for said child’s birthday – wrong season) was making candy corn. 1/4 cup cane sugar, 3 tbsp light honey/syrup/corn syrup, 1 tbsp butter, 1/4 tsp vanilla, 1 cup powdered sugar (or finally ground regular sugar – we mixed in blender or used a mortar and pestle – but needs to have a powdery texture), large pinch of salt, 1 tbsp powdered milk (sweetened condensed can be used – must adjust powdered sugar accordingly, or soy powder), food coloring as desired.

    Make sure there is enough water in the bottom of the pot to wet it entirely. Measure your cane sugar, syrup/ honey, butter, and vanilla into the pot. We didn’t have a candy thermometer, so we guestimated temp. Turn the flame to a high-medium-ish setting. Stir frequently as slush becomes liquid, bubbling a lot. Colour should be a very light caramel. After 3ish minutes, sugar has probably reached close to 250F/120C. Mix 5/8-3/4 cup powdered sugar with powdered milk and salt. Sift into sugared mix and make a dough. Kneed remaining powdered sugar into mix when it has cooled sufficiently to touch. Once smooth, divide into three (or however many colors you want) balls and work in food coloring. Make into thin snakes of each color. Lay side by side and flatten (about an inch/2.5 cm wide) and then cut into narrow triangle shapes. leave on lightly greased baking sheet, uncovered overnight. If you live someplace hot – leave in fridge. (Here’s a blog post from that birthday party – http://ourwrightingpad.blogspot.com/2013/01/in-which-she-figures-out-that-turning.html).

    So yeah, a recipe that serves no purpose, but sure was a lot of fun!

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      I’m a sucker for candy corn, I don’t even think it tastes good but I just like to eat it. So this will have to be tried. And good idea – eat without asking!

  • Amber Steffen

    I think this is becoming a theme, but goat intestine soup (offered to me in Haiti) was pretty awful. I was told when first arriving to never watch the cooks preparing food. I’d digest everything better 🙂

    I’ve also spent time in E. Africa (Ethiopia) where raw meat (kitfo: freshly ground beef with butter and spices, uncooked; and gored gored: a hunk of raw meat dipped in VERY hot red pepper paste) is considered a delicacy. I passed on that dish after they told me that locals regularly eat this and then are sick with a “bug” for the next few days.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      If even the people who eat it regularly get sick – that’s a good time to gracefully decline. Wise move!

  • Kiki

    In Okinawa – pig blood soup, the face off a pig fried and eaten still looking like a pig face; pig ears
    Main land Japan – fish eyeballs; crackers made of fish tails

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Pig blood soup, that might be ‘taking the cake’ for making me gag. Wow. Were you able to finish?!

  • Jen

    I’m with everyone else on the goat intestines. I love roasted goat meat, but it’s a bit much when it’s mixed with all the insides, especially served with gritty aseeda (Sudanese millet ugali or nshima). In Honduras we ate iguana meat and iguana eggs, which were delicious. However, I made the mistake one time of telling a guard at an iguana reserve – in an attempt at small talk – that iguana was tasty!

    My favorite overseas recipe find is for sweetened condensed milk: Combine in a blender until smooth – 1 cup dry milk powder, 2/3 cup sugar, 1/3 cup boiling water, 3 tbsp butter or oil (optional). Refrigerate for 24 hours to thicken. Yields equivalent of one can. (Courtesy of “Simply in Season”)

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Thanks for the recipe! I had to laugh about talking iguana meals at an iguana reserve. Loving these stories.

  • Dalaina May

    Awesome book idea! Our tribes beverage (pretty much their ONLY beverage) was masato which is spit beer. I thought it was gross until I helped some friends make it, and then I thought it was really gross. The process is something like this:
    Chew up yucca and spit it into a pot (you have to learn spit from the stomach – it’s a learned thing).
    Chew up purple sweet potatoes and spit those into the same pot.
    Stir the mash and keep grabbing handfuls to re-chew and spit
    Add water. Strain out (most of) the chunks. Let it sit until it ferments. A couple of days is good for the masato they give to kids or what they drink while working in their gardens, but if they are serving it at a celebration, they let it sit for a couple of weeks.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Yowsers! At first I though, maybe you only drink the beer you make for yourself but then you said you give it to kids too and serve at celebrations…!

      • Dalaina May

        HA! One of my preschoolers loves the stuff. We had to cut him off at one bowl and watch his consumption when we went visiting.
        On a sadder note, some of the kids in the village were addicted to the strong stuff. It was sad when I was working in the clinic and had to actually evaluate if a pediatric drug would interact negatively with their alcohol consumption.

  • Marilyn Gardner

    Best.Post.Ever! Love this. Mine don’t compare to yours but Octopus Pizza. The little suction thingys popping out of red pizza sauce. We had brain curry which has the consistency of scrambled eggs. In boarding school we would joke that before a test you have to eat brain curry. My husband has eaten every part of the goat imaginable. Eyeballs anyone? And so glad to hear that someone else has had unpasteurized milk….except mine was buffalo. Favorite recipe is dahl and chapatis. So yummy. http://wp.me/p1gwBI-M4

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Um – these are way grosser! Maybe it is a matter of perspective?!

    • Richelle Wright

      i really like unpasteurized goat milk… just make sure the goat is cleaned up first…

  • Marla Taviano

    I love this. Grossest thing I’ve ever eaten was a whole tarantula in Cambodia. But actually, no. It tasted better than some other stuff I’ve had. Just sounds the grossest. And I LOVE that you shared the story about the muuqmaaq and the xeedhos. We live in an apartment complex in Columbus, OH that’s made up of all kinds of nationalities and about 70% Somali refugees. Last week I was invited in to someone’s apartment to watch them spell the bride’s name in Sixlets and peanuts by pushing them into the date paste covering the muuqmaaq (I had no idea what any of this was called until I read your post). They wanted me to go get my camera and take a picture of each one of them posing with the date basket thingy. They also invited me to the wedding a few days later. At 11:00 at night. But I was ready for bed, so I declined. Would love a copy of the cookbook!

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      I love, love that this post happens to explain what you saw and experienced, that is really fun to hear. And yes – weddings always start so late! A few weeks ago I came back from one at 2:30 a.m. Yikes.

  • Tim

    In the Dominican Republic I was one given a twelve inch length of pig intestine that was filed with blood and boiled until it had a chewy gelatinous (yet still runny) texture. I was also given fried cat meat. In my defense… I didn’t know what it was until after I had eaten a little bit. I almost cried.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Ohohoh. I just don’t know what to say – thanks for the (gross and a bit sad) laugh!

  • Elizabeth

    Roasted bush rat…but it didn’t taste too bad at all. The problem was that I saw the whole process of cooking it and burning off the hair.

    I also ate rotten goat meat. Our hosts didn’t have anything else on hand and I was trying to be polite – it tasted awful but I didn’t realize it was rotten til after the fact when my Mozambican colleagues told me they hadn’t touched it. Surprisingly, I didn’t get sick.

    Highly recommend MCC’s cookbooks More with Less, Extending the Table and Simply in Season for those learning to cook with local ingredients in new environments.

    Rachel – can you get molasses and white sugar there? If so, you can make your own brown sugar…but you probably know that already.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      That is the trouble – watching the preparations. To be avoided at all costs for some meals! Great suggestions on the cookbooks, too. I HAVE figured out that brown sugar thing – love it – so key for making cookies.

  • I think my examples pale in comparison, but here goes. Fish eyeballs from Fish Head Curry when we lived in Singapore. Also Cheng Mun Chee Kee, pig organ soup where my friend insisted I include the pig Fallopian tubes. Also in Nagaland, India, we had really cute little snails. I learned to eat them from the son in the house, you had to make a little hole in one side and push with one finger while sucking them out another hole. I might have enjoyed them more if I hadn’t seen them alive in the market first. Funniest new missionary story: I bought a large bag of rice and I found it full of little bugs, (of course). My house helper was quite horrified to find I was cleaning the rice, all of it, by soaking it in my sink! We had to painstakingly spread all 5 kg of rice out in the sun on newspapers to dry it before it mildewed. I soon leaned just to rinse the amount I needed and leave all the bugs in the bag until then. The bugs meant the rice was good to eat! I loved to cook from the Mennonite Cookbook and lifestyle guide, More with Less. So many great tips in there from the trenches! Did you know you can make powdered sugar by putting granular sugar in a blender?

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Who knew that fallopian tubes could be eaten? Love it. Well, hearing about it, not the thought of eating it.

  • I haven’t read all the comments as I am eating lentils, rice and coconut milk right now in Honduras. My worse food was cactus soup in Mexico. I was already ill, but the cactus just wouldn’t go down. Pig’s feet are often cooked down in beans here in Honduras – and I have eaten them. Cow’s tongue, of course, is a treat ?!. In Russia, while on a short-term stay over a few months, I was given a large serving of cold beef fat, gelatinous and quivery. I wasnt’ able to eat the whole serving, as they served it for BREAKFAST! My all-time favorite gross food was not in another country. My parents raised us in South Louisiana where the locals ate hogs’ head “cheese”. It was just chilled brains Yes, I ate them.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Did the cactus not go down because it was still prickly? Just kidding. I haven’t had the delight of eating brains yet, of any animal. At least not that I know…

  • Julie

    I think I have it good compared to a lot of you, but day before yesterday my SIL fed us iguana soup for breakfast. My daughter seemed to enjoy it. Roasted grasshoppers are a treat here, as is chicatana (large flying ant) salsa. It’s in season right now!!

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Good for your daughter for eating, and liking it.

  • Anne Boyd

    The grossest thing I thought I was eating was Romanian Ciorba – Sour Soup made with testicles from a steer, or so I was told. Somehow that just did not seem appealing. Who wants to eat Sour Soup? Not me! Who wants to consume testicles removed from a bull to make it a steer? Not me! After a year or so, I gave in to the gracious nagging of the locals that I was missing a true delicacy. My stomach is churning, and my throat is tightening as I recall the momentous occasion.

    Sour cream, a true delicacy, is added to the soup. That’s why they call it sour. It’s not soup that has soured. But the weird stuff in it…I ate what I could…and left the rest. Several years later, I was in a little restaurant that actually had menu with English as well as Romanian and Hungarian. To my surprise and relief I read that Ciorba is made with cow stomach! Can you imagine being relieved that you had only eaten cow stomach???

    As to eating the delicacy of pig fat…I also avoided that for 12 years! But, finally gave in when my hosts insisted I stay for dinner – at 9 pm. There before me was blood sausage…not interested; pig fat…not interested; and tasty homemade salami. The adults were eating the pig fat on their delicious Hungarian peasant bread. Their 2 children were eating it with great delight. I decided to try it. I discovered that this was lightly smoked and tasted pretty okay…even good. I wanted a 2nd piece, but reminded myself that I was eating pure pig fat – 100% cholesterol. Being in the mission field does something to one’s mind. 😉

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Yippee for stomach not testicles! That totally cracked me up. Way to eat it!

  • Anne Boyd

    Another thing I thought was gross was due to misunderstanding English spoken by a Russian…I thought we were about to be served Bird’s Nest Soup. My mind went wild on that with visions of a bird’s nest with all the mites, feathers and who knows what in it! But, I was a visitor in their country…they had graciously invited me into their home…I had to suck it up and be gracious in return…and not make a fool of myself running from the apartment!

    Then, the hostess brought out this huge soup tureen filled with a sweet, liquidey vanilla custard with artful mounds of stiff, poached beaten egg whites floating on the top. Oh, give me some more Bird’s Milk Soup, please! I can’t find an English recipe, and I’m not up to translating the only recipe I could find — in Hungarian mixed with English! It is also a delicacy here in Transylvanian Hungarian territory of Romania. Live..and learn while having adventures with God!

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Love this language miscommunication – and that you were prepared to eat it! Grace.

  • grossest thing? A cricket!

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      cooked?

  • AK

    Weirdest thing?…dog meat stew. Surprisingly, it wasn’t bad. Hardest thing to get down? Yak butter tea although here’s a tip, if you’re ever confronted with butter tea: think of it as soup, not tea.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Great tip, hopefully I just won’t have to use it though!

  • Gwen

    Let’s see…..chicken brain in Magdalenes kitchen. Sour soup with pig ear, liver and heart in my own house growing up(but I love it). Duck blood soup…again at home. Bull testicles in Guatemala….and an andouille sausage in Marseille, France……you could still see the hair from the pig stomach ….didn’t eat it..ugh!

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Oh my word, I almost had to stop reading your list! Wow.

  • Abigail

    Fresh Spaghetti Sauce

    10-12 fresh plum (Roma) tomatoes 4 ounces olive oil

    3 cloves garlic pinch of crushed red pepper

    1/2 medium onion, chopped Salt

    parsley

    Peel and dice tomatoes and set aside. Heat olive oil in sauce pan, add garlic, red pepper, and onion and saute for 3 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and cook about 5 minutes. Add salt to taste and parsley.

    Serve over angel hair pasta. Top with Italian or Parmesan cheese. Back in the U.S., my family likes to top with grilled chicken breast or cooked ground beef. But, here in Tanzania, I rarely eat meat. This is a quick and easy recipe!

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Fabulous – a delicious recipe in the midst of all these ‘interesting’ dishes. Thanks!

  • Oh my goodness! Reading this thread has been an …education. Blech! Moving away from what’s familiar to another culture has its moments. Somebody mentioned the “More with Less” Mennonite cookbook – I grew up with it, love it, and still use it. It’s stood me in good stead here in the Middle East when I couldn’t find a lot of familiar things.
    And it’s here that I’ve been offered (and couldn’t politely refuse) sheep’s eyeball, fish brains, camel hump, sea slug (gross! gross! gross! – I just couldn’t muscle my way past the gag reflex) and some sort of something I still don’t recognise. The Arabic word for it apparently doesn’t translate, and after gingerly working my way through the portion I was offered, decided it was better that I didn’t know.
    On the other hand, I’ve had absolutely glorious new foods here that if I can, I will continue to eat no matter where we go.

    Kudos to whomever wins the cookbook, Rachel. They’ll deserve it!

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Isn’t it a fantastic, and slightly horrifying comment thread? Sea slug?! Glad to hear someone else has had camel hump, I still haven’t had the pleasure but am content to live vicariously through my husband!

  • Linda Funke

    Fried crickets and flying termites. They actually wasn’t too bad, but I still prefer popcorn. Also, dagaa– small whole fish. I think dagaa was ruined for me by regularly smelling piles of them in the marketplace. I often joked that I could never be pregnant here, because I can barely stand the smell of dagaa even without hormones making smells more intense.

    A great resource we’ve discovered is supercook.com. You can enter all of the ingredients you regularly have on hand and then it gives you hundreds of recipe options from the internet. You can also chose what ingredient you want to be the focus of the meal. Since we cook almost all of our meals ourselves and we are somewhat limited on ingredient options, it has really helped in giving some diversity to our meals.

  • Linda Funke

    Fried crickets and flying termites. They actually weren’t too bad, but I still prefer popcorn. Also, dagaa– small whole fish. I think dagaa was ruined for me by regularly smelling piles of them in the marketplace. I often joked that I could never be pregnant here, because I can barely stand the smell of dagaa even without hormones making smells more intense.

    A great resource we’ve discovered is supercook.com. You can enter all of the ingredients you regularly have on hand and then it gives you hundreds of recipe options from the internet. You can also chose what ingredient you want to be the focus of the meal. Since we cook almost all of our meals ourselves and we are somewhat limited on ingredient options, it has really helped in giving some diversity to our meals.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      That sounds like a fantastic link, thanks for sharing it Linda. And I am a popcorn-aholic. Love it.

  • Natalie

    The worst I’ve eaten is dog. It’s cooked with so much chili pepper that the gamey taste of the meat is covered up. Can’t recommend it. My latest food obsession is santan, or boxed coconut milk. Tonight we blended up frozen bananas, two fresh pineapples, and a box of coconut milk. So yummy.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Oh my word, I first read ‘santan’ as ‘satan’ and was so curious to know what that was! Sounds delicious.

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