Those who know me know my crazy love for food. And Dare Eat That – A guide to bizarre foods from around the world by Divya Anand was just the book for me. For the better part of my life as a young adult, I have feasted on a lot of travel and food related shows, and this book brought the great Andrew Zimmern to mind. But I must say, I have never come across a book that dabbles in the unknown and deadly of the culinary world as well.
Divya Anand, who lives in Bengaluru with her husband Vivek, shares their passion for travel and everything gastronomic. Being the non-vegetarian in the duo, the book highlights Vivek’s tryst with food, his quest to sample as many species as he can. And he means serious business too. He has a chart made much like the ones we would study in school, the animal kingdom, broken down into vertebrates and invertebrates, mammals, molluscs, reptiles…the works.
The book is divided into sections based on the many destinations the globe-trotting couple visited. And they have even devised their own chart to help rate elements such as taste and fear factor, while also mentioning the dish, species, price of the dish and where it can be purchased/ found. I think this was intuitive of them to share information in such a manner, because I am seriously considering taking this along with me should I ever be at any of the destinations they’ve mentioned. And I love how even though the book is essentially based on food, they include much about travel as well. After a while, it seems like a guide book in some aspects. They’ve shared experiences that do seem very interesting. Fancy a bit of squid fishing in Vietnam?
I am part jealous and part impressed by Vivek. There were just so many things he has had that I have wanted to try myself. Spiders, ants, ant eggs, seahorse – the list goes on. I often wonder, when it comes down to actually trying them, will I be able to? Do I have the stomach for it?
Among the things I cannot wait to try is the Chinese hot pot. Now I know this isn’t exactly bizarre but I grew up watching the divine Kylie Kwong who made hot pot on her show one day. The very idea to have a bowl of broth bubbling away at the table while you can pick and choose your vegetables, meats, sauces and cook them in the broth – marvelous! The experience must be quite something else. And these guys did it. What fun! However, I wonder why Vivek did not pick up any of the snake wines, bottles that have the whole snake infused in rice wine. I’ve always wanted to try some of that, and maybe get a bottle home. Although, I wonder if it would be allowed past the airport. Who knows?
For some, the insects and grubs in Southeast Asia may seem run on the mill, but did you know one could get emu or rabbit, guinea fowl or even quail in Maharashtra? Or enjoy horse steak in Luxembourg? Or even a balut in Seattle’s Chinatown. For the uninitiated in the bizarre, a balut is a developing egg embryo that is boiled and eaten. Definitely not a pretty sight. Oh, and imagine feasting on fugu or puffer fish, which is only prepared by certified chefs. That would definitely be quite a gamble with life.
I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the first chapter was based in Seattle. I haven’t been to Seattle and don’t have any immediate plans as such, but a close friend K had visited and I couldn’t help but connect the dots. Divya talks about the famous Pike Place Market, a farmers’ market near the waterfront. It is not just a place to go shopping for some of the freshest produce in the area, but restaurants also serve up a variety of dishes, such as Piroshki (a Russian puff pastry). It is also home to the first Starbucks ever. A pilgrim spot for some I’m sure.
Divya and Vivek have quite a unique tip when it comes to travelling to eat – ‘All good things are found in Chinatown’. Being a mini-China, they believe it is one place that never fails to surprise them and it is an easy way to sample authentic cuisines of China since they are yet to make their way to the country.
The book even features some pictures to help readers understand exactly what the couple seem to be talking about. I find this essential as everyone must know just how clean fish markets can be in some countries. The narrative is easy to read, not overly verbose, and there is a good mix between the travel and food elements. I did feel like I was an invisible observer travelling with them on their journey, as they kayak in Vietnam or walk around the beautiful temple complex of Angkor Wat.
However, when it comes to Vivek’s approach to covering as many species as he can in the animal kingdom, I both like and dislike it. I love it because Vivek comes across as a person who is very well read, who must have immersed himself in research and literature before eating something unknown in particular. Yes, he wants to cover as many species as he can, but he is smart about. Throughout the book even though he wanted to try paddy rats, and there were times when he was presented with the opportunity, he declined, because he wasn’t sure how it was sourced. But at times, his approach comes across as a bit clinical.
Divya, who is a vegetarian, shares her insights on those lines. But since it has been written from her point of view, getting to know about Vivek’s side of the story in third person needs a bit getting used to. Now, I know while information may not been exaggerated or diluted in any way, I tend to seek his deliberations in the first person. It leaves me a bit wanting. But I got over this in time.
All in all, this was quite a fun, relaxed read and a must for those with an adventurous palate. Fair warning, the book would probably not go down well with the squeamish and faint-of-heart. But, get out your comfort zones once in a while, try something remarkable, scary, or even downright hideous. If it’s tasty, that’s brilliant, and if it’s not, move on! It would still make for quite a compelling conversation starter.
This post is part of the Blogchatter Book Review Program.