Eat It So Your Readers Don’t Have To
Just for a moment, picture puffins–those cute little birds with stripy beaks that skim northern Europe’s seas. Many people think they’re “adorable.”
Not me. Not since I visited Iceland, home to at least eight million puffins. Whether they’re pan-fried, slow-cooked or in a salad, puffins are revolting. The meat has a slimy texture, it’s a dark liverish color, and there’s a fishy aftertaste. The best accompaniment to puffin isn’t blueberries, it’s strong alcohol.
As Icelandic culinary adventures can get extreme, make sure you take plentiful supplies of immodium if you go. Reeking of ammonia–imagine the whiff of sodden diapers–hakarl is fermented shark. Here, fermented is a euphemism for putrefied. But being selfless, I resisted the hakarl and left it for you to sample.
Yes, you! Travel writers should regard terrifying foodstuffs as a blessing, not a curse. Most readers wouldn’t try deep-fried centipedes or silk-worm larvae, but they’ll enjoy an account of you gagging on them. (Tip: Thinking of the pay-check will help take your mind off that sheep’s eyeball.)
I suspect many editors are sadists who enjoy seeing small children weep, but guinea pigs from the Andes always go down well. Stories where guinea pigs roast and sizzle, and the writer muses about the family pet back home.
Yet when I taught a travel writing workshop in Ecuador, few students wanted to get their teeth into the national specialty. In this part of the world, guinea pigs (cuy) aren’t regarded as pets–they’re protein. Personally, I’d rather have pizza, but when in Ecuador…
So get over the fear factor. Stop whimpering. You don’t have to relish whatever vile mess is on your plate–but do at least try it. It’s cheating readers if you slink off to the nearest Golden Arches or a restaurant with bland “international” food.
Being logical, are ants’ eggs much different to caviar? Admittedly, putrefied shark seemed beyond the call of duty, and I’d find it mentally difficult to eat dog. But I’ve tried pig’s ears…bull’s testicles…fish-head curry…snails…raw jellyfish…
The world has endless opportunities to generate that delicious frisson of horror. Take haggis, Scotland’s national dish. Haggis is definitely hardcore. But if I can chow down on the lights, lungs, and liver of a sheep boiled in its own stomach bag, I’m sure you’ll manage it, too.
Unfamiliar tastes don’t only spice up a story, they can provide material for additional articles–and not only for travel publications. Food and drink magazines are always a good niche market for writers.
Here’s a story idea for you: Eat Like A Vampire. Black pudding is the English/Irish name for blood sausage—made from pig’s blood. You might call it “unfit for human consumption,” but it goes by the name of boudin in France, morcilla in Spain, and blutwurst in Germany.
Or say you’re visiting Porto, in northern Portugal. It’s renowned for its port wine lodges, but don’t focus solely on wine-related stories. The city’s signature dish is tripas à moda de Porto.
Yes, tripe. Although the idea of dining on the lining of a cow’s stomach might reactivate your gag mechanism, be resolute. Tripe hasn’t killed off the locals, and it won’t kill you. Here, it’s usually stewed with white beans and sausage.
I won’t pretend tripe is delicious–it isn’t. But Porto’s tripe is a taste of history–and an incident from the past often makes a great hook for a story. In the 15th century, the city donated its best meat to feed the Portuguese army, keeping only the awful offal.
So wherever you travel, don’t only eat for yourself. Be generous and eat for your readers, too.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]