|Homemade foie gras to go|
To be fair, my eating of strange things predated my French Years. I did eat squirrel when I was a child. On several occasions. My father was a hunter, and we ate what he shot: rabbit, pheasant, duck, deer... Don’t ask me why he shot squirrels, but yes, they do have a faint nutty taste.
But squirrels aside, it may all have started in Paris on a tour of Europe with my parents when I was 12. My father devised a three-week swing through six countries and if a tire had blown at any time, our entire schedule would have been wrecked, that’s how tight he had things planned.
In the period A.E. (After Europe), there were other things I tried. There were frog’s legs - cuisses de grenouille - which my father received on a fairly regular basis, for medical services rendered (a throwback to the pay-with-a-chicken of yesteryear). They taste surprisingly like snails, consistency aside, because of the butter-garlic-parsley preparation that is the same. And there was tortoise soup, ubiquitous in the 60's but since banned, I think, because tortoises are on the endangered species list. And of course ris de veau, which I never would have eaten if I’d known that it was the thymus gland of some poor calf. It loses in the translation somehow.
I had my first close encounter with boudin while on a trip to Brittany with my then-beau Yannick, who was from there. He took me to Beg Léguer, a tiny seacoast town near Lannion where he’d spent his summers as a boy. It was Easter and it wasn’t exactly warm. The campgrounds were closed but there was a light in the snack bar and the lady remembered Yannick, his blue eyes and his lopsided smile. So she agreed to cook us up something. We were the only people there.
"What do you want to eat?" she asked us... and he turned to me.
"Well... something regional?" I questioned.
She immediately said "Ca, c’est le boudin. Aux deux pommes." Translation: That would be boudin with two types of apples (meaning regular apples, sliced and caramelized, and mashed "apples of the earth", aka potatoes).
"Do you want to know what that is?" Yannick asked me, with a note of apprehension in his voice.
"Not if you have to ask. Tell me afterward."
So we ate.
Afterward he told me what it was: blood sausage. My stomach went queasy for a few minutes, but I had to admit it had been tasty, fried all crisp with the melt-in-your-mouth apples and butter-rich mashed potatoes.
Since then, I’ve branched out to boudin créole because my children’s father comes from the French West Indies. Same principle as French boudin, except tied into finger-food size sausages and jazzed up with hot chili peppers. You can get them in New Orleans and elsewhere in Louisiana, which was, after all, part of France until 1803 and remained a port that traded with the entire West Indies.
I have eaten beef tongue (langue de boeuf), which I’ve only had cut up in a salad. It’s not half bad, but I don’t think I’d go as far as the British, who eat it sliced in sandwiches... with a lot of mustard, I think. And I definitely don’t want to see it lolling about in the butcher’s window.
I guess you either have to get used to certain foods when you’re young - before you truly understand what it is you’re eating - or you have to be more intrepid (or more curious) than I am. Still, I feel I’ve come a long way, baby. And I’m fine with the distance covered.