Most of my early memories are food-related, and the animal products I distinctly remember loving were cuttlefish and squid. I gobbled up chewy strands of dried cuttlefish and inhaled deeply when my father grilled squid in the backyard. I can only imagine what our neighbors in San Antonio, Texas, thought of our pungent barbecue, but to me, these weren't "weird" foods, just delicious ones.
And then, on the day I realized I was eating animals, I turned vegetarian. This frustrated my poor father, an accomplished chef and man who will eat anything. (His motto: "if it looks good, smells good, and tastes good, don't ask what it is, just eat it.") To his credit, he was unusually supportive, but there were a few attempts at trickery. That braised "cucumber"? When I inquired as to why it was so chewy, he eventually had to admit it was not the kind of cucumber that grows on vines but rather a sea cucumber. An echinoderm.
Even though I abstained from meat, I did not find it particularly odd that we had things like turtle soup in the pantry. Turtles, chickens, cows – they were all equally and simultaneously normal yet personally disagreeable. One food, however, struck me as terribly strange: hundred-year eggs. These Chinese delicacies are made by preserving duck, chicken, or quail eggs in clay, ash, salt, and lime. In reality, they are only cured for a few weeks or months, but as a child I assumed these crazy eggs really were a hundred years old. I imagined the eggs being excavated from ancient sites in China and stared, fascinated, at the extra special thousand-year eggs at the Asian market.
My father loved them, of course, but I was suspicious. They smelled sulfur-y and their gelatinous whites – now brown – and blackish-green, cheese-like yolks were intriguing but scary. I would only take the smallest bites, and it has now been over 20 years since I've eaten them. Most of the strange foods I have eaten are buried in my past – fondly-remembered cuttlefish, the sea cucumber my father duped me into eating – but it occurs to me that century eggs are something I may revisit. Perhaps I'll make my father proud and give them another try one of these days...