a..."relenteless international campaign to coax and, if neccesary, humilate people who hold on to phony allergies, bogus intolerances, nutritional nonsense, and provincial preferences."
Jeffrey Steingarten, It Must Have Been Something I Ate
I hand my mother a bowl of squid picatta. The pasta is tangled up with tentacles and rings, where I have sliced the pallid squid bodies into sections. I can't really see the look on her face--expressions have always posed a challenge for me--but I can sense it. It is the look of a little girl living in the Midwest, presented with something that by all rights should remain in the damn ocean where it belongs, thank you.
"You can just eat around the tentacles," I offer half-heartedly.
"Eat around the tentacles," she snorts, "that would make a great title for your autobiography."
My relationship with my mother began to knit, like a broken bone, over a plate of linguine and clams. Maybe because of this, she gamely tries a piece of squid. And isn't that all I can ask for, that she try it?
The quote above resonates with me because more and more I am beginning to feel that food preferences based on fear and misinformation are a disease, a blight on the culinary landscape. They cut the poor misguided sufferer off from cultures, from experiences, from people. Fear of food and/or overly restrictive regimens in America especially seem to me to be an outgrowth of a disgusting amount of privelge and prosperity.
Well, my friends, we will not long have that same luxury. Now it is simply not economically viable to save only the thick cuts of steak from a cow but throw away the tail (delicious in stews, fantastic ragu) the liver (coated in seasoned flour, fried in beer), the heart (sliced and tossed with pasta, seasoned with dill) and so on.
In the spirit of connecting to cultural tradition and eating things that challenge us, I give you Maneki. This is one of the oldest--if not the oldest--restaurant in America. It is hidden away in the International District of my hometown, Seattle Washington.
The menu page on their website appeals to the American diner. Familiar items--at least to your average Seattleite--dot the list, promising sashimi and a variety of brightly colored rolls.
While delicious, fuck that.
What you want is the monkfish liver. With a texture and taste much like high end tuna, the oceanic smoothness of this treat will open your eyes. Fuck the word liver. Don't let that silly squeamishness get in your way. Or maybe you want the whole squid? (the answer: fuck yes you do) Or maybe, if you're feeling truly daring, get what I had: the squid intestines in fermented soybean sauce.
The bit about tradition I mentioned? I am told, by the bartender, that this dish is very popular amongst the elder Japanese. It is something your grandmother would order, if your grandmother were an aged Asian woman with fond memories of old school food.
The intestines themselves aren't much different than the rest of the squid. They share the same texture and taste. The challenging part is the sauce. My god, is this stuff fermented. They are not messing around. It is like everything in your face about vinegar, ramped up ten times. Luckily, I generally like that sort of thing, but it does mean the squid is just a vehicle for more Punch You in the Face Sauce. (I am sure the Japanese name for it translates just like that)
My mother, god bless her, hovered nearby the whole time, asking questions about what it was like, living vicariously through me and my willingness to try what she, to this day, can't try for herself. Are our childhoods so ingrained? I choose to be the master of my own destiny and continue to fight whatever food prejudices I may have. (other than the ones against packaged, processed foods. those are damn well justified. One could also argue that isn't technically food) I hope you do, too. Tell me about a moment where the food portion of your mind opened just a little bit wider.