Having spent a lot of time overseas, I can tell you what’s going to happen when an American GI spots something unrecognizable floating around in a bowl in a foreign restaurant.
Everything is coming to a screeching halt — if he’s sober.
And rightly so. There are altogether too many things eaten by human beings around this old planet which are far more suitable for baiting a rat trap.
Especially if you don’t like rats.
Early in the overseas restaurant game I learned that the number of drinks imbibed before an encounter with an unknown something staring up at you from the table is directly proportional to your willingness to stick it in your mouth and begin fanging it up.
Which is the reason I got into the habit overseas of starting all restaurant meals as sober as humanly possible. I didn’t want to hear any more tales-of-the-night-before that started with, “Holy cow, Garrett! You know what you ate last night?”
Uh-uh! I screw up bad enough when I’m sober.
Like most GIs though, I wasn’t worried about my stomach. None of us cared what went on down there in that vacant area at the bottom of the food tube.
Hey, out of sight is out of mind.
Truth is, it didn’t matter whether you worried or not. The result was the same. Either way you were going to end up with a session of the Karachi Trots, Montezuma’s Revenge, or Delhi Belly once in a while.
And there were going to be some occasions when you could fire through a keyhole at 30 paces.
Believe me, I know.
One thing that complicated matters was those %$#@& languages! The Air Force used to give us little blue books that were supposed to help, but they dealt mostly with how to get a round trip ticket to Paris, or whose aunt’s pen is on the table of whose uncle.
And sometimes a little screwup turned out for the best.
Take the time in Iceland that four of us descended on the Vik Restaurant, pored over the menu, and found something called “bif tek.” Well that was a no-brainer, and since we had no brains ...
When our “steaks” came they had a small characteristic that I will admit was unexpected — they were black. Not seared black on the grill. Not dropped into the charcoal. Just plain black.
Well, they smelled good, so ...
Turns out that whale steak is good stuff. Or maybe walrus, I never did too well with my Icelandic.
Ditto the whale steaks in Japan. Whale steak is good stuff. Maybe that’s why whales are on the endangered species list.
I’ve heard our Native American brethren criticized because they ate up a few species of now extinct animals, such as the North American camel, horse and elephant-like woolly mammoth. I can relate to that. Hey, if a species doesn’t want to go extinct I’d advise it to learn how to taste like broccoli.
Safe! Ain’t nobody touchin’ that critter!
One time over in Pakistan, about 50 miles outside Karachi, I was chewing on a delicious chupatti — more or less a thick flour tortilla — that an old woman had patted into shape with a pair of nimble hands. After she had shaped it she had slapped it up against the inside of her beehive oven, pulled it out after five minutes with a little flat wooden stick, and put it on a bent up old tin dish.
It was mouth-wateringly delicious — my third one — and I was just about to ask her to slap another one together for me when she reached down into a pile of bullock manure and began slapping together a different kind of patty — fuel for the fire.
No, she didn’t wash her hands after she stoked the coals.
No, I didn’t ask for a fourth chupatti.
And yes, I finished the one I was eating.
Hey! When in Rome ...
I have to admit that chupatti did have a certain ambience.
On the other hand, there was one time in England that I definitely passed on putting a tasty little something in my mouth.
I remember the day well. I had gone for a stroll in the tiny village of Cropredy, where Lolly and I and the kids lived until we moved into base housing on RAF Upper-Heyford.
It was a cold but sunny day and I was treading a path that ran just outside a stand of tall reeds that grew beside a tiny stream that ran through the village from north to south. Over the top of the reeds, in the bright sun, I caught the momentary flash of what appeared to be a tiny golden hook on the end of some very fine nylon monofilament.
That flash of gold spelled out FISHERMAN in capital letters, so as I passed the end of the reeds I turned and looked. There on the edge of the stream sat the unshaven old Englishman who went with the flashing hook.
As I said, it was winter, and he was dressed for it, clothed in a collection of gray woolens. Over the tops of scuffed black high-cut shoes peeped thick gray woolen socks which disappeared into heavy gray woolen pants. Above that he wore the predictable three layers of wool sweaters, the outermost one a thick, rib-knit thing with tattered sleeves.
On his head sat the traditional gray woolen peaked cap. And to complete the picture, a short stub of clay pipe, bowl down in the chill wind, jutted from a square jaw.
I watched him fish. His technique was beautiful. Using a pretty little split bamboo rod held deftly in his left hand, he flicked a wrist, confidently cast a dozen yards down the rippling stream, and had a bite with his first cast. Into his creel went an eight-inch fish not too different from a crappie.
“Nicely done,” I said.
“Fish, do ye?”
“Some. What are you using for bait?”
“Water’s cold this time of year. They’ve no life in them.”
A finger went into a cheek pouch, worked itself around, and returned with something pink and squirming — a live maggot.
He returned it to its warm home. “Even though I keep ’em warm, the cold water takes the life out of ’em in minutes.”
I watched as he unhooked the partly eaten one from the hook, popped it into his mouth, and chewed. “Not bad eatin’ though. Try one, Yank?”
To hell with international relations, I passed.