The Food Bucket List

Random Observation/Comment #276: I can’t imagine having a dietary restriction. I probably shouldn’t take this freedom as an obligation to eat everything that once lived. Why do majestic animals taste so good?

Ready to eat.

This blog entry started as a general bucket list, but I found that my bucket list split very categorically into location activities/sights, food adventures, and miscellaneous accomplishments.  I decided to start with what I had already done.  This was a long list, and the specific food adventure list, is something worth sharing for all the foodies out there (in no particular order).

  • Iceland
    • Minke whale – lightly seared and served in a jar from the Icelandic bar. It actually had the texture of filet mignon and I would definitely eat it again (especially because it’s served in a jar).
    • Hakarl – smells like ammonia and tastes like its decomposing (or further fermenting) in your mouth. That being said, it’s not so terrible. It was something worth trying… once.
    • Reindeer burger – the texture was that of a soft burger, but there was this lingering gamy taste to it. I associate the taste with lamb often because overcooking lamb brings on the same smell and grass-fed taste.
    • Raw Puffin – I like my sashimi, but this was odd. The deep purple strips of meat were very interesting and not the easiest to eat without some dipping sauce.  I really want to try puffin prepared in a different way.
    • Lobster bisque – This creamy, buttery concoction was incredible. I had a food boner while eating it because the flavor was so rich and warmed my body completely.
  • Japan
    • Fugu (pufferfish) – I had this in every possible way in Osaka. The sashimi was extremely chewy and has a very fresh taste to it, but I think they left some of the poison in there on purpose because my tongue was slightly numb afterwards. Scary, but it made me feel alive.
    • Horse sashimi – It was rather porous, but didn’t have any distinct taste to it. I was also a bit nervous because … it’s freakin’ horse.
    • Tuna special at Tsukiji fish market for breakfast – best sushi meal of my life. It was 8AM and this special had every possibly cut of the tuna included in the 12 pieces. The color was magnificent and the taste… scenic erection.
    • Kobe beef sashimi – Yes, you can eat it as a steak and it’s the most tender thing your mouth will ever enjoy, but it is so much better sashimi cut. The marbling melts apart and you don’t even have to chew. I never ate anything so slowly and with such enjoyment.
    • Uni – An acquired taste because the freshest of Uni will also melt in your mouth, but leave a very distinct taste of the fresh ocean on your taste-buds. The texture is not for the faint-hearted as you’ll find it looks like brains and sits on your tongue like bumpy jelly.
    • Lobster sashimi – Cool thing about this is that it maintains the crunchy texture of cooked lobster tail, but it’s still slimy and tastes a little sweet. If you take a deep breath with your nose while chewing, you’ll reach nirvana.
    • Natto – What the hell, Japs? This is one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever had. The texture is like mucus mixed with huge soft boogers and you can’t even choke it down with rice. I guess it’s an acquired taste?
    • Real Izakaya – Best beer food ever. Skewers of different bird organs. Liver, gizzard, heart, and chicken skin. Love.
  • Hong Kong
    • Roasted bug larvae – My Dad was afraid of this, but Angus and I went to town. It’s crunchy and then squishes when the insides juice outwards. Tastes like peanuts, but more earthy. Needs salt.
    • Fish with blue bones – I don’t remember the specific fish this was, but I distinctly remember eating this with my uncle. It was the most delicious fish I’ve ever had. It was prepared cleanly steamed with the head (as usual) and the meat flaked off so beautifully. I liked how it was perfectly cooked as to maintain that chewy response from the meat.
    • Birds nest soup – This is literally made from the spit of a sparrow when they make their nests. I don’t know why someone would make this into a delicacy. It’s cold and slimy, and not in a good way. It leaves a glowing taste of icky-ness in your mouth.
    • Real Shark fin soup – Not only is the shark fin amazing when you can get a spoon-sized chunk of it, but it makes the soup into a very viscous and powerful flavor.  It has that seafood type of sweetness with every spoonful. Real shark fin is crunchy and breaks apart very distinctly with each chew.
    • Hairy Crab – Eat the male hairy crabs because, instead of the female roe, you get to eat the male-specific crab organ. It’s this clear bumpy part in the back that has the most interesting texture. It’s like hardened glue, but it’s mixed with the flavor of the crab and its other insides.
    • Peeing lobsters – I don’t know what they’re called, but these lobsters look more like giant prawns. If cooked correctly, the meat is very sweet and crunchy.  The tails move like crazy and flap around with such fervor that it makes the tail extra meaty.
    • Turtle jelly – supposedly this is good for you, but it looks like black jello. It also tastes like the flavor of black jello. Surprisingly minty to the point that if you open your mouth, it’ll go up your nose. I’m not a big fan.
    • Coagulated Pig’s Blood (yum) – I’ve only eaten real pig’s blood in Hong Kong. It’s better than that imitation duck’s blood stuff in NY. The color is lighter and it is not as chewy so you get a better bounce to each bite. I’m a huge fan of the taste for some reason. It’s also really good with congee.
    • Fried Snake – There’s not a lot of meat, but the meat you do eat is very sweet.  I thought it would be more chewy, but the way it was prepared here was tender.
    • Sugar cane juice – oh, it’s the little things in life, and this is proof. I get this from the street markets every time I visit Hong Kong. These bottles of green juice are heavenly and I’m convinced they were the cause of most of my cavities. Even better is just buying sugar cane, cutting it into quarters and just sucking the juices right off the cane.
    • Chitterlings – Pig organs. No big deal here. They taste like any other organ. It’s chewy and doesn’t have any distinguishable taste. I think the texture is what throws most people off. They also look like swirly end bits.
    • Best Oyster – When I visit Hong Kong with my uncle, we go on crazy food adventures. One place that we visited was owned by his close friend and he brought out these fresh raw oysters that were the size of my fist.  The light spicy sauce sprinkled on top made this the best tasting oyster in my life.  You literally cannot eat it in one bite and I wouldn’t be surprised if you had to use a fork and knife to cut the oyster like a steak. Unbelievable.
  • London
    • Kangaroo burger – straight from Borough’s market on Sunday, the kangaroo burger was a little bit over cooked and covered in cranberry sauce. I think without it, the gamy taste would have been too strong. All in all, it was a very good burger and I’d eat it again. I’m curious to try it in a steak form.
    • Best fish and chips – Fried fish never tasted so good on a paper plate. The cod piece I got was huge. I think they used the entire back fillet for my cut because it was so amazing. Maybe they battered and fried it in beer… I could also have been very hungry, but I suggest you try it out: The Sea Shell Restaurant by Regents Park.
  • Amsterdam
    • Best pommes frites – It could have been the munchies, but I had never tasted anything better. Even Belgian pomme frites weren’t as good for some reason. It must have been the samurai sauce.
  • Prague, Czech Republic
    • Absinthe – I bought it prepared in the main 3 ways: set the sugar cube on fire on a spoon, drip water over the sugar cube slowly, and put into a fancy little straw shot glass (set on fire and suck fiercely so it burns your throat even more).  Worst shots ever. So much licorice and so much burning.
  • Belgium
    • Best rich dark beer – Trappist Westvleteren. Jebus. There were just so many flavors and explosions happening in my mouth. Drinking one pint was a journey in itself. 12% alcohol never tasted so rich and refined.  The most interesting part was how the beer evolved as you drank it.
    • Belgian Waffles – Always get the rectangle-shaped ones because they will rock your world so hard. They infuse it with cinnamon and deliciousness. I don’t even know how they can make a dessert so perfect. The crispy-ness combined with the perfect level of sweetness makes this my favorite treat.
  • Germany
    • Best wurst – You can’t have a good sausage without the natural casing. It makes everything so crunchy. It’s just plump and juicy with every bite and will replace a hotdog any day.
    • Pigs knees – Falls right off the bone when you eat it. If you stand by the large window that these slow roast, you’re bound to see lots of people salivating.
    • Goulash made by Hungarians – my friends from Hungary decided to make Goulash for the apartment.  It’s basically meat soup. Extremely flavorful, but be sure to remove as much fat as possible.
  • Italy
    • Head cheese – If you don’t think about what you’re eating, then it won’t be as bad. I had this from a shady street vendor who just put a slice of this stuff on a roll and handed it to me.  Head cheese is bits and pieces of everything leftover from a pig. The majority of it is pig face, so try not to think about it too much when you have it.
    • Best lasagna – I was in Manarola, Cinque Terre and there was this open court villa area outside of a small restaurant. The lasagna itself was only 3 layers, but it was the best 3 layers of deliciousness I’ve ever had. It was even better when it was brought out by an old Italian lady in an apron with a sweet smile.
    • Balsamic vinegar and olive oil with bread – It’s simple, yet so unbelievably tasty. The olive oil is a dark, almost greenish, color and the vinegar itself just has so many layers of taste. Add a tiny bit of salt, and I think I could eat this instead of the meal.  Note to self: try to not to fill up on bread.
    • Bruschetta – You have never had true bruschetta until you have had it in Italy. There’s just something about the combination of spices and fresh crispy bread that makes this absolutely delicious for an appetizer and at any time throughout the meal.
    • Best Meat and Cheese – Buffalo mozzarella with thinly sliced prosciutto. I’m in heaven. I love Italian appetizers with their standard 7 course dinners.
  • NYC
    • Raw octopus – It’s not technically alive, but it is very recently killed and sliced into pieces. The tentacles all wiggle around the plate and the suctions make eating these bits very difficult to grab.  The texture isn’t for everyone, but I think everyone should at least try it to check it off their bucket list.
    • Moose – I had this at an awesome election party when Sarah Palin was running. Her candidate-appropriate food was moose.  It was a big dark chunk of meat that may have been overcooked. It was tough to chew and had that venison taste to it. I will be sure to try this again when cooked in smaller portions.
    • Fresh oysters – I have listed this for NYC because there are many excellent places for this. Of course, you’ll pay a pretty penny for it, but I’m more than happy to do so at least once a month. My favorite place right now for this is The Ten Bells.
    • Fois Gras – If you can overlook the cruelty to the geese or duck, I think it is definitely a French delicacy that just melts in your mouth. There is a very rich and creamy taste to it that goes really well with lightly toasted bread.  Unfortunately, the cholesterol for this (and most of the tastiest things in the world) is through the roof, so eat it while you’re young.
    • Best Pastrami from Spotted Pig or Katz (can’t decide!) – I die. I would eat this every day if it weren’t a $14 sandwich. The portion of fat to slow roasted pastrami meat is perfect every time. Salivation is a must and I’m sure you’ll close your eyes while you chew so you can concentrate all your senses to your taste buds having a party.
    • Fried green tomatoes – I had these at Dinosaur BBQ and they were pretty awesome. I’ve only mentioned them because most people have not tried them yet, and I highly suggest they do. It sort of reminds of me middle school cafeteria mozzarella sticks, but in a very good way. I loved those…
    • Ostrich – Cooked this in a Korean restaurant called Woo Lae Oak in Soho. The meat, when seared correctly, is ridiculous. It’s not very fatty so it will burn very quickly. A very light sear will be enough for it to go over rice.  Surprisingly tastes closer to a steak than a bird.
    • Beef tongue – Also at the Korean restaurant, I’ve found this to be very juicy and excellent. It’s a little bit weird because I’m not used to taste buds touching this way.
    • Crocodile gumbo – This just tastes like chicken. The gumbo itself is wonderful and filled with slow cooked southern tastes, but I feel like if they replaced the crocodile with chicken, I wouldn’t have exactly known the difference.
    • Fried Pickles – Must try for everyone if you’re a big fan of pickles. Damn these are good. I can eat them all day.
    • Pickle back shots – I recently had an amazing one in the bar 718 in Brooklyn. ¾ Polish vodka with ¼ pickle juice with a little pickle like a straw – wow. I think you can make this yourself. Time to save all the pickle juice.
    • Megu 12 course taste menu – Yes. This should actually be number one because this Japanese Fusion 12 course 3 hour meal was the reason why I became such a huge foodie. If you ever have $150 you’d like to spend on food, this is the best place to do it.  After the whole ordeal, you don’t even feel like you’ve had 12 courses – you just feel absolutely satisfied. Food nirvana.
    • Eileen’s Cheesecake – I’m lactose intolerant and I’ll still eat a whole one by myself. It’s a little bit pricey, but it’s phenomenal. If you recommend I have cheesecake factory, we are no longer friends.
  • Boston
    • Special Sushi roll from O-Sushi – this is an experience near and dear to my heart when visiting my friend in Boston. While I was a poor college student, this $15 special roll made the entire meal. It had so many different textures and flavors of sun-dried tomatoes and fresh tuna. It’s sad I don’t know the name of the roll and I couldn’t find it on the menu.
  • Key West
    • Real key-lime pie – If you haven’t had the real thing, you’re missing out. Plus, this is the name of the next android OS after jelly bean.
    • Conch fritters – Definitely worth a try. It’s like takoyaki, but not really. I guess they’re similar because there’s a chewy middle with a fluffy outside breading.
  • France
    • Best mussels in a pot – It’s an endless pot of mussels. Seriously, I don’t know how someone can finish a whole pot by themselves.  Use one of the empty mussel shells to pinch the other ones out.
    • Truffles – There’s something about the taste of truffles that rubs me the wrong way. It tastes like it’s a little turned for some reason, but it’s a delicacy that I needed to try because everyone craves about it all the time.  This is the most expensive mushroom I’ve ever had…
    • Escargot – The texture is excellent, but it’s super salty. They put these snails into a special plate with cute little snail shapes. The flavor is also rather strong for my preference.
  • Spain
    • Conch on the beach from a paper cup – During the sunset in San Sebastian, I just found a random pier and found an old lady selling small paper cups of conches.  Grab a toothpick and just enjoy the sight.
    • Best and Cheapest Tapas in San Sebastian – There are so many assorted tapas created with such interesting combinations. My favorite was just a simple shrimp with some white sauce on top of a piece of toasted bread. I’m sure I’ve had better individual tapas throughout NYC, but the whole meal is extremely enjoyable in the buffet style of little bits and bites.
    • Ceviche – Raw fish only cooked by lime juice with a slightly spicy kick to it. I’m in heaven.  Be sure to eat quickly or at least take the fish/shrimp out of the lime juice or else it over cooks and gets too chewy.
    • Best Ham on honey dew – The ham itself is absolutely ridiculous how fresh and thinly sliced it is.  The salty piece of cured pork just melts in your mouth and wraps your tongue in happiness.  It’s a little salty, so the honey dew really compliments the flavors.
    • Best Gazpacho – There is nothing I want more than a cold tomato soup on a hot and humid day in Valencia. I had this in a small restaurant with fold-out chairs and a bustling Spanish crowd. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find good gazpacho in NYC, and I have never found anything that has quite quenched my thirst.
    • Best Paella – My friend’s mom made this for me the old fashioned way with real saffron and rabbit.  Sometimes restaurants make it too oily or overcook the meat, but this was absolutely perfect. The rice was a rich golden color and the meat from the rabbit and chicken just fell off the bone. So good.
    • Horchata – Valencia specialty from the streets. Second to the gazpacho, this incredible drink makes the humidity and heat in Valencia bearable. I want to say it’s like ice coffee, but it’s 10x better.
  • Russia
    • Meat gelatin pie – A home cooked meal by Natasha’s grandma that has made me miss home-cooked Russian meals. It’s literally meat jello – what is there not to like? I prefer it on hot rice so pieces of the gelatin melt over the rice.  There’s such a rich taste to it and the sauce that comes from the gelatin reminds me of my goo jerng’s gravy. Yum.
    • Dried and fermented fish from Siberia – The taste of the fish is delicious, but I think the real game changer is the way you eat it with beer in front of a Russian dubbed version of “How to Train a Dragon.” My hands smelled of ammonia and fish afterwards, but the beer really complimented the whole thing well.
    • Balsam+Vodka – This is a very strong shot, but it goes down very smooth. I love Russian hard liquor.

So what else do I want to try?

Honestly, I have no idea.  On the adventurous eating side, I am still open to whatever looks good on the menu, although I’m not sure if I can stomach what Andrew Zimmerman does on Bizarre Foods. However, if people have eaten it and said it’s not ridiculously disgusting, given the chance, I will definitely give it a try. I’m not sure if I’ll go out of my way to Africa to eat some bee larvae, but if it’s in front of me and others at that table are going for it, you bet I will be too.

The main lesson I’ve learned from all of my food adventures is that the best way to eat is to eat on vacation.  If I’m going somewhere for a trip, I will definitely do all of my research on the local cuisines. I am a big fan of eating what locals eat.  That being said, it’s tough to pin-point exactly what the local NYC cuisine is, so…

~See Lemons Eat Everything

Edit: Here are the pictures for these foods:

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