The matter of exotics

Happy Year of the Dragon, everybody!  Today, there are dragons in every Chinatown and every Chinese storefront.  There are even dragons in every Chinese restaurant, in the form of xiao long bao (“little dragon buns” or Shanghai soup dumplings.  Actually pork.)  or maybe “Dragon Meets Phoenix” (Actually shrimp and chicken).  I think this betrays a certain fascination with exotica, or at least the idea of exotica.  At times that fascination has gone so far as to endanger whole species (think of shark fins, and birds’ nests).  Be that as it may, such fascination isn’t exclusive to faraway cultures.

When I was in school, I had a good friend who went on to spend some years working in the bush.  From his campsites he’d send me letters which never failed to highlight his distance from civilization, particularly the one that included a recipe for stewed iguana.  A part of me has always regretted not testing that recipe, and a part of me has always been relieved I never had to.  I think a great many of us–adventurous eaters but practical cooks–feel that ambiguity.

These days, I tend to review cookbooks in an Everyman sort of way.  I keep it inexpensive and fairly accessible, which is helpful to my readers but also to me.  That means I test chicken a lot and veal not so much.  Yes to shellfish, no to sushi-grade tuna.  The most exotic thing I’ve cooked in the last few months was the Christmas goose, which hardly counts (well, yesterday we had “thousand year old” preserved duck eggs, but those come pre-cooked.  And they’re actually only 90 days old).

In the EYB database you can find alligatorpigeongrousearmadillo (in the Joy of Cooking, no less!)  There’s squirrel, and there’s kangaroo; there’s bear and possum.  What a magnificently diverse table this represents!  at least for the unrepentant carnivore.

I suppose such wistful thoughts about game are a way of expanding my imaginary culinary horizons, even knowing that I’m not heading into the back 40 with a rifle and hauling back a brace of hares for supper.  But surely my EYB friends have more adventurous larders!  What’s the latest oddest thing you’ve cooked?  Did you love it?  or was it just for the sake of the thrill?

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