Cruel Food

Although I’ve never eaten dog meat, I have ingested pig’s brains, cow, chicken, duck, rabbit, octopus, swordfish, tuna, lobster, shrimp, clam, bacteria (in the guise of blue cheese and yogurt), bluefish, haddock, cod, salmon, halibut, cow’s tongue, eel, pig’s intestines (unless they were cow’s), lamb, squid, and fish roe–but not all at the same time.

But at least I’ve never consumed venison, buffalo, bush meat, live monkey brains (try ’em fried!  they’re delicious!), human flesh, batteries, filet of license plate, shark fin soup, sauteed alien antennas, or whale meat.

One of the most heartless meals I’ve ever had was live baby octopus tentacles, still writhing on the plate that sat before my wife Jina, brother-in-law, and me as we sat in a Korean restaurant in an exurb of Seoul, chasing the writhing appendages down with shots of soju (Korean vodka, ostensibly made from sweet potatoes or rice, depending on the quality, even though it tastes more like paint thinner or turpentine, again depending on the quality).  

To their credit, the still sentient dismembered limbs of the mutilated cephalopod did their best to choke us to death by lodging their suction cups to our esophagi, but alas, the poor dears were vanquished by the unconquerable cascades of poison, as were our swooning brain cells.

The savage irony is that, despite feeling like the most evil, murder-worthy person on earth, I had to admit that the little critters were absolutely delicious.  Not that I’d never eat them again.  Otherwise the devil would have to break out a shovel and dig an even deeper hole in hell for me to abide in for the rest of eternity.

Last night my wife Jina had the zany idea of inviting me to eat chicken feet.  

I said, “I already tried them at a Chinese dim sum restaurant in Australia.  It was like trying to eat ballpoint pens.”

“Really?  That’s not how they’re prepared in Korea.  You’ll see.”

Unwilling to come across as the ethnocentric snob I of course still am, I shrugged and acquiesced, figuring I might as well go out in a blaze of dysentery.

What I hadn’t realized was how spicy the things would be.  After we parked our butts on chairs in a fluorescent-lit box of a restaurant, refreshingly devoid of music, apart from the phlegmatic ramblings of two red-faced middle-aged Korean men getting shit-faced on soju and partaking of a bucket of shellfish at the next table, the server brought us several side dishes, including the ubiquitous kimchi I never go a day without having at least once.  

The proprietor, a middle-aged woman with an endearing smile and two of the largest breasts I had ever seen, asked Jina if I was okay with spicy food.  Jina assured her that I was.  To be on the safe side though, she also requested that our chicken feet be prepared a little milder than what the place normally served.

When they arrived, I could have sworn we were looking at a little pot of bloodied monkeys’ hands and arms.  The server gave us each a see-through, right-handed plastic glove.  Jina dug in first, then commented on how spicy the first foot was.

Much as I didn’t want to put my foot in my mouth, I followed suit and soon felt as if my lips had been injected with Novocain.  Had I looked in a mirror, I imagined I’d resemble Mick Jagger.  Jovially hectored by Jina, I gnawed on another set of toes, finding them an inefficient culinary proposition (one reason I avoid eating crab meat–it’s a lot of labor and the payoff is meager; you work up an appetite just trying to extract the flesh from the poor plasticky victim’s cylindrical limbs).

I thought of the name “Hot Lips” Hoolihan, from the movie and TV show M*A*S*H.  She was originally dubbed with that nickname when Hawkeye and his sidekick overheard her kissing Frank Burns and saying, “Oh Frank, my lips are so hot!”

Not that I even want to contemplate kissing Frank Burns (though I wouldn’t say no to Hot Lips Hoolihan, with Jina’s permission, if I could get my cockamamie time machine to work again), but the sensation of eating chicken feet marinated in spicy red pepper sauce is an even more mashochistic (pardon the serendipitous typo) form of torture.

The one mitigating factor was that at least the meat was softer and more tender than the indestructible specimens I’d shattered by bicuspids on years ago at the Chinese restaurant.  Not that it was enough to prevent my face from melting in a parody of the subject of Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream, or the clock in that famous work by Salvador Dali.

The merciful proprietor bestowed us with a carton of peach juice, which I quaffed with gluttonous abandon to put out the conflagration in my face.  Out of curiosity I asked Jina if it had any sugar added, saying it tasted pretty natural to me.  She read the label and found that it contained Aspartame and told me not to have any more.  Her admonition proved unnecessary as I’d already emptied the cartoon.  (Don’t worry–she had some too, so we can both participate in a tumor-growing race–not that I should joke about stuff like that, being superstitious enough to believe in karma, and also because it’s just plain insensitive and rude.)

As a consolation prize, the proprietor also bestowed on us a little crock of steamed eggs, which Jina claimed assuaged the effect left by the inedibly incendiary poultry.  I settled for another piece of the Korean-style pancake with scallions and squid in it we’d also ordered to humor Jina, even though I was already full and am fat enough to cancel my membership to the clean plate club.

Surprisingly, when we left the restaurant, an alien didn’t burst out of my stomach and hiss at some hapless passerby.  We popped into a cafe for some sunflower tea and hot apple cider with a cinnamon stick sticking out of it.

Poor Jina, who’d brought the leftover chicken feet/monkey hands home wrapped in tin foil, made the mistake of having some as a late-night snack.  Minutes later she repented her decision, groaning from a stomach ache.  But she got over it quickly, no doubt annealed by the power of prayer.

Exhausted by a long day in which I interviewed new students, including one named Kim Jong-il (I kid you not), I turned on the electric mattress pad, shaved, took a shower, put on my bedraggled boxer shorts, pajama bottoms, a Khalid Sheik Mohammed-style T-shirt, and a plaid shirt over that, along with a warm pair of socks, folded a cut-up piece of old boxer shorts I put on my pillow as a safeguard against drool-spills, collapsed, and slept like a dead baby.

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