Field rats to ant chutney, this Bengaluru couple spends their vacations on the hunt for the weirdest eats!
Goose barnacles in Tokyo. Bee larvae soup in Cambodia. And next on the list is Wild ant chutney from God knows where! Bengaluru-based Divya Anand (33) and husband Vivek (36) plan their travels around weird foods and their impressive list of eats might just beat the Fear Factor hollow. Divya’s recently published book Dare Eat That: A Guide To Bizarre Foods From Around The World, catalogues her husband’s passion for crazy eats, while Divya, believe it or not is vegetarian. Now that’s love folks!
Excerpts from the interview:
Take us back in time, how did the two of you start developing this specific interest with food? Was it a TV show, a specific meal, or travel... What sparked off this focused interest?
Vivek’s quest started when he was in college, and a friend introduced him to pork while they were on a trip. Until then, he had only eaten chicken and fish which were the only acceptable non-vegetarian ‘foods’ in his hometown. Once he’d eaten pork, the mental barrier of what constitutes ‘acceptable’ food was broken, and then he began experimenting with food. Over time, he also began cataloging every dish he ate on a food chart, organised by scientific classifications such as molluscs, echinoderms and so on. Since I wanted to travel the world, I realised that we could marry his love for food with my love for travel, and that’s how we began traveling the world in search of bizarre foods.
We have to ask, how many different kinds of species have you eaten so far? Are there too many to count? Do you keep a list of species names?
The list is at about 140 species. We have a chart where the species are listed based on their scientific classification, beginning with vertebrates and invertebrates, further classified into pisces, molluscs, echinoderms and so on. While the actual chart encompasses every species in a single view, we broke the chart into smaller parts, by chapter.
Do you have a ‘must eat’ list for 2019?
Yes. Field rats have been on Vivek’s list for a very long time, and continue to be on the list. The other specialty he’s been wanting to try is wild ant chutney. In fact, we were recently in Sakleshpur (near Bengaluru) where it’s a local delicacy, however, it’s only available in the monsoons so we didn’t get a chance to try this. We’re very open to whatever local foods are available in any country we visit. We’re planning to head to Laos next, so let’s see what that brings us!
Have you ever broken rules or done something crazy in order to get a plate of something unusual?
Vivek decided to eat fugu (pufferfish), a dish that can only be prepared by a certified chef as it could be life-threatening otherwise. What could be crazier than risking your life to eat a plate of something unusual?
How did your husband get you bitten by the bug of getting adventurous with food? Or was that a prerequisite before you got married?
Thankfully, my husband didn’t make adventurous eating a prerequisite before we got married, given that he used to be a very unadventurous foodie. Since I love travelling, that’s where our interests met. I love wandering around markets and spotting new things for him to try. Recently at the Tsujiki fish market in Tokyo, I found goose barnacles, something that looked almost alien-like for him. In the time we’ve spent together, I’ve also become more open to eating bizarre foods, and even managed to eat a whole durian!
For folks who share your curiosity around food, but suffer from allergies when they are presented with the unusual — do you have any creative solutions discovered along your own journey?
If a person is allergic to an ingredient, say peanuts or shellfish they must stay away from these foods. I’d recommend finding the right translations to help communicate any dietary requirements while travelling. If the only barrier to trying something unusual is the fear of the unknown, my advice would be to break that mental barrier and try it. What’s unusual for someone as food is usual for many others around the world. So it’s all in the mind. Also, if the food has been presented well, it helps make the leap easier.
Are any foods that even you, after having written a book called Dare Eat That — dare not eat?
Dare Eat That is a book about my husband Vivek’s quest to eat his way around the world, one bizarre species at a time. While he’s eaten a ton of truly mind-boggling foods (as the book will show!), there are still things that even he hasn’t yet managed to eat. For instance, in many of the markets we’ve visited, we’ve seen large blocks of coagulated blood — this is something that he’s been curious about, but hasn’t yet managed to eat.
Give us three bizarre dishes for beginners to get started... dishes not for the faint-hearted.
It’s easy to start eating bizarre dishes if they’re presented in a format that makes them more appetising by incorporating them into commonly eaten dishes. For example, at Bugs Cafe in Cambodia, the insects are a part of the dish — like an ant salad or a bee larvae soup. Or cricket protein bars in the US which look like any other protein bar but are made of cricket flour. Those would be easy options to start with, followed by newer meats like zebra or ostrich meat in a format that you see with common meat like chicken or beef, for instance, skewers or steaks. Once you’re comfortable with these, it will be easier to consider dishes presented in the most bizarre form, like a whole tarantula, fried insects or even a snake!
Did you offer some unusual foods to your publisher while pitching this book?
That offer is open — they’re yet to take us up on it!
We’ve been curious about this ever since we saw it on James Corden’s show — and since we spotted it on your Instagram feed — we had to ask. How does one extract bird saliva, and what does it taste like?
Birds nest soup is created using the nest of a swiftlet. The swiftlet builds its nest with interwoven strands of its saliva, which then dry and harden to form the nest. The nests are harvested from the caves where they’re found and then used for the soup. The taste is briny and it was very good. It’s said that the taste varies based on where the nest was harvested, so we found one from the right place.
What’s on your bucket list of bizarre foods to try before you die?
Field rats, ant chutney, lizards, other insects that he hasn’t yet eaten or hasn’t had the courage to try. Basically, we’d like to have everything that is a delicacy in any part of the world, and is sustainably harvested.
How do you do your research when seeking them out?
We often find foods quite serendipitously — while wandering through a wet market or a food street. Sometimes, we hear about a particular restaurant or dish from the locals. Other times, we find about it online or on another foodie’s Instagram handle and then go looking for it. Sometimes we don’t find what we’re looking for, and other times, it feels like a dish found us!
Have you started working on your next book yet? What is it going to be about?
Yes, it’s a picture book on a topic that’s very close to my heart. It will be published by Puffin and I’m currently working on the manuscript.
Dare Eat That at INR 299 by Penguin Random House India.
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