Terrible Travel Tales – How To Deal With A Saucy Squid
From the mobile desk of David Fryer.
Culinary horrors abound in many third-world destinations, but wayside restaurants added a whole new dimension to food on the run in rural Sumatra.
Most restaurants were little more than rudimentary shacks made from timber off-cuts and rusty iron; sanitary standards were low, the amenities were challenging, and their menus were frightening.
Offerings were often dished up on grubby glass saucers that resembled putrid Petri dishes and the contents invariably looked like laboratory specimens in formaldehyde. Fish heads in chilli sauce, chillies in jungle juice, and glutinous boiled rice were standard fare. The others are difficult to describe, but Slugs-In-Slime made more than one appearance and Crunchy Crickets were identified after close forensic examination. Wildlife experts may have had a field day, but for us consumption was like playing Russian Roulette with oral bullets.
A fish head appeared with a topping of raisins at one ramshackle shack, or at least we thought they were raisins until several flew away when confronted with a fork!
Fly Surprise was bad enough, but Chillies in Chilli Sauce burned at both ends. For safety, we stuck to sticky boiled rice with bean shoots, but it was soaked in blood-red sump oil. With practice, we discovered it could be delivered down the gullet by simultaneously pinching the nose and vowing to be strong over the pit-latrines later that day.
My companion was mercifully spared an ordeal at the pits when his laboratory specimen made a rapid return immediately after consumption. The glutinous rice was regurgitated in a spectacular spray for all to see, including a gang of hungry chickens that paraded around the tables like clucking clockwork toys. The ravenous fowls suddenly turned into a pack of pecking sharks as they eagerly devoured Roy’s Regurgitated Rice, much to the amusement of our fellow diners.
One memorable shack boasted Calamari on a well-weathered menu. It looked promising until a diminutive old lady appeared with a beaming broken-tooth smile and a pair of gleaming white squid draped over matching white plates. We assumed the ghostly cadavers were on their way to a slops bin, but she suddenly turned and headed for our table. The plates arrived with a resounding thump and oily liquid spilled onto the cheap plastic tablecloth.
We studied the terrifying creatures with the trepidation they deserved. The oil looked remarkably like embalming fluid and we couldn’t decide if we should eat the wretched things or conduct a post-mortem. Their lifeless eyes stared with glazed resignation and our appetites died too.
As soon as the woman disappeared, I grabbed my dinner by the tentacles and hurled it into a muddy pond which was conveniently placed nearby. The lifeless beast became animated as it hit the water, but its last waltz eventually terminated in a belly-flop and it disappeared into the murky depths to confront its freshwater cousins below. The identical twin was dispatched in a similar fashion and it too danced a ghostly jig along the surface before plunging out of sight.
After returning to the west and relative gastronomic safety, we vowed never to complain about fried freeway food again………..
© David Fryer 2008