Growing up Weird or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the tentacle.

Eating animals with more than four legs didn’t seem Weird until I turned ten. I often played with dried cuttlefish, a popular Korean snack called ojingo, the way that most kids play with string cheese. Ojingo’s powdery dried flesh has a horizontal grain that easily shreds into feathery strands that paint your tongue with a fishy briny flavor or rips into leathery strips that require determined chewing to swallow. While I liked the leathery body best, the addictive snap of the tiny sucker feet on the shriveled legs provided fun textural appeal too.

Three dried cuttlefishI know, I know, I’m romanticizing the tasty cephalopod and making you drool. Sorry about that. But before you run out and buy bushels of dried cuttlefish to devour and tuck into gift bags for your closest friends, you should know the cons of cuttlefish consumption:

1) Cuttlefish breath
2) Occasional hard bits
3) Social suicide, kamikaze style, with flames and shrieks and everything

I learned #3 the hard way.

Imagine a ten-year-old Korean-American girl named … oh let’s say Annie, snacking on cuttlefish while cheerfully playing in her yard and minding her own business. Three children in the neighborhood stop by—not the paragons of neighborhood children either. One girl routinely steals all the fruit from Annie’s garden, the other girl is a fifth grader who reads at the first grade level, and the boy taught Annie the definition of a crass phrase that will not be described here except to note that it was wankawful.

The three children wanted a taste of whatever it was that Annie ate so eagerly. “It’s like squid,” Annie explained, and ripped off strips to share. A considerate child, Annie avoided giving them the crunchy legs because she felt that the novel texture of cuttlefish tentacles might be too much for cuttlefish newbies. She didn’t know that cuttlefish bodies would be too much for cuttlefish newbies too. After the howling, spitting, and name-calling stopped, Annie had learned that tragic lesson that all children learn so well: Don’t be Weird.

Dried cuttlefish tentaclesLiving and working in smaller communities rather than large cities has forced me to mind that hard lesson to this day. I’ve modified it since I’ve grown up, trying to gently (okay, sometimes testily) educate where I can. But while things have improved as ethnic cuisine has risen in popularity in the U.S., kimchi fans are still few and far between around here, and the only Korean dish I inflict on hesitant newbies are the marinated grilled beef dishes because they so rarely offend. But Weird isn’t just a Korean problem. I’ve cajoled people into eating fruit compote on chicken (“It’s okay to eat fruit on poultry, really!”), learned that some co-workers had never knowingly consumed olive olive, and taught friends that just because Chinese people prepare food in restaurants proclaiming Chineseness doesn’t mean that the food is especially Chinese. I fail a lot.

Well now I have a Weird blog, and it actually has some Weird readers. Take that, fruit-stealing, illiterate, hairy-palmed ruffians! To celebrate Weird, I will be blogging mostly about food inspired by Asia during the month of January. Except posts heavily influenced by Indian, Korean, and Thai tastes this month. You know, Weird food.

So check back soon, and thanks for keeping me company. You’re a bunch of huge Weirdos. I mean that.

14 thoughts on “Growing up Weird or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the tentacle.

  1. I find it weird that people won’t tase something unfamiliar or at least not with an open mind. They are missing out on so much. I look forward to your ethnic recipes.

  2. Oooo, I’m SO excited! :) I just recently mastered the Filipino (yeah, that’s spelled right) dish called, “Adobo Chicken” which a friend’s mom makes for me occasionally. I LOVE kimchi, which I think I told you earlier. All I ask is that you post the recipes to go with your dishes, so that I can attempt (and probably fail) to duplicate them.

    Growing up in a home with a Panamanian step-mother, I know ALL about wierd food customs. No one in school knew what fried plantains were, and apparently they don’t actually taste like bananas…hehe…I still love them, and grab them in the Goya freezer section at Wal-Mart every once in awhile. I think it’s important to educate where you can, I just wish we lived closer so you could introduce me to all the ethnic foods you enjoy! :)

  3. annie–great post–cheers to weirdness. As someone who didn’t eat sushi until college and vietnamese food until I was in my mid-twenties, I feel like I’m constantly making up for lost time with trying new foods…your blog helps give me ideas! Thanks!

  4. joyce: I agree, food can make life so exciting.

    cookiecrumb: Thanks!

    Jesska: I love adobo! I’ll definitely post recipes where I can. Sadly, even if you lived near me, there isn’t a lot of good ethnic food around here, so I’d have to cook it, or, more likely, make my mom do it, heh.

    erin: I came to sushi and Vietnamese late too. But I don’t consider it lost time, I consider it part of the long to-do list of great things to stick in your mouth. It’s takes a long time to get through the list!

  5. I found your website through the well fed awards! Fell in love instantly. I can totally sympathize with this. I was born in the former Soviet Union and things that I considered delicacies were considered totally weird by my peers. To this day a great many of my friends turn up their noses at my favorite foods!

    Love the post. Made my day!

  6. Kitarra: Thanks! You hang out over at food_porn, right? I comment there as annieJS. Every time I see your name I think of Kitiara, from the Dragonlance fantasy series.

  7. Annie,

    Yes. Food Porn is where I started so yeah I kinda still do! Kitarra has been mistaken for Kitiara many times. To confuse things even further, I use to go by Kitiara back in the ancient days of BBS. So it’s not too far off the mark!

    Glad I found your blog! It’s wonderful!

  8. If you don’t try the weird, how can you ever find the interesting? I really love this post, and now I want to go out and try dried cuttlefish, which I have never tasted. Thanks for sparking my curiosity! My only problem is that it can be hard for me to figure out what’s what in the Chinatown dried foodstuff stores.

  9. I love food with 8 arms and would even consider octopus balls (preferably if the recipe refers to them as takoyaki) but I try not to eat anything with 8 legs, especially if it comes with its own bananas.

  10. Love dried squid. Just put it over the gas/electric stove a little while. Rip into strips and dip in mayonnaise soy sauce mixture. Great snack.

  11. Danielle: I have the same problem. Good thing the ‘net has so many photos you can check to make sure you aren’t eating the wrong thing!

    Trig: I have never eaten anything that comes with its own bananas. I need to get out more!

    lance: My mom loved toasting cuttlefish over the flame too. I forgot all about that until you mentioned it.

  12. Hi Annie,

    Thank you for that wonderful story! Both my partner & myself are from ethnic backgrounds, and have experinced to some degree the same situation that your described. We survived and those same people who teased us for our food are now learning that different is good.
    Keep up the great writing!

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