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.
I 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.
Living 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.