This is Nicholas Jordan’s five day journey into ignorance. Welcome to the weirdest food around UTS brought to you with help from Big Bird (photography and ideas).
[hr]I love Sydney for its food culture. There is a massive range of things to eat here – you can find pretty much anything except for esoteric African food and human children (I hope). However, there are so many new cuisines and dishes inconsiderately sneaking around the place that we’re all becoming totally ignorant of what other people actually eat.
Day One: Nattō
The cheesiest looking dish with no cheese, it’s just soy beans and bacteria mixed together, cooked and left to grow gluey strings for about week. It’s extremely good for you and it tastes extremely bad – it’s mushy and tastes old, too old. It’s like when you bite into an old lemon and it has an offensive reaction in your body making you crumple up like a witch splashed by water. Suffice to say it’s not mild in any way. While I’m sure a lot of Japanese people really love it and maybe I could too if I ate it with rice, 3 litres of soy sauce and a roast duck every day for 8 years but right now I’m an old witch in a bucket of water.
Weirdness – 4/5
Enjoyment – 1/5
Day Two: Coldcut jellyfish with century egg
This was incredibly hard to order – it was a battle between my complete inability to read the menu at East Ocean and their complete inability to understand a cracker face wanting to eat jellyfish and old eggs. When East Ocean and I sorted out our differences and I was presented with some jellyfish, a young East Ocean waiter approached me and said that his mum used to make him this dish all the time.
“Ohhh Jellyfish, do you like it? I think you like it,” he said before we could answer. Then he muttered ‘ooohhh Jellyfish’ and walked off laughing.
He was half right. It didn’t find it nearly as offensive as Nattō but I didn’t really enjoy it either. The Jellyfish slithers are like crunchy noodles – they’re pretty flavourless but they’re fun to slurp and bite into.
The egg white has a jelly texture while the yolk goes from dense paste to goop from outside in. I thought it was going to be pretty explosive but it’s mild at first, much weaker in taste than a regular boiled egg, then it slowly transforms into a heavier taste until suddenly punching you in the tongue with a with a bomb of slightly-off eggyness.
Big Bird and I realised after chowing an egg and tentacle that we’d been given a side dish of sugar and a chili/sesame blend. This is the reason this meal passes – if you sprinkle sugar over the eggs it blankets the punchy off-taste at the end of the mouthful and the chili/sesame makes the jellyfish more interesting.
All up – not bad, not good – don’t eat it unless you’re curious or your mum made it.
Weirdness – 5/5
Day Three: Really fishy curry
When I was in Thailand I had saw this piece of fish covered in fibrous red curry paste in a market stall – I had no idea what I was but it looked interesting so I ordered it. It was the fishiest, saltiest, sourest and spiciest thing I’ve ever eaten. When my tongue, lips and bowels overcame their volcanic seizures I found myself quite elated. Turns out I really like fishy, sour, salty things but there’s a balance not only between fishy, sour and salty but also between trauma and enjoyment.
Since that initial epiphany I have been looking for really fishy dishes in Sydney. I’ve always brought friends with me, hoping to convert them to the school of really fishy fans. During that process my friends have described these dishes in such ways as: ‘It tastes like the ocean, only saltier’, ‘It’s like drinking a harbour but the harbour is full of rotten fish’, and ‘I really don’t like this’. During my travels I have found two things:
1. Few people share my love for really fishy food.
2. There’s a only a handful of places where you can get it.
Caysorn is one such place. They do a well-balanced Thai Pla (in both ways).
Here’s a brief conversation Big Bird and I had while eating.
Me: “This is fucking spicy man.”
BB: “Yeah, my mouth hurts.”
It’s how I love it and others hate it – incredibly spicy, really salty, sour and fishy enough to resemble fish innards. Mmmm yeah.
Weirdness – 3/5
Enjoyment – 4/5
I first had this described to me as ‘weird Japanese alien pizza’, which I think is pretty accurate.
It’s like a chunky pancake that wobbles when you shake it. It’s littered with cabbage and squid and it’s covered with various, hard to distinguish titbits and some Japanese mayo. (I have never understood how that sweet mayo is slobbered over so many Australian-Japanese dishes.)
The squirmy flakes are shavings of octopus; apparently they gyrate because the heat of the pancake stimulates their nerves. The flakes themselves are the best part – even though they’re skin-flake thin they’ve got enough taste to power the whole meal.
Unlike the meals on days one to three there is no major unpleasant element in this dish, it’s just a strange thing to eat. I’ve never had anything like it.
Weirdness – 4/5
Enjoyment – 4/5
Day Five: Meetfresh
Nothing at Meetfresh is recognisable as normal food in taste or texture – you may as well be eating the organs of fatty plant-like aliens. One dish they do is just an ordinary looking soup with a bunch of strange balls floating around. It’s called ‘warm taro balls no.4’ – it tastes like actual earth – dirt, mud and bark but liquefied and sugared. The balls are chewy and glutinous like how I imagine a fake boob would be. It really makes you feel like you’re eating the offal of an alien butcher.
It’s fun to chew and to guess at what you’re eating but average to taste.
Weirdness – 4.5/5
Enjoyment – 2/5
Honourable mention: Durian
If no one cooked anything and we were still hunters and gatherers this would be the only thing I could write about – the weirdest naturally occurring food in the world – the durian.
Durians have a reputation for smelling like pig shit, rotting flesh and almonds. Our durian actually smelt fine, so fine that I became a little excited to eat it. If you can imagine how I felt after eating nattō, jellyfish, fermented eggs, fishy curry, okonmiyaki and Meetfresh, the idea of a tropical fruit was intoxicating.
I couldn’t have been more disappointed; it’s like being an orphan and forever hoping your dad is this guy but he turns out to be that guy. The flesh is custardy but with mango-like fibrous bits, which is weird enough in itself but not necessarily bad,. The problem is that it tastes like rotten onions – no exaggeration, no fluff that’s just what it tastes like – I’ve tasted a rotten onion – terrible.
Weirdness – 5/5
Enjoyment – 0.5/5 (0.5 is for the fun in smashing it open)
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