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Brilliant Banquet or Culinary Catastrophy?

Jun 26, 2008
One of my favourite foods is cheese; cheese on toast, macaroni cheese, cheese on crackers, jacket potato and cheese. Whatever the dish may be, i usually find one way or another to make sure this delicious product is included in my meals. The "posher" cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, Stilton and Roquefort are all delicious although usually costly. However, my love is blind and i am not deterred by the most basic Baby Bells, Philadelphia or even Cheese Strings.

One evening last week i began watching Gordon Ramsey's F Word, not realising that i was about to view something that would test even the most fanatic of cheese fan's stomachs. Casu Marzu. If anyone asks you casually if you want Casu Marzu on your Spaghetti Bolognese think very carefully before giving an answer. That is unless you want to have Maggots crawling around over your plate. Casu Marzu literally means "rotten cheese" in Sardinian and is colloquially known as "Maggot cheese". It is considered a delicacy in that part of the world, something which i found very hard to comprehend, as i watched the cheese almost wriggle off the table.

Seeing something that seemed so strange being enjoyed by many people got me thinking about how food tastes differ between countries and cultures across the world. In England today it would be a great shock to open the menu and see monkey toes- deep fried, eaten off the bone, bats, or seal flipper pie. Nevertheless, these dishes are seen as the ultimate delicacy in some places. The thought of serving up fried cockroaches, reindeer blood dumplings, or dog would not cross my mind let alone dishes cooked with human breast milk or even placentas.

It can be incredibly easy to look at many of the different types of foods available and instantly regard them as "disgusting" or "inedible", even if we have not tasted them ourselves. It seems that food acts as a cultural marker, as people become accustomed to what they have grown up with- usually what is available to them. Therefore, anything that is not familiar, has never been part of life, or which has become renowned for being detestable seems too strange to consume.

Many of my friends are from Zimbabwe and i have been continuously ridiculed by them about my favourite meal of Macaroni and Cheese. They used to be served it in their schools and told me that it was a very unpopular option, as they always wondered where the meat was or how fat and starch combined could be a healthy meal. The concept of me choosing to eat such a bland, meat free dish was incomprehensible. I could never really understand what was so wrong with my choice of food seeing as i had grown up with it being so popular and had never valued how easy it was to buy meat in comparison to Zimbabwe. However, my own disgust at the Casu Marzu helped me understand the idea that things can seem grotesque if you are not used to them, or can not understand the logic behind them. Interestingly, although i was so used to enjoying cheese, the concept of fly larvae feasting on a chunk at the same time as me literally turned my stomach.

The Zimbabweans later told me a story which confirmed my belief that food, culture and familiarity go together. One of the things they commonly cook to accompany meat and vegetables, adding starch to the dish is Sadza. Sadza is the name of a cooked pulverized grain meal and is actually the stable food in Zimbabwe. I have eaten it and it simply tastes like thick porridge. Although fairly bland it makes a meal more filling and well balanced. However, a popular way to eat Sadza is with curdled milk. Living in England today a few of them still travel all the way to London to pick up some proper sour milk to add to their maize meal.

I could never imagine eating something which i automatically assume is sour and stodgy despite never having tasted it, yet i eat Macaroni and Cheese which has very similar ingredients- dairy and starch. On the other hand, the Zimbabweans ridicule my Macaroni Cheese, as many can not understand the concept. However, a plate of Sadza and curdled milk is delicious to them. Therefore, maybe we should be more accepting of what other people chose to eat, as whether we think so or not, we all have weird and wonderful dishes.
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