The Other Side

De Gustibus for the Rest of Us


“There’s no accounting for taste” the saying goes. You could annoy someone with the Latin version, “de gustibus non disputandum est” (“In matters of taste, there can be no disputes”), but I won’t.

People just like weird food. I get the gag reflex just imagining the sawdust of coconut flakes on my tongue, while other people crave it on German chocolate cake.

I love kimchi, mild or spicy, but my family doesn’t, to put it mildly.

Kimchi does have a distinctive smell, which is why I am only allowed to have it outdoors. One July afternoon I was under the grape arbor savoring a delicious lunch of “Mother-in-Law’s Kimchi” imported from H-Mart on South Tacoma Way. My brother-in-law Andy walked by and said, “Say, have you had your propane tank checked lately? Smells like you have a leak.”

The Malaysian fruit durian is the ultimate love-hate food odor. One travel writer described it as “a rich custard highly flavored with almonds.” Another wrote that “its odor is best described as pig-excrement, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock.”

The French, who have a cliché for everything, say “à chacun son goût” — everyone has their own taste.

“Gastro Obscura” exists on the internet to shock our provincial food preferences. They clickbait us with off-the-beaten-path combinations like marshmallow hamburgers, rattlesnake au vin, levantón andino (a Venezuelan cocktail-hangover remedy with bull’s eyes, catfish roe, quail eggs, tree bark and lots of rum), and an exterminator’s job of insect garnishes from around the globe, all of which make a Burns Night Haggis sound like chicken nuggets from McDonald’s.

All South Sound clamdiggers like Manila clams, but some of us discard horse clams that we dig up alongside them. Some people are put off by the geoduck’s priapic appearance and won’t touch it, while other people get sunburns digging them up during the minus tides of July because they love eating them raw.

Every college student in the 1960s had heard about Alice B. Toklas hash brownies, even though those early edibles were really just mom’s brownie recipe with some seeds and stems thrown in. The real hashish fudge recipe by Gertrude Stein’s partner was for a nut loaf made with dried figs, dates, almonds and peanuts, mixed with some hash, granulated sugar, peppercorns, nutmeg, cinnamon and coriander. Some partook and the weirdness came later. For others, the anticipated taste was too weird to give it a try.

Making the hash fudge isn’t complicated. It doesn’t even involve cooking.

Weird foods, though, can employ equally weird cooking preparations.

I’ve always loved this guy Al’s recipe for cedar-planked rooster. Al was a neighbor of my pal Charlie Morgan when he had the flower greenhouse down in Onalaska. Once on a visit to see him, just as I was recovering sensation in my extremities from a polar bear plunge in the icy Newaukum, Al roared up in a clatter and a cloud of dust. He stumbled out of his WWII Army jeep and, as soon as he was steady on his feet, lurched headlong into what was obviously a well-rehearsed skit beginning with, “You know how to cook an old rooster?”

Charlie smiled sideways at us city folk as Al explained all the steps of cleaning the inedible barnyard reject, the part about soaking it in Thunderbird, then smearing it with bear grease, and fastening it with roofing nails spread-eagled to a cedar shake. The tipsy stand-up comic insisted on every detail of the wood fire in a pit and the three days of turning, and roasting.

“And when it’s done, you throw away the rooster and eat the damn shingle!”

On my next visit, he told the same story again, but because he kind of thought he might remember me from somewhere, switched up the old rooster for a “lice-infested cormorant.”

Alice B. Toklas’ hashish fudge recipe made the inedible edible. Al’s recipe for roasted birds on the other hand, makes the inedible hilarious.

After all, we have an appetite for laughter, too.

Dan Clouse lives in Lakebay.