I am an equal opportunity eater. When traveling, I will eat most things that the locals eat – with the exception of living things like the fat, juicy, finger-long grubs that a Peruvian Indian guide dug out of a rotting log and popped into his mouth. But I have eaten roasted guinea pig (tastes like chicken) and roasted alpaca (tastes like lamb) in the highlands of Peru.
There is a restaurant called “Carnivore” on the outskirts of Nairobi, where I ate the blue plate special of three local species – ostrich, crocodile and impala (taste like tough chicken, icky chicken and beef, in order).
In Jerusalem I ate stuffed pigeon (tastes like squab – which tastes like chicken)
In Cote D’Ivoire I ate some incomprehensibly-named organism, which my local friends explained was a black bird and warned me not to eat (tasted like rotten chicken). Possibly a vulture? I don’t know, but it tasted so bad I ate only a mouthful.
On the aquatic side, frog’s legs and snails are not my favorites; not because they taste like chicken, but because I have sacrificed hundreds of each species on the altar of science and might get guilt-induced indigestion.
I don’t recall, but I must have eaten my share of chocolate covered insects like ants and grasshoppers, but I regret my thoughtlessness because they were probably not cooked.
This laundry list of exotic foods may seem intimidating or even dangerous to less adventurous eaters. After all, the perils of eating raw or poorly cooked meat in the tropical developing world are well-documented. But you may be just as surprised by the dangers lurking elsewhere on your plate. The truth is that well-prepared meat may be as safe, if not safer, than the veggies and side dishes.
When I “gave birth” to a pencil-thick-and-long roundworm, it was not contracted from the well-cooked pigeon that was the piece de resistance of the meal. Rather, this roundworm offspring was thanks to poorly washed, contaminated parsley in the salad. When I got dysentery in Thailand, it was not from the meat, but from the accompanying lukewarm noodles that had been handled by contaminated fingers post-boiling.
Fears of parasites and illness often prevent travelers from indulging in local gourmet, but with normal precautions, there is no reason to avoid such delicacies. You are no more likely to become infected than your fastidious, cautious, or vegan neighbor So, become an experimental eater. After all, it’s the noodles and parsley that will get you every time.
Eugene H. Kaplan is the Donald E. Axinn Endowed Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Conservation (emeritus) at Hofstra University. His many books include What’s Eating You: People and Parasites and Sensuous Seas: Tales of a Marine Biologist. He is about to embark on a trip to Israel, perhaps stuffed pigeon will be on the menu again.