Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, May 13, 2016

Eating Dangerously

"As you can see, mostly men come here. All types of men love raw meat!"
"I also rely on a liquid called 'pia', which is light yellow, like the colour of rice stalks. It's basically just rice stalks that a cow ate and halfway digested before slaughter."
Wiwat Kanka, owner of Jin Sod restaurant, Phrae, Thailand
Westerners are squeamish about what they place in their mouths. Those from the East are far less so. And in Africa and elsewhere people accommodate themselves to eating sources of protein that we would never dream of placing on our dinner tables, and eating with huge enthusiasm. Not just offal from animal interiors, but various types of insects and worms, creepy-crawlies that we have problems getting our minds around.

At fresh-air fish markets in Tokyo, there are live sea worms and all manner of other aquatic creatures appealing to the traditional taste buds of a nation surrounded by the sea, that would turn the stomach of a Westerner. It is not unusual to see a Japanese customer 'try out' the taste and freshness of live shrimp at the invitation of an enterprising fishmonger at Ueno market, just selecting one and popping it into his mouth. It's a different type of sensibility born of practicality.

Jerry Driendl / The Image Bank / Getty
Famously, the hugely popular Sushi, basically rice wrapped in seaweed and containing thinly sliced raw fish taste quite tempting, but in eating raw fish one also tempts fate to gift the bold and unaware raw-fish-lover with internal parasites; how does a great big tapeworm appeal to you? And the single most deadly fish -- blowfish -- is considered a delicacy, an expensive one, expertly prepared for an extraordinary meal. The Japanese call it fugu.
Served in paper-thin slices by expert chefs, fugu combines luxury with a high-stakes gamble. The intestines, ovaries and liver of fugu (or blowfish) contain a poison called tetrodotoxin, which is 1,200 times deadlier than cyanide. The toxin is so potent that a lethal dose is smaller than the head of a pin, and a single fish has enough poison to kill 30 people. Because of the high risk, chefs must undergo two to three years of training to obtain a fugu-preparing license, and such expertise raises the price of a fugu dish to up to $200. But this hasn't stopped the Japanese — about 40 kinds of fugu are caught in Japan, and people consume 10,000 tons of the fish every year. Time online
And then there is Thailand, where a favourite dish is laab dib, a delicacy appreciated by Thai men in particular. It has been described as eating something whose immediate taste sensation leaves a sharp tang of bitterness. Raw cow bile tastes like that. When that first bitter taste recedes what takes its place is a taste of grass, and you know what fresh-cut grass smells like, quite wonderful. That grassy taste reflects grass that has been partially digested, drained from the stomach of a cow and then sprinkled over the dish.
Laab dib, the northern Thai specialty of raw meat, blood, bile and herbs.
Credit:  Patrick Winn/GlobalPost

The dish itself? well, it's minced meat, generally beef or pork, lightly mixed with chili and herbs. Served slightly chilled and finished with a dash of both raw blood and raw bile. "If it isn't splashed with fresh blood, it just isn't delicious" cautions Wiwat Kanka. The name of the restaurant means "Fresh Meat". It's a simple, basic structure, its kitchen off to a side under a tin roof with log walls. And it's an extremely popular place to eat, locally, rumoured to be the best of the best.

That kind of audacious preparation of a delectable meal does come with some caveats. The dish is potentially dangerous, risking contracting trichinosis caused by an infectious worm from eating raw meat. Or how does fatal bacteria or even rabies sound as an alternative risk? While the number of deaths resulting from the consumption of raw meat in Thailand is unknown, research indicates that the incidence of Streptococcus suis, a fatal infection associated with eating raw pork, is quite high.

The incidence of bile duct cancer in Thailand happens to be 80 times that of, for example, North America, and that's fairly telling. According to the medical community in Thailand, it is the consumption of uncooked meat that has lead to that unenviable record of bile duct cancer. The last word is given to the World Health Organization which states that a "major cause" of potentially deadly illnesses in Thailand is undeniably raw meat.

Fond habits die hard. Food culture is an important part of a nation's identity, one hard to shake, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence that it can be extremely harmful.

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