Sharing the photo in my previous post with you all, along with reading about Spam in Neo's blog, put me in mind of the only unpleasant culinary memory I have of my time spent in France:
I ate horse.
Before anyone goes all PETA on me, let me explain:
My first night in Tours, I was invited to dine at the home of my host family's friends. I had come in on the train from Paris that morning and hadn't taken a nap (trying to get acclimated to the time difference, like a good little international traveler). I didn't realize that this family followed the "tradition" of late-night eating on weekends. Now, dinner time in Europe is generally two hours later than dinner time in North America, but I was already used to that, since my family normally doesn't sit down together until nearly 8pm on a regular basis. We arrived at the house around 8 and I was delighted to see that dinner was sitting on the kitchen table, already prepared.
But we didn't eat at 8...
...we didn't eat at 9...
...we didn't eat at 9:30...
...we finally sat down at the table at 10pm, having sat around shooting the breeze for two hours straight. I was STARVING! I had been trying not to overdo it on the munchies (which were SO good, I was really having a hard time) in anticipation of that delicious-smelling dinner I knew was awaiting us on the kitchen table. I was famished by the time we all sat down.
Needless to say, having not slept all day after a long international flight and a train ride, I was exhausted. Combine that with the fact that among the 10 dinner guests were two 11-year-old boys and a 9-year-old girl, and you can imagine that things were a bit chaotic.
The hostess put the meat course down in front of me, mumbling something as she did. As a rule, I shy away from eating too much meat in Europe--I like my steaks pretty rare, but definitely not "rare" by French standards. I can't eat meat that has a warm outside and a totally raw, cold center...but, I digress. I took a small piece of the meat and heaped up on the mushrooms and other yummy offerings on the table.
End of story? Not quite. Several weeks later, my host father and I got into a discussion about what foods we liked and disliked. I said I wasn't a fan of blood sausage, (except boudin, that's so good, but you have to eat it blindfolded, otherwise you'd throw up right there on your plate) and said I wouldn't eat brains, liver or horse. He looked at me in surprise and said, "But, we ate horse at Michelle's house--don't you remember?"
I was absolutely horrified. I couldn't get the image of Philippe, the horse in Beauty and the Beast, out of my head. Looking back on that meal, I did notice that that "beef" didn't have quite the texture I was used to. I had chocked it up to the preparation being different or something to that effect. I sat there, racking my brain, trying to figure out when exactly Michelle had announced that we were eating horse for dinner, but I had been so exhausted and my brain had been so overstimulated from hearing wall-to-wall French for the first time in my life, that it just got by me.
I suppose eating horse isn't so much different from eating beef; when you think about it, they're both beasts of burden...but for some reason, horses have more of a "personality" in American culture. There aren't any movies (that I know of, at least) about children befriending cattle. Have you ever seen a movie about a cow who overcame the odds in a national race? How about a cow saving someone's life? What about a magical cow who could fly? I've never heard of a half-man, half-cow. We have a separate name for cow when we're eating it--calling it "beef" removes it just enough from the living, breathing animal to make it palatable. We don't have such a moniker for horsemeat.
So, I ate horse. I'm not proud of that fact...although it is a conversation piece when people bring up how other peoples of the world eat dogs or termites.