2010-02-25 / Sam Bari

When gastronomical delicacies are less than delightful

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

Italian State Television’s recent suspension of a cooking show caused such an uproar that the Associated Press wire picked it up and a British newspaper wrote a feature article on the incident.

The Italians were so horrified over the content of the local cooking show that “hugely popular” TV chef, Giuseppe “Beppe” Bigazzi, was suspended for lauding one of Tuscany’s lesser-known gastronomic delights.

Chef “Beppe” appears to have lost all credibility for featuring a recipe for “gatto in umido.” For non-Italian speakers, that means, “cat stew.” It seems that Italians hold their feline friends in high esteem and eating them is the “no-noest” of “no-nos” for Italian cat owners.

The 77-year-old TV chef shocked the nation when he unexpectedly began praising the pleasures of feline flesh on his late-morning program, “La Prova del Cuoco,” which means, “Test of the Cook.”

Loyal viewers were appalled when “Beppe” expounded on the Tuscan practice of “boiling up” stray cats during the povertystricken years after WWII. He claimed the dish was better than chicken, rabbit or pigeon. Of the three, chicken was the only inclusion favored by most Italians. Rabbits and pigeons are purported to be regional preferences.

One woman claimed to have become physically ill from watching the program while her cat sat contentedly on her lap.

Not that I don’t have compassion for Italian cat fans, but what tastes good to one man can – and often does – taste vile to another for a variety of reasons.

For instance, inviting a Hindu out for a hamburger would certainly have negative results since Hindus consider cows sacred. Having a steak for dinner would be at least as repulsive and vile to them as cat stew would be for a cat lover.

I watched men prepare and eat rattlesnake in survival training, but I could not force myself to even get close to it. I hate snakes and the thought of ingesting one can give me nightmares for weeks. I didn’t mind eating the fried grubs and grasshoppers, but the snakes? I don’t think so. I would die of starvation before that was going to happen.

Many people from western states eat rattlesnake on a daily basis. It isn’t even considered a delicacy. To many, it’s a staple. They are plentiful and easy to catch and prepare.

Yummy? I think not.

Serving visitors regional fare in different parts of the country often results in mixed reviews.

A few years ago, when I lived in southeast Florida full time, I entertained friends and relatives who enjoyed going south during the winter to escape the cold. A family from the Midwest came to visit and I thought I would treat them to some local cuisine. The family consisted of a husband, wife, and their two children, a 10-year-old boy and an eightyear old girl.

Florida is renowned for its prize-winning giant bullfrogs and certainly for an overabundance of alligators. I served both. Frogs legs provincial and deep-fried ‘gator steaks were the offerings of the day.

The frog legs were traditionally prepared in a white wine, tomato and garlic sauce, while the ‘gator was left overnight to marinate in buttermilk before it was dipped in a light batter and deep fried until golden brown. The frog legs, ‘gator, a fresh fruit salad mixed with crispy greens and key lime pie for dessert represented Florida fare at its best. The presentation was pictureperfect enough for a magazine cover.

We had just returned from an afternoon at the beach, so everyone was starving and looking forward to a sumptuous feast. The lady was cutting into her fried ‘gator and her son was taking a bite of his frog legs when the husband asked, “So what are we eating?”

As soon as I said, “alligator,” the woman literally jumped back from the table and started shrieking. When I said “...and frog legs,” the boy couldn’t spit the food out of his mouth fast enough.

How was I to know that his hobby was collecting rare frogs? I never did find out what the woman had against alligators. I hardly think she considered them sacred. Anyway, they were both highly offended and, as far as I know, they have never forgiven me.

Attempting to be hospitable can sometimes be difficult when you live in a system you can’t understand.

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