Thursday, April 3, 2008

Eating odd things... like tongue.

The first bite of the lengua plate.

Although we do it many times every day with a frequency and repetition that might render the action mundane and ordinary, I think it is important to recognize that eating is a very intimate, very vulnerable action. The care and maintenance of the human body has much to do with our exposure to ingested components. Some of them are good for us, and others are bad.

Mainstream American culture has deep-rooted and preconceived ideas of exactly what is good for us to eat, and what is bad for us. We differentiate this by neatly packaging "good for us" foods in cellophane and stocking the grocery store shelves with them. The "bad for us" foods, well, we just pretend they don't exist. And the funny thing is that "good" and "bad" differentiations often have little to do with nutritional value, sustainable production, or availability and everyting to do with cultural tradition and social comfort zones. It's that simple. Our food world is limited to what we can see, touch, taste, and purchase at the local corporate grocery store. Anything edible beyond that falls into the bad category. Broccoli is good to eat. Hamburgers with all-American pre-ground beef are good to eat. Blood sausage in intestine casing is bad to eat.

The odd thing about differentiating between "good" things to eat and "bad" things to eat is that in reality, the good and bad categories are formed almost entirely based on exposure at a young age, and not actually by the quality or dietary relevance of a food.

Last Friday Sam took a bold step and moved beyond his "good food" list by taking the plunge and ordering the Lengua Plate at Rosario's. For those of you that do not know what lengua is... let me enlighten you. Lengua is beef tongue. Mmmmmm.

Tongue is a very common food in Spain, and hence it is a common food in the Spanish derived Mexican and Tex Mex cuisines. That is probably how it ended up as a staple in many native San Antonian's diets and on their list of "good" foods, while it remains a freak oddity on the "bad" food list for tourists and non-natives to avoid at fine Mexican eateries.

Sam ordered the meal and consumed the majority of it, but he kindly shared tastes with me and my sister Ellen (who was visiting during her spring break. whoohoo.). The tongue had a nice flavor and a unique, yet pleasing, texture. It was firm, much firmer than my own tongue in my mouth feels, and thus much firmer than I expected. It had a solid texture under the bite, which was a nice surprise,because I irrationally expected the meat to feel porous. And the meat was tender, much more tender than the flank steak and skirt steak I am used to eating in Mexican food.

The flavor was also very pleasant. It did not taste different than beef in the "good" category of my diet. Overall the physical experience of lengua consumption was pleasant, although I am embarrassed to admit that my emotional experience remained distinctly on the verge of freak-out the entire time I chewed and swallowed. Every pleasant swallow was followed by a shutter, which I promptly attempted to ignore. I don't want to be one of those people who is squeamish about perfectly delicious and well-established dishes that fall outside of my culinary comfort zone. After all, I consider myself a food snob of sorts.

In the past I have judged people that won't eat blue cheese. They say "it's mold" and I laugh and say "all cheese is essentially mold" before taking a huge bite. Now I realize that there is error in my food snob ways. It is no more fair for me to expect a eater unfamiliar with blue cheese to cherish the food in their early exposure than it is fair to expect myself to embrace beef tongue on the first taste. Developing a palate takes lots of experimentation, trial and error, and above all an adventurous spirit. One of my great pleasures in life is the exploration of food, and I look forward to many more adventures in eating.

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