Follow Me To The Deep End!!

Apr 16, 2006

There Are Others. The 7th Annual Weird Food Fest. Van Nuys, CA.

pig_face400 Vis-à-vis with dinner. Literally.

Back in the very lean ramen days of college, one of the most anticipated weeks in the new school term was the “Hello Lunch” week. This was the blessed week when free food was bountiful and flowing like the famous Thanksgiving cornucopia with its horn spilling forth fruit. Almost every club or organization with a semblance of a budget would at minimum offer a free cheese pizza slice and a cup of caffeinated drink. The more lavish Hello Lunch spreads rolled out gherkin garnished meat and cheese platters where you could build a custom sandwich, an exotic Greek salad (usually at Fraternity luncheons), a box of glazed donuts and Doritos. But, of course, as we all know well, there is no such thing as a free Hello Lunch. No way. You will pay. And the price is steep. Even before you get to cozy up to your plate of free calories, you’ll be accosted by one of the lunch’s hosts who will be your uninvited meal companion and very own club membership marketing assault machine.

The club’s objective at the Hello Lunch is to recruit and recoup; that is, to recruit lots of new members and to recoup the Hello Lunch expenses with new membership fees.

My objective was, however, exactly opposite: to eat, leave and not join. The old “dine and dash” routine without the law breaking. After all, there’s no contract between the club and the eater that states if the eater ingests any of the chow, then the eater must join the club. Don’t underestimate the Hello Lunch though. Its organizers are prepared for the likes of me. Whenever I went into a Hello Lunch I’d be greeted by many of the current members who, with fanged grins, encouraged me to partake in their bounty. At the same time they are assigning themselves a target to recruit. It’s a classic parasite and host relationship: They feed you and you help them to survive.

Now, a little strategy.

One way to discourage Hello Lunch harassment is to simply chew with your mouth open and speak with your mouth full. This technique works 90 per cent of the time. For the other ten percent I quote Groucho Marx who famously said “I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.” I say this as clearly as possible with my mouth full. I then get up from my seat, grab a slice of pizza to go and look for the next free lunch to say “hello” to.

Since those years, I’ve not been interested in any clubs other than the kind that makes me wait in a long line out in the freezing cold while a clipboard wielding jerk clad in the latest D&G handpicks those worthy to enter. Oddly, I want in on a club that probably doesn’t want me.

But then there’s this other group. It’s a sort of kinky culinary collective who call themselves the “Weird Food Fest.” Once a year, a relatively intimate group of about seven get together to eat. Their gathering may be small but their passion for food is big. To be specific, this group is really into food that is exotic, weird, uncommon, an acquired taste, extremely foreign or highly indigenous. Whatever label you want to place on it, it’s food that you won’t soon forget.

Can_of_Silkworm_Pupae400 On the buffet, silkworm pupae...

laver_bread400 ...laver bread...

sliced_thousand_year_old_d4 ...thousand year-old egg...

fermented_papaya400 ...fermented papaya.

Scott Levi Ahlberg, one of the principals of this gathering, explains, “We loosely define weird food as anything that the typical American would likely find odd or disgusting, but that someone somewhere on this planet would eat and consider normal. So of course it's subjective. Personally I think some of the processed food found at the average supermarket is pretty weird and disgusting but that's just my subjective bias.”

Again, this gathering may be small but its ambitions are not; to wit this annual get-together calls itself the “Weird Food Fest”. A true festival it is far from but the bones are there. This accidental freaky feast began in December 1999 at the house of one of Ahlberg’s friends. The first ever Weird Food Fest was a humble affair which had its participants sample ketchup flavored chips, Limburger cheese and Indian pickled mango.

If you attended the most recent 7th Annual Weird Food Fest, you would’ve found yourself at a typical San Fernando Valley condominium in one of the many impersonal, stuccoed citadels on the Valley floor. There is perhaps nothing less exotic. But inside this non-descript domicile you may be transported by your palate to distant locales like Wales, Seoul, Stockholm, Shanghai and even Yerevan, Armenia - as delectably far from Van Nuys as possible.

The Breakfast Club this isn’t. Here you’d avail your appetite to foods such as fermented papaya, surströmming, silkworm pupae, lamb’s testicles, pork bung and many others. Some of the choices are more daunting than delicious. All of them are not typical of your standard American potluck. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, this event is a potluck. Everyone is expected to bring edible exotica. That’s what makes this gathering unpredictable and fun, maybe frightening. If you’ll indulge me, it also reveals each participants degree of Deep End Dining. For example, the attorney might bring shark’s fin soup. The soccer coach dishes up pig’s trotters. The grad student offers durian ice-cream for dessert. There is no pre-fixed anything here. Just show up, bring something interesting and taste everything.

What’s this?

Beef pizzle.

Fo’ shizzle?

Yep. Take a bite.

Mm-mmm, what exactly is pizzle?

Bull penis. My bad.

almost_seven_dollars_worth4 Beef pizzle aka bull penis.

Relax. It’s not going to kill you. Nothing at the Weird Food Fest will kill you. And, as everyone knows, what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. Especially if you eat lamb’s testicles. Make you strong. Make you love long time.

Lamb_testicles400 Lots of heart.

There’s nothing deadly at the Fest only because nobody has introduced live octopus or fugu to this funky bunch yet. But I have a feeling that it’s only a matter of time before somebody does. Maybe I will.

GQ’s restaurant critic Alan Richman has been trying desperately to find a place that serves assholes. The “Weird Food Fest” might be just what he’s looking for. And I mean that in a good way. Even a delicious way.

pig_bung400 "Do you serve assholes here?" Pork bung.

It looks like I may have actually found the perfect group for me. They’re local. They’re interesting people. They enjoy exploring the edge of the gastronomic world. Now if only they’d refuse to have me as a member, I may just find them irresistible.

28 comments:

Jamie said...

The price on the pizzle would be a dead give away to me not to eat it.

Eddie Lin said...

fo' shizzle. the price is six-six-sizzle!!

elmomonster said...

Now THAT'S a potluck! Great to see a new post! Been checkin' everyday and re-reading your old just to tide me over until this latest injection of the wierd and wierder!

Juliet said...

Out of the food pictured, I've only ever had thousand-year-old eggs. I love those in congee! I saw pig head once at a Chinese market, but, unless it's a fish, I don't like my food looking at me,
And thanks a lot for mentioning durian ice cream! Now I am seriously craving the stuff. I love all things durian. I don't even mind the smell. But then, I like eating natto, too. Or maybe I just like seeing the faces Dave makes when I eat it.

Eddie Lin said...

elmo,

i let you down, man. it's been hectic. you know, stuff, writer's block, etc. thanks for being such a dedicated reader. i don't deserve it. i suck pork bung.


juliet,

nice to hear from you again. i've never had natto before but i'm looking forward to trying it one day. hey, i love your new website. keep fighting the good fight. thanks for coming by.

Barbara (Biscuit Girl) said...

We have several Korean markets in our area and I remember the first time we saw pork bung and beef pizzi.....we giggled throughout the store like little kids. We've also seen pig uteri in these same stores. Just proves the saying that people eat everything but the squeal on a pig.

Anonymous said...

Excellenticious! However, the picture labeled "Bowl of balls" is actually a "Bowl of hearts". Believe me, I know this one!

-Adrian

melonbar said...

Most excellent write-up. The price on the pizzle...hahaha. And yes, the bowl of balls are hearts, fo shizzle.

I ate baby raw octopi once when I was a kid. The suckers stick to the roof of your mouth.

Eddie Lin said...

barbara,

somebody will figure out how to bottle the "squeel" of a pig. most likely that someone will be asian.


adrian & melonbar,

i'm no nuclearbiologist but i too thought it was heart when i was looking at it. however when the photo was sent to me, the sender said it was lamb's testicles. i will make the correction. thanks for spotting this error. i will never mistaken balls for heart again.

Daily Gluttony said...

Is "pizzle" a real word, or is that some funky Engrish word made up by the 99 ranch guys?

Great post as always, fo shizzle.

Eddie Lin said...

pam,

pizzle is fo' shizzly a real word. true dat! according to my random house webster's college dictionary 2001 edition, the word is of either dutch or low german origins from the original pezel or pesel, respectively. the time period of origin being 1515 - 1525, well before the first 99 ranch market butchers got anywhere near cellophane wrap and bull weiners.

thank you.

sarah said...

i can't stop staring at the bull pizzle.

LOL!

it scares me. and yet, i am strangely attracted to it.

Eddie Lin said...

sarah,

is that a beef pizzle in your pocket or are you just happy to see me? heheheheh.

Peter Cherches said...

Nice to see a new post. As much as I yearned for new content in the interim, the quality control is much appreciated. Slightly weird simply will not do.

rick james said...

wow, eddie... kirk was right, you do eat crazier stuff than he does...

you're in another league dude, my hat is off to you sir...

Eddie Lin said...

peter,

thanks for your loyalty, patience and the "quality control" compliment. the reality is i've been writer's slumping. i'm sure i don't need to explain that ailment to you. hopefully, i've snapped it for a bit.


dietchilicheesefries,

love your handle. tell me where i can find that impossible combo! thanks for the compliment...i think.

Never teh Bride said...

The little bit of fauz greenery in the pizzle package is cracking me up!

Never teh Bride said...

Faux, rather.

Hmmm...faux shizzle!

Eddie Lin said...

faux shizzle! i love it. i love it enough to put it on a cafe press tee! thanks, you bad ass.

Anonymous said...

Actually - the only thing that bothered me was the supermarket packaging. If any of this food had been photographed in it’s serving context it probably wouldn’t be disgusting, i.e. my Polish grandmother always serveed duck blood soup at Christmas - if you didn’t know what it was, you'd never guess what it was made of unless someone told you. It was delicious by the way.

Ronikins said...

I'm just wondering why the pizzle is on the floor....kinda scary!

Pete said...

So, Megan...I'll tell you what- forget all of these sycophants who SAY they "love" you or that they're your "number one fan." I actually AM your number one fan. Seriously. When you were filming at the sacred rat temple in India that one time, I snuck up behind you dressed as a Hindu monk. You didn't notice, but I clipped a lock of your hair and I still have it. How's that for being your "number one fan," eh? In fact, I have it right here- it's in an air-tight vial, which is inside of a larger glass curio cabinet placed on top of my desk in my apartment. I stare at it every day. So, what do ya say, wanna have dinner with me at Aureole sometime...

Bill Belew said...

Now these are just disgusting! In Europe, pizzle is reserved strictly for pets. And even that is bad enough. I think that if you have to give it another name, and can't just call it bull penis, then clearly it should not be marketed for human consumption.

Rrramone said...

Well, I WAS hungry, after seeing the good food and Angelina, but then this post makes for a do over. :-) Interesting blog!!

Lori said...

Initially, I thought you were describing a Scientology seminar...

Cassie said...

wow...bull what??? that thing was, like, long.

Scott said...

I have to say, not in a million years would I try any of that stuff - that said, I do have a certain respect for people like yourself willing to give it a try, and perhaps, even enjoy it.

I am a picky eater though, so what the hell do I know.

alison said...

umm gross.....