He Who Smelt It

When in Rome, right? I’ve eaten boiled cow’s hoof in Jamaica, alligator tails in Louisiana, seafood off a roadside cart in Belize, raw conch in the middle of the ocean somewhere and even brussel sprouts at my mother-in-law’s house in Iowa.


When I was 10, my father and took me to a restaurant in Monterrey, Mexico that served cabrito. This, of course, is your basic Roast Goat. In case my limited imagination couldn’t fathom that, he pointed to the many goat carcasses hanging by the doorway. “Pick one.”    …..um…. ewww. But I did and I ate it and I smiled.


They aren’t knocking my door down to host a reality eating show or anything, but I think I’m pretty brave. And I never puke. (Okay, I puked the cow’s hoof but I think that was the all the vodka I drank for culinary courage)


How weird can it be Up North? We’re still in America, right? I mean, my mom doesn’t think so, but pretty much.


Then the waiter put down a plate of minnows in front of me.


Not Filet of Minnow, the whole thing. Head, tail, bones – I’m assuming guts, too. They didn’t even have the decency to properly camouflage the little guys in corn meal. Or give me a creamy dill weed dipping sauce.


Couldn’t do it. Still can’t. I think they put smelt on the menu to spot the Fudgies. Hell, you could wrap that sombitch in Murdick’s Finest and I’d still hork it up – skeleton and all. Who pulled the tin bucket out of the river, held it up and said, “Hell, Joe. We’re not having any luck with the trout. Let’s fry this pail of bait up instead?”


I’m fascinated by who eats what, where. Not delicacies – just lunch.


My Midwestern husband wouldn’t touch catfish on a bet. In the South, entire restaurant chains are dedicated to it. I’ve driven an hour and a half for fried catfish and hushpuppies. Black-eyed peas, collard greens, cornbread stuffing… Lawd, Lawd… bring it on!


‘Course my grandmother used to eat pickled pig’s feet. Have you even seen that? They’re in a jar, floating. Pig’s feet. This is not euphemism for bacon wrapped shrimp or something. We’re talking about the feet of a pig. Pickled. You ain’t finding those beside the Hebrew National hotdogs, Myrtle.


Remember Vienna Sausages? We called them VI-EEna, if that tells you anything. They are like eating boneless big toes. Or that can of ham salad with the devil on the paper wrapper? Fancy Cat is better.


Do y’all have Spam up here? Spam has to be the grossest stuff ever manufactured for human consumption. When you open the can? Ho boy – nasty nasty. Now… slap a slab of that in a frying pan with butter? Well, that’s a whole ‘nother story, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Uh huh, that’s what I thought.



So, tell me – what’s the weirdest thing your grandmother made you eat?

Or you’ve choked down in Zimbabwe or India or Kalamazoo?


Maybe you are a smelt connoisseur and can give us five fantastic new recipes! (“Even if you’ve never liked smelt, you’ll LOVE this!”)


Me? I’m headed out for a cheeseburger. Maybe I’ll go crazy and get the havarti.

Article Comments

5 thoughts on “He Who Smelt It”

  1. Smelt. Dead minnows. Bait. All of that, and yet they are very tastey, once you get past those ideas. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter. When I was 6 years old I insisted we eat them raw–I was a KID, OK?. And yes, my Dad joined me and liked it. They were quite good with salt. Smelt sushi, and long before it was trendy to eat dead minnows raw and cold.  Thanks for the great story.

  2. It’s trendy to eat them raw NOW? I don’t think I could do it but, yes, I’ve gotten lots of offers to take me to the place that serves “the best smelt ever”! I think I should make them promise me dinner then order the cheeseburger anyway!

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