Today I decided to go out for lunch – most days I just stay home and eat TV dinners straight from the freezer. It’s a bit hard on the teeth but saves me a great deal of cooking time.
Being an adventurous sort, I opted to try out a new establishment in downtown Providence, namely “Cornelius’ Cornucopia of Exotic Crap.” Perhaps the name of the establishment should have served as a warning, but hunger has a way of dulling the intellect even in the best of circumstances, and today I was also suffering from a severe hangover due to having the previous night imbibed an entire case of Dr Snelling’s Cough Elixir.
I was greeted at the door of the establishment by the owner himself, a cheerful, smallish man with a receding hairline and steel-rimmed glasses. My host gave the impression of being a former accountant who had, during a mid-life crisis, decided to quit his job and finally fulfill his lifelong ambition – which in Cornelius’ case seems to be the spreading of trichinosis to as many members of the dining public as possible.
First up on the menu was a Southeast African dish – “Ostrich Muchawa Kimanda” which is apparently Swahili for “Ostrich Egg Termite Omelet.” This culinary offering might have been acceptable had some of the termites not still been alive and had the eggs been fully cooked. Worse yet, as I was timorously considering taking that first bite an angry ostrich burst into the restaurant and tried to garrote me with a piece of piano wire. Had not my hardy host repelled the animal by showing it a picture of Miley Cyrus’ tongue, this might very well have been my last supper. As it is, during the struggle I cunningly managed to knock the dish to the floor, prompting Cornelius to bring out the next item on his sinister smorgasbord.
Yet another African dish, this one went by the colorful name of “Kitu Wajinga Watu Wepe Kula” which I suspect translates roughly as “Thing Eaten Only By Foolish White People.” This pudding-like mélange consists of fermented bat’s blood mixed with a combination of cashews, raisins, Mopani caterpillars and just a sprinkling of cinnamon. The caterpillars seemed to be of the hairy, spiny variety but that didn’t bother me – the cinnamon was another story altogether. After asking Cornelius to remove the repulsive condiment from the dish, I took a deep breath and dove straight in. Surprisingly, the thing was actually quite tasty, though I did have to spend several minutes picking out caterpillar spines from my teeth and I found the whole concoction rather light and unsatisfying.
Deciding to tempt fate yet again I closed my eyes, jabbed my finger into the menu and this time found myself in South America. Soon, out came Cornelius with “Tarántulas Fritas En Salsa De Cerebros De Ovejas” which my host assured me did not translate as “Bits of Black Rubber Covered in Glue,” but instead denoted the far more appetizing “Stir-Fried Tarantulas In Sheep’s Brains Sauce.” I must say that the tarantulas were nice and crispy and tasted somewhat like fried chicken skin, but the brains turned out to be a bad idea. Not only did I make a fool of myself by grinning at Cornelius while uttering the word “Braaaaiiiins,” a reference that he clearly did not understand and which I was too embarrassed to explain, but the runny, curd-like substance kept reminding me of cat vomit, so after a few legs and a couple of thoraxes I sent the dish back and asked for yet another heaping helping of weirdness.
This time it was the continent of Asia that was to threaten my sanity. I was, my host promised, in for a real treat, for the next dish would be a delightfully exotic-sounding Chinese delicacy by the name of “Yang Tao Qu”. When the dish arrived I found it to be half of a skinned and lightly boiled sheep’s head, split down the middle and placed face up on a platter. Head cheese I’ve heard of, but this was a step too far for an animal lover such as myself, and it didn’t help to have that single, solitary eye looking at me remonstratively as if about to utter the Chinese equivalent of the much dreaded phrase, “J’accuse!” To add to my woes, my unwelcome observer was festooned with maggots – live ones! Barely had Cornelius assured me that this was a customary part of the dish when the squirmy little bastards all stood up and started singing the Chinese anthem “March of the Volunteers”! For several seconds I sat with my mouth agape, but when they got to the bit about “Arise! Arise!” I decided to follow their advice, shoved a C-Note in Cornelius’ hot little hand and got the hell out of there, fleeing with the alacrity of one who has suddenly found himself trapped inside a Bunuel movie.
I still faced the problem of an empty stomach, but having been put off the more exotic dishes I decided that more familiar fare was in order. After much thought I opted to patronize an obscure little chain called McDonald’s (or was it McDougal’s?) It was here that I purchased a bizarrerie called a Big Mac, which seems to consist of two pieces of old shoe leather jammed between three slices of moldy sponge extracted from a couch they found dumped on the sidewalk. Added to this dubious combination is what appears to be small slivers of lettuce mixed into a thick white substance vaguely reminiscent of a new born baby’s vomit. Being still ravenous, I leaped in and scarfed the whole thing down in one massive and prodigious bite. Thirty seconds later I was in a nearby alley “doing the heave” and ruining a perfectly good pair of shoes. All of which goes to show that, when it comes to lunch, it’s better the devil you don’t know.