For Hinduism, 5 is the number of Shiva. The divinity is in fact (also) represented with five faces, to symbolize mastery over the five elements and the five senses. To satisfy its varied palate, I have collected five very special dishes. Five dishes from five different cultures. Five different dishes, regardless. Because diversity is a value. Scientific, political, social, economic values (especially on the plate).
Here they are:
Unjustly blamed for being among the sources of the deadly Ebola virus or the current COVID-19, bat soup is a recipe typical of the Pacific Rim, but especially of Southeast Asia (as well as Eastern Africa). The version we offer comes directly from Micronesia: you need three well-washed bats (but not gutted or peeled), 100g of ginger finely chopped and 1kg of onion. Place the bats in a large pot and pour water until they are covered. Then add sea salt to taste, ginger and onions. Peel the bats and discard the skin, then heat for 40 minutes more. If you want you can also add coconut cream and/or soy sauce. Your bat soup is ready to be enjoyed, but avoid it if you have Batman at dinner.
Why bother you and travel thousands of kilometres to enjoy at least an original dish? Lattume is an all-Italian product, typical of Sicily (especially in the provinces of Trapani, Palermo and Syracuse) and Sardinia. Under the name figatello it has also been officially recognized and included in the list of traditional Italian agri-food products (P.A.T.) of the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies. The milk is obtained from the processing of the bag of the seminal liquid of tuna and amberjacks. It is, therefore, the male equivalent of bottarga, also generally tuna or amberjack. The difference is also in taste and colour. It can be used to season pasta and salads, eaten directly fried or in salt. Here the jokes are wasted, so better avoid them.
It is undeniable, however, that Asia is an extremely fascinating and varied continent, so why not come back? But since, after all, we also become attached to places and cultures, why not go back to Southeast Asia? In the Philippines to be precise. Here we can find another particular product: the khai khao. It is not one of the most popular food among its compatriots. It is in fact a fertilized duck egg, left to ferment (read “rot”). It appears to be a normal boiled egg, but obviously it is not, not even in the mouth. The khai khao is crunchy, but also tender, it has vomiting, but pleasant taste and many feathers that fit between the teeth. Locals say it tastes like a boiled egg, but it seems to be much more complex. In short, not exactly an egg of Colombo. P.S.: Do not confuse it with the so-called “centenary egg”, a Chinese dish always prepared with duck eggs, left for 100 days in water, salt, coal and calcium oxide.
Hákarl is a typical dish of Icelandic cuisine and is “fermented shark”, in name and in fact. Two sharks are used to produce it: Somniosus microcephalus and Cetorhinus maximus. The caught shark is eviscerated, the head is removed and the carcass is placed in a pit dug between sand and stones, then covered with pebbles, on which finally heavier stones are placed to press the shark. Fermentation, depending on the season, also continues for a few months. After that, the shark is cut and left to dry for at least 4 months. Hákarl has an ammonia smell (sharks have no kidneys and expel urine directly from the body) and a taste similar to that of seasoned cheese. Many Icelanders refuse to eat it, but often challenge tourists to taste it. Chef Anthony Bourdain called the hákarl “the worst, the most disgusting and the most disgusting flavour”.
Who doesn’t love tapas? Which in the end are aperitif stuff, but calling them in Spanish is cooler. You will ask yourself: “What would be strange about tapas?”. Objectively nothing. So why not talk about the Alaskan tepa? No, they have practically nothing to do with tapas, in fact, it is very special food. The word “tepa”, in the Yupik language, means “stinky head” and it’s already all saying. The tepa is in fact fermented fish heads. These are generally placed in a wooden barrel together with the entrails. The barrel is then buried for about a week. Plastic containers and sachets were also used for a certain period but were soon abandoned, also due to the anaerobiosis that favoured the growth of Clostridium botulinum. If you want to take risks, you can combine this dish with fermented eggs, also typical of the area. They will not be olives.
We will probably never eat these dishes, probably someone has already eaten all five or even just one of them. Many will never eat them because of the smell, taste or appearance, others for food choices. Obviously, every respectful choice is to be respected, just as the cultures of all these peoples, of all people, all people are to be respected. “The world is beautiful because it is varied”, yes, even when the variety lies in the choice of which product to ferment.