I have never really been fussy about food. I usually eat whatever is on my plate, and more than once was surprised by the actual content of the dish well after the meal was gone. For example, I have experienced alligator sausages and hamburgers that are served at a local Cajun restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen, and the first time I tried kimchee (spicy Korean pickled cabbage) I thought I was having a salad.
The only thing I really avoid is red meat, but that doesn’t come from health or political concerns. It just stems from the fact that while I lived in Brazil red meat was present at practically every major meal – and this being a tropical country, barbecues seemed to happen at the drop of a hat. So it was around 1996 that I said goodbye to beef and pork and haven’t looked back, save for a random hot dog when I head to Coney Island in the summer.
But there are a few dishes I really cannot stand, and quite a few times I have been in situations that I was served exactly that. On one occasion back when I was living in Brazil, I went to a girlfriend’s house for a dinner to welcome her dad back from a long business trip abroad. I’d been dating the girl for about a month or two, and this was the first time I’d been formally invited to an event involving her family.
I got there early in the evening, and learned that her mother had prepared her husband’s favorite, a Brazilian dish called ‘peixe à delícia,’ which is baked fish layered with bananas (not plantains, actual ripe bananas) and a white sauce. Now I’m partial to any kind of seafood, but the idea of using sweet bananas along with it makes me cringe (incidentally, it’s my mom’s favorite).
The moment I got there, I was offered some, and I politely asked for ‘just a little,’ and the excuse was that I’d had a big lunch. Of course that was a while lie, but the plate came it had a small portion, which I ate with a fake smile on my face – it tasted less than appetizing. As the party winded down, I excused myself and walked to a nearby sandwich place and had a proper dinner – with no bananas.
When I was a kid, I used to spend lots of time at my maternal grandparents’ home in Fortaleza. On weekends, my grandfather and his brother in law used to get together for food and drinks. One day they took me with them to an obscure downtown restaurant “Mane Bofao,” which specialized in dishes mostly made from tripe – a favorite was something called ‘buchada,’ in which lamb, pork or oxen innards are cut and then sown into a stomach then boiled in a foul-smelling broth. Needless to say, I couldn’t stomach the stuff – but my grandpa loved it, and was disappointed that I declined his invites ever since.
Mane Bofao was known as “The King of Buchada,” a title that he held on to until his passing in 2004. He is memorialized in songs and in prose by the fans that went to his less-than-clean venue on weekends to eat and drink.