Freaky foods frighten customers, enlighten tastebuds


Margo Stockdale

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My sister is an incredibly picky eater. She won’t touch cheese, she hates soup and she is legitimately afraid of pickles. I’ve never understood her strange aversion to food, or the aversion of any picky eater for that matter. I have a theory: any food, no matter how strange, will taste delicious when prepared correctly. I decided to test my theory by venturing into the world of the culinary bizarre.

Initially, I found myself questioning what “weird” food really meant. What Americans may refer to as peculiar may be a delicacy abroad. For this reason, I thought it would be best to begin my search for strange eats in Atlanta’s epicenter of international cuisine: Buford Highway.

El Rey Del Taco is certainly the king of Buford taquerias. The menu is expansive  and divided into several sections including quesadillas, snacks, tortas and, of course, tacos.

I ordered one tripa (chitlins and bowels) taco and one cabeza (cow cheek) taco. I was relieved to taste my first bizarre foods wrapped in familiar taco shells. The tacos arrived shortly and didn’t look at all offensive; the tortillas were well formed and the meat nicely browned.

I started with the tripa. The small rings of intestine looked as if they had been pan seared. I took a bite, expecting a delicious surprise, but instead received a bitter disappointment. The irritable chitlins and bowels tasted earthy and dirty, and their chewy texture did not match their crispy appearance. After a quick douse of both complimentary hot sauces, the flavor improved slightly, but I would not order the tripa again.

I hoped the cabeza would restore my faith in my bizarre foods quest, but, alas, it did not. I can’t sufficiently describe the cow cheek’s unpleasantness. The putrid meat possessed a sickly sweet taste lacking any real flavor. I tried to mask the musty taste with the hot sauce, but I put on so much that the moisture caused the taco to fall apart, and I was unable to finish the rest. But I did preserve my appetite for the next spot.

Atlanta Chinatown Mall, located in Chamblee, houses two dine-in restaurants and six food-court-style restaurants. One of the food-court restaurants is Lan Zhou Hand Pull Noodle. The hand pull is no gimmick; several times throughout the evening an employee completed the arduous process of hand pulling long chinese noodles for soups and stir-fries.

The woman at the counter barely spoke any English, so ordering proved to be a bit of an ordeal. After waiting a very long time, I figured my order for pig stomach hand-pulled noodle had been forgotten, and I ordered again. Soon, a waitress brought my order to the table.

The huge bowl of steaming hot pork broth, the pig stomach, bok choy and fresh handmade noodles sizzled at a bargain price of $6.75. My earlier experience at El Rey left me a little weary of the stomach, but the enticing preparation encouraged me to take the first bite. The sweet flavor of the pig stomach shocked me with its delicacy, quite unlike the overbearing sweetness of the cabeza taco.

As I was enjoying my pig stomach soup, a Lan Zhou employee walked over to our table and happily placed down a second bowl. My confused party ogled at the second helping. It seemed that my original order had simply been delayed and now both sat on my table. Needless to say, I had a lot on my plate (and in my bowl). The appetizing soup pleased me enough, and I certainly had the stomach for extras.

Strange foods are not restricted to ethnic eateries; modern restaurants, or gastropubs, are experimenting with odd gastronomy. The Little Five Points establishment, The Porter, is one such gastropub.

The regular menu wasn’t particularly adventurous, but their specials offered a few tantalizing options. I settled on the pork and foie gras (fatty duck liver) terrine with drunken raisins, pecans, pickled vegetables, pickled quail egg, bacon jam and bacon powder. It sounded like a glorified eggs and bacon.

The dish, served with bread, a slab of foie gras wrapped in bacon, a teensy quail egg and a dollop of bacon jam along with a dusting of bacon powder, arrived on a large wooden platter. I first tried the foie gras, which by itself tasted sweet and rich, but mixed with some of the pickled vegetables and topped with a bit of jam and sprinkled with bacon powder, my palate exploded with a perfectly balanced flavor profile. The pickled quail egg popped with a tangy twang and complemented the foie gras and bacon jam. Maybe the chicken came first, but the egg was definitely No. 1 in this dish.

While I may not have proved my hypothesis completely correct, I have at least broadened my culinary horizons. As a message to all the picky eaters out there (ahem, Hannah Stockdale): try something new once in a while, maybe you’ll like it.

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