A Food Guide

I invited Claire, a Canadian friend, over for dinner.

"Is there anything you can't eat?" I asked.

Claire was happy that I asked. "I don't eat anything inside the body, anything that hang from the body, anything above the neck, anything inside the head or anything that flows!"

I laughed. "This is a long list. How do you come out with this food guide?"

Claire who had lived in several countries told me why she developed this food rule. " I am a farm girl, I like my meat and potato!


"My local hosts were very hospitable. They gave me the best foods within their means or from their cultural perspectives. I couldn't eat some of the foods because I wasn't used to them. But I couldn't offend my hosts with my refusal. There were many memorable occasions where I had to gulp down strange foods with all my might!

I now tell someone ahead of time what I can't eat to avoid embarrassing moments."

Claire was in the Phillippines as an exchange student. Her host-family, who loved pig intestines, served the delicacy almost every dinner. When she went out to the shopping malls, her host-mother bought her bags of fried big and  small intestines as snacks. The vendors sold them just like they were selling popcorn. "Not only this, they also mixed the heart, liver, kidney into the meat adobo!"

After a year of Filipino hospitality, Claire developed instant goose pimples whenever any one mentioned dishes with animal insides. When Claire went to Mexico for her university internship, she told her host family that she was born allergic to anything inside an animal.

Things were fine until her birthday. Her host mother and grandmother liked Claire very much. They asked her what they could make for her birthday dinner. Not wanting to refuse their daughterly treatment of her, she suggested "tamali" (ground meat wrapped in corn husk).

"Great choice!" They told her.

Claire came back from work that day in a high spirit. The house smelt fantastic with cooked meat in spices. She went
inside the kitchen to see how dinner was being cooked. Grandma was stirring a big pot with a big smile. "Luckily, we ordered the head yesterday. The meat man ran out of heads today!"

It was then that Claire learnt that tamali for special occasions was made from the entire pig's head. Grandmother had been cooking the whole pig's head for a day so that she could ground the cooked mixture for the tamali.

As the birthday girl, Claire had to eat several plate-full of tamali. The thought of eating an entire pig's head was revoking. She went to the bathroom and secretly vomited her dinner.

Claire was assigned to Peru for the second part of her internship. She told her host family that she was allergic to anything inside an animal and anything above the neck. One New Year's Day, Claire was presented with a special dish. " Very expensive and
delicious. Only for you." Her host father honored her with a plate full of brown meat.

"What is it?" She asked.

"We'll tell you after you finish!"

She ate the plate full. "Taste great!"

"It's the bull's penis!!" They were happy that Claire was happy.

Claire secretly vomited her New Year dinner that night.

Thinking that Claire liked special dishes, her host-mother cooked minced pig's ears for the tortilla dinner the next day. Claire couldn't refuse the tortilla and pig's ears that her host-mother piled on her plate.

When she went to Cambodia several years later, she told any local who invited her for dinners that she was allergic to anything inside an animal, anything above the neck and anything that hang on the body. Everything went fine until her farewell dinner. Her local colleagues took her to a restaurant and ordered "something special that she hadn't tried before".

By then, Claire had a few drinks and was happy to try something new. Her dish arrived. It was a round brown mass, decorated nicely with greens. She had a spoonful before she remembered to ask what it was. Her hosts answered gleefully,

"Baked goat brain!"

Again, Claire had to finish her dinner to show her thankfulness to her hosts.

Claire is now working in Thailand. She makes sure that her Thai friends know that she is allergic to anything inside an animal, anything above the neck, anything that hang on the body and anything inside the head. But still, she has been served "red noodle soup" (made from pig's blood) many times.

That's why Claire added the item "anything that flows" to the list she gave me.

I decided to ask her over for a Hakka dinner. My mother, the chef, made her usual traditional dishes.

My mother piled food items on her bowl. "Could you tell me what these are?" Claire was excited about dishes with recepies from grandmothers.

"Don't worry. They are just meat and vegetables. This is very famous "Hakka flying balls", this one is "sea cucumber with mushroom", very good-one. These are just stir-fried vegetables. These stuffed vegetables are our famous "yong tou fu". Only we Hakka got-one. This item with a piece of meat in between two pieces of yam is "khiou ngiu". Also very famous."

My mother added a big chunk - a piece of meat that comes with a layer of thick skin, fat and bone - on top of the mound of food in the bowl.

She smiled happily into Claire's eyes, "This one-ah, our very famous Hakka dish 'chu kiok chu' You eat and never forget-one!"

"Sounds great!! What is it?"

"Pig throttles in sour sauce!" I explained.

Claire smiled awkwardly at my mother, "Oh oh, it looks like my list is
getting longer!"

By Chong Sheau Ching



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