Parsnips, Snails or Jellied Eels – Which is a Weird Food?

Mussels, prawns, scallops and lobster are amongst my favourite foods, but any mention of snails is more than my taste buds can face. They are all shellfish or edible molluscs, but I simply can’t bring myself to eat snails, whereas my French colleagues are puzzled by my squeamishness. They, on the other hand, are appalled that in Britain, roast lamb is served with mint sauce. Parsnips are a much-loved root vegetable, served roasted as part of the famous English Sunday roast. Yet in Germany, parsnips are rarely eaten because it is only ever been used as cattle feed.

What we will eat or simply refuse to even think about eating, is a matter of culture, childhood, religion and habit. As you might expect, London restaurants cater to (almost) all tastes. You can test the limits of your own cultural conditioning by trying some of the ‘odder’ choices served at some of London’s most adventurous restaurants.

If you’ve ever fancied “marinated kangaroo skewers, jerked alpaca, crispy zebra jerky, pan-fried crickets or crocodile wrapped in vine leaves with honey-poached plums and pickled samphire,” your luck is in. Just pop over to Archipelago restaurant near Marylebone.

If you want to challenge yourself even further, why not opt for a light starter of “calf’s brain with capers, lemon and parsley” at Bibendum? Or perhaps not.

Chef Fergus Henderson defined ‘Nose to Tail’ cuisine thus: “It would be disingenuous to the animal not to make the most of the whole beast; there is a set of delights, textural and flavoursome, which lie beyond the fillet.” And he really means it, too. Nothing is wasted, and you can try almost every part of the pig at his much-lauded St. John’s restaurant group.

Heston Blumenthal’s “Dinner” restaurant serves a cunningly named ‘Meat Fruit’ dish, based on a British recipe dating back to 1300 (that’s the year 1300 and not 1300 Zulu Time!). This signature dish looks like a mandarin orange and tastes like chicken, because beneath the glossy, tangy jelly is chicken liver parfait.

After trying those challenging dishes, leave some time to finish off with a London-born dish, Jellied Eels (with pie and mash), now found mainly in the East End at restaurants like Manze. This dish really is as simply as it sounds – bits of chopped eel boiled in a spicy stock and served hot or cold. I tried jellied eels once and never felt the urge to try it again. My cultural conditioning was too strong.


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