Cultural arbitrage: The food-related sucker bet


While I was at a group dinner at a Chinese restaurant, a whole fish was brought to our table. One of the other people at the table told a story of another time a whole fish was brought to the table.

He attended the wedding rehearsal dinner of a family member. The bride is Chinese, but the groom is not. (Or maybe it was the other way around. Doesn't matter to the story.) The dinner was banquet-style at a Chinese restaurant, and one of the many courses was a whole fish.

Two of the non-Chinese attendees marveled at the presence of an entire fish right there in front of them, head, tail, fins, and all. I guess they had up until then only been served fish that had already been filleted, or at least had the head cut off. One of them nudged my acquaintance and said, "We'll give you $500 if you eat the eyeball."

These guys inadvertently created their own sucker bet.

For you see, eating the eyeball is common in many parts of Asia. In fact, whenever their family has fish, my nieces fight over who gets the honor of eating the eyeballs!

I don't know whether my acquaintance cheerfully accepted the bet or whether he explained that their bet was a poor choice to offer a Chinese person.

What food-related sucker bets exist in your culture? (I'm not talking about foods like chicken feet or tongue, which are clearly prepared and served to be eaten. I'm talking about things that an uninitiated person might consider to be a garnish or an inedible by-product, like shrimp heads.)

Update: I remind you that the question is not asking for foods which are served as dishes on their own.

Comments (44)
  1. BOFH says:

    We have surströmming:

    en.wikipedia.org/…/Surstr%C3%B6mming

    Beat that…

  2. Sean Hederman says:

    I'll take that challenge:

    Walkie Talkies: en.wikipedia.org/…/Chicken_feet

    Mashonzha, made from Mopane Worms: en.wikipedia.org/…/Mopane_worm

  3. Mark says:

    Heard this one on the StuffYouShouldKnow podcast.

    en.wikipedia.org/…/Casu_marzu

    I think I'd skip it though.

  4. Carlos says:

    Shrimp heads?

    It is common to eat the heads in Spain and many Asian countries, because it is delicious!

    An example of someone who was marvelled by this: zarzamora.blogspot.com/…/3-ways-to-eat-shrimps-head.html

  5. juliog says:

    Brazil: barbecued chicken hearts, served on a skewer. It's usually served as an appetizer, as it gets ready right before other cuts of meat. Some people put a bit of seasoned manioc flour on top of it, after taking out of the skewer. Hmm, delicious!

  6. mastmaker says:

    Not exactly a sucker bet.

    While dining at an Indian Restaurant in UK, one of the friends turned to other (both locals) and says: "mm can eat those pickled chillies and don't even flinch." and he turns to me and says: "Show him, mm.". Of course, I 'showed' him! What either of them didn't know was that I was gobbling those chillies as hors d'oeuvre the entire time we were there. I was away from home for 4 months by that time and missing hot and spicy food really bad!

  7. prunoki says:

    Fried chicken or pig blood? It is delicious.

  8. Ricardo says:

    I dare you to put milk in your tea?

  9. Vilx- says:

    Probably not as cool as other countries, but two things come to mind:

    First one is pig snout, which used to be a traditional Christmas dish. Well, actually, this started before them Christians had arrived and converted all of us pagans, but the tradition remained. Today though it's a pretty rare sight already (but you can obtain one, if you give enough effort). And, since it would be presented alone on a dish, it would be difficult to confuse with something inedible. Still, it's a peculiar sight. :)

    The second one is a bit better. Soured milk aka Buttermilk is still popular in some rural areas. There are variations of it (just google), but the "traditional" method is to simply leave some milk at room temperature long enough until it is fermented. Note that this will not work with store-bought pasteurized milk, because the necessary bacteria have been killed off. You need fresh milk, hence the rural connection. It can be made with pasteurized milk too, but you'll have to reintroduce the bacteria to it. Most recipes on the web deal with the pasteurized milk case however, because that's the easiest to obtain today, and also safer (other unwanted things live in fresh milk too).

    Anyways, apparently this drink is not for the unwary and uninitiated. Some close relatives of mine tell of a time when another distant relative had come to visit the from abroad (he was a German, if I'm not mistaken). Now, these relatives of mine come from rural areas of the country, so they still sometimes made and drank this beverage, mostly "traditionally" prepared. Whether the foreign visitor took the drink by mistake or dare, I do not remember. But drink it he did, and was judged unworthy of it by his innards. The results were quick, unpleasant, and mostly spent in the men's room. Afterwards any liquid white substance was met with suspicion and a distrustful question: "This is not THAT drink, is it?"

  10. BOFH says:

    Quote about surströmming from the Wikipedia link above:

    "A Japanese study has shown that the smell of a newly opened can of surströmming is the most putrid smell of food in the world […]"

    What does chicken feet smell like?

  11. voo says:

    @Vilx- Buttermilk isn't that strange or exceptional though is it? We can buy that here (Austria) easily enough in stores. But I assume there's a good bit difference between your traditional method of making it and the stuff I can buy.. especially since there's also buttermilk with blueberries or other stuff in it. That's actually rather nice.

    PS: You never mention which country ;)

    PPS: Can't think of anything interesting from Austria, too bad.

  12. Tourist in southern Arizona says:

    Eating the worm in a bottle of tequila. Or, related to / resulting from the former, taking a $50 bet to swallow down all the salsa on the table in a Mexican restaurant.

  13. German says:

    "Tote Oma" is a kind of boiled blood. Some love some hate.

  14. Blind says:

    Skippy list #189. Do not dare SERE graduates to eat bugs. They will always do it.

  15. :( says:

    I bet two girls wouldn't eat *** from a cup.

  16. Anthony Wieser says:

    The bone marrow from osso bucco etc, and the tail of toast chicken (the parson's nose)

  17. Adrian Edmonds says:

    San Jose. June 2008. Drunken shrimps in a Chinese restaurant. I walked out.

  18. Clovis says:

    We have McDonald's. It's hard to describe what they produce; some people don't even consider it food. There's a bit more info here: http://www.mcdonalds.com

  19. Jon says:

    Durian.

    You should not eat the eyeballs, though. Pesticides and chemicals accumulate in the vitreous humor. This is true too in humans and exploited in postmortem toxicology tests.

  20. cheong00 says:

    On the other hand, my grandma likes eating fishhead. (Mostly the eyeball and cheek meat) She said the cheek meat is actually the most delicious part of the fish.

    On the sucker bet side, does chicken butt count? I know this is actually a fairly common snack at some places, but somehow I always see the butt leaving in the dishes when having the "whole fried chicken" plate.

  21. Peter says:

    In Australia, one staple of the traditional Aboriginal diet is Witchetty Grubs. They are a wood-eating moth larva and are collected by digging into the roots of an affected tree.

    Don't know if this violates the 'served as a dish on their own' rule since they are commonly eaten live – directly from the tree (although they may also be lightly cooked in a camp fire).

    Apparently they are very high in protein and taste somewhat like almonds.

  22. JB says:

    Yukon. Toe. Shots.

    That is, a shot of whiskey with a dehydrated, preserved human toe that fell off due to frostbite.  The shot doesn't count unless your lips touch the toe.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch

  23. PavelS says:

    When I was young (less then 10 years old, czech republic) my father sometimes prepared boiled rabbit heads. They were really hot when he took them out of the cooker and I couldn't wait till it become cold. As soon as it was possible to take it in my hands, I cracked all the heads and ate the brains. That was really delicious.

  24. Jonathan says:

    When I visited China, I noticed several dishes served with fresh lettuce and cucumbers as garnish – no-one ate them. Being Israeli, I'm very used to eating fresh vegetables, so I surprised some of my Chinese hosts!

  25. Vilx- says:

    @voo – I'm from Latvia. And yes, I'm not certain on the exact name for the drink. Perhaps "Buttermilk" isn't it. Wikipedia description seemed close enough, but then again there seem to be a wide variety of "fermented milk" drinks. Yogurt among them.

  26. Neil says:

    @Maurits This depends on the apple; I mostly eat Granny Smiths and I rarely leave the core; currently Russets are in season so I'm eating those whole; I would also include the core when eating a Cox's Orange Pippin.

  27. Dave says:

    The second one is a bit better. Soured milk aka Buttermilk is still popular in some rural areas.

    Buttermilk is nothing compared to amasi milk.  For one thing, you don't have to chew buttermilk…

  28. Dave says:

    @Mark:

    Congratulations, you've won the prize for the grossest food imaginable. I could do surstroemming (with sufficient aquavit), but casu marzu:

    "Casu marzu is considered to be unsafe to eat by Sardinian aficionados when the maggots in the cheese have died".

    "Because the larvae in the cheese can launch themselves for distances up to 15 centimetres (6 in) when disturbed, diners hold their hands above the sandwich to prevent the maggots from leaping".

    "Larvae can pass through the digestive system alive (human stomach acids do not usually kill them) and live for some time in the intestines […] The larvae can cause serious intestinal lesions as they attempt to bore through the intestinal walls".

    I think I need to lie down for a bit…

  29. Roald says:

    Thinking about the Dutch cuisine some peculiarities come to mind, such as the brined herring, or Utrechtse bloodsausage. Or really, really old cheese.

  30. Matt says:

    A friend once whispered something to the waiter at a sushi restaurant and a plate of something I couldn't identify arrived in short order. Without knowing what it was, I popped one into my mouth and ate it. My friend was shocked. He thought that there was no way I would eat it. My reasoning was that if they serve it at a restaurant it must be food, and it also is likely to be something that is appetizing to at least a portion of the populace. Only after I ate it did he inform me that it was a shrimp head. They're quite good.

    I always take food bets. Go ahead and laugh at me for eating testicles, but I've got your $50 now. And you paid for the testicles.

  31. Vilx- says:

    @Matt – Challenge: 200ml of fresh wasabi!

  32. voo says:

    @Matt If I ever meet you I'll fly you to sardinia and serve you Casu marzu. Totally worth my 50$ and the cost for the flight and the food. Ok maybe not, I don't think I could eat anything ever again after seeing that.. oh my god.

    @Vilx- I think 200ml fresh wasabi after the cheese cake would be a blessing – would hopefully kill the larvae at least.

  33. Alex Grigoriev says:

    So a tourist arrives to a small town in Spain. He comes to a restorant and asks for something special.

    "Good that you're here. We have our Saturday special one-of-a-kind"

    "OK, I'll have it"

    The server brings a plate with two big fried balls on it. The tourist eats that, and then asks "what was that?"

    "These are the testicles of the bull defeated on today's corrida".

    Next Saturday, the tourist is back at the restorant. "May I have your Saturday special?"

    "Of course"

    The server brings a plate with two fried balls.

    "Why these are so small? Last time those were big!"

    "You know that corrida outcome may be different".

  34. cheong00 says:

    @Jonathan: I'd warn you this move is a bit risky.

    In many Chinese restaurant, those vegetables at the side of dish (I mean those not cooked ones) are not supposed to be eaten, and will be reused until it smells or look rotten. Unless you know they put fresh vegetables there each time, you might not feeling well after you eat them.

    Next time when you see something on dish that everyone seems has no intention to eat, but obviously noone seems to be full yet, you'd better ask the others whether it's okay to be eaten.

  35. jg says:

    We fight over the marrow in an Indian Lamb Curry

    Westerners don't do that right?

  36. Tijmen says:

    This comes pretty close, eating live octopus/worms:

    http://vimeo.com/34116750

  37. Danny says:

    There was this Discovery Channel story of a western guy, who in his every day life would not eat any part of the fish head, who was adrift in the middle of the ocean on a raft living with rain water he could caught on some rags and fish who could catch using a self-invented rod from whatever materials he could gather. He said that after a while he found his taste change, that he started to eat those parts of the fish that he normally would not touch, like eyeballs and stuff. The theory behind, according to Discovery Channel host, a science guy, was that the body (as in subconscious and stuff) was directing this guys taste to fill in the need it minerals that could not be found in normal fish meat. So I bet as long as some culture in the world is eating something, is OK for the rest to eat the same even if is gross at first sight for them.

  38. Danny says:

    Forget to tell you, the guy was adrift for 16 months before he was rescued by a ship, he was way out of the normal commercial routes. Imagine spending 16 months on middle of the ocean, tough survivor.

  39. Bits of fugu could qualify I suppose, though it's a high-stakes bet if you get that one wrong. Lobster could work well there: none of the bits are actually poisonous, although it's a common belief some of them are – I know I was told that growing up. Until recently, I always left the wasabi paste safely to one side, and skipped the slices of chili pepper on nachos, but I've changed on both of those now. Ordering "hot" food in a Thai restaurant can be a gamble; in my usual one, the (British, with a Thai wife) owner usually takes the orders, and makes sure to translate spice levels between English and Thai, so "make me cry in pain" would go to the chef as "medium". Then, when he's on vacation and leaves his daughter in charge, orders get passed on unfiltered. I tend to order the milder dishes then…

    I've always hated the little pods (cardamom?) that tend to lurk in pilau rice – I thought they weren't edible, until discovering my mother actually likes eating them. I tend to skip most of the garnish/salad that tends to come with bar meals in the UK, too: unlike the Chinese ones Cheong refers to, I'm sure they're fairly fresh and intended to be eaten, though I rarely see people actually eating them. I suppose they're cheap to add and makes people feel a bit healthier about eating a burger and fries.

    Going in the other direction, there are things that could backfire … knocking back a shot of Turkish coffee in one.

  40. 640k says:

    I dare you to drink tap water and unheated chicken in China. Twice.

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