1000 words: Strangest thing I've eaten

It was celebrity broadcaster Wynne Evans who posed the question on Radio Wales last week . . .
“What’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten?”
Snails . . . oysters . . . frogs’ legs . . . there were quite a few of the expected ‘standards’ in the replies.
But it got me thinking – what’s the most unusual thing I’ve eaten?
The answer arrived quicker than a burp in the tasting and testing department of the pop factory.
Rocky Mountain Oysters!
Bit of a nuts answer, really.
Rocky Mountain Oysters are definitely not the bivalves of the sea.
In the version I sampled, they were bulls’ testicles.
But there are variations on the theme – you can have bison, pigs and sheep testicles on the same menu card, if you so desire.

The dining location was the world famous Coors Field baseball stadium in the Mile High city of Denver, Colorado.
They were offered up as an alternative to foot-long hot dogs and cholesterol-packed killer cheeseburgers.
The date was September 2001 and I was in the company of Monro Walters (a now dear departed friend, pictured below), the Llanelli Scarlets stadium announcer.

It was very much a case of ‘When in Rome . . .’
So, we happily coughed up a couple of dollars to purchase the Rocky Mountain Oysters from the concession stand.
The verdict?
Well, the saving grace is that the dollars were the only things we coughed up.
The Rocky Mountain Oysters, a bit rubbery in places, filled the snack gap quite nicely. But we were both glad of the accompanying spicy sauce which helped take the mind off the bulls’ testicles image.
Our ‘Oysters’ were coated in some sort of Kentucky Fried Chicken breadcrumb concoction.
But our hosts reliably informed us that you could have your testicles (the bull’s rather than ours) sautéed, braised, broiled, fried, deep fried and poached.
Most varieties on the theme are first peeled, pounded flat and then coated in a special ‘secret ingredient’ mixture of flour, salt and pepper and herbs.
Of course, the above does miss out on one key stage – first they have to be separated from the bull. But, the less said about that, the better.
The origin of Rocky Mountain Oysters goes way back to the very first ranchers who inhabited the ‘Wild West’ of old.
They needed inexpensive cuts of meat and didn’t like wasting any part of the animal, so they began by cooking testicles on red-hot cattle branding irons.
I dare say Delia Smith would be proud of their ingenuity.
The end result is that they came up with a snack rich in vitamins, minerals and protein.
And the perfect accompaniment to Fries and a glass of ice-cold Coors beer at the baseball match.
Some of the Denver locals reckoned they also provided a fertility boost, but medical evidence for this is slimmer than a filleted testicle. By all accounts, eating an animal’s family allowance has zero impact on the average human’s sexual hormone balance.
Eating testicles has by now spread to all locations where you find cattle ranching.
In Canada, they go under the name of Prairie Oysters.
In other parts of the US of A, they go under the name of Cowboy Caviar, Swinging Beef, Montana Tendergroin, Dusted Nuts . . . or the economically-phrased Bollocks.
As a celebrated snack food, they do, of course, have their own festivals.
In America, the land of the free and the rotating dollar sign, these are very cleverly branded as Testicle Festivals.
One such festival in Montana, attracts 15,000 visitors a year. An estimated 50,000 lbs of testicles are consumed.
As a side issue, animal welfare supporters might be interested to learn that the bull/bison/pig/sheep does not always have to be deprived of its life in order to serve up the culinary treat.
Castration is common practice in ranching and has animal husbandry benefits which include the control of breeding, the growth of skeletal muscle for the very best beef and, of course, the very act of castration means the animal’s temperament becomes easier for the ranchers to handle.
In short, a bull deprived of his undercarriage is less likely to want to castrate the hard-working cowboy.
My recollection of the taste is hazy and focusses heavily on the rubbery texture. Some of the Denver baseball regulars reckoned the taste was comparable to venison. But I have no memory of them tasting like any other sort of meat.
Rocky Mountain Oysters, 16 years on, remains up there at No1 in my list of strangest things I have eaten.
I dare say I have (unknowing) eaten far stranger things in exotic locations.
But their status at No1 is unchallenged.
Before the new millennium, the answer might have been frog’s legs.
They were sampled for the first time on a hiking and camping trip to France.
I was persuaded to try them by my two colleagues.
They operated a game of bluff.
They sampled the frog’s legs first, but cleverly just swallowed them down, without tasting.
Then they sat back and watched as I munched and chewed my way through the first bits of my portion.
Their hopes that I would turn as green as a frog’s leg were dashed and think I described the frog’s legs as anorexic chicken wings smothered in garlic.
The same trip saw us sample the ‘Cheval Burger’ (horse burger).
As someone who kept showjumping ponies as a youngster, this one was a little hard to swallow.
Chewier than the standard beef version, the ‘Cheval Burger’ didn’t even stand comparison to a dreaded MacD burger. One was enough, as I couldn’t escape the thought that I was eating part of my favourite Firefly XVI.
Another contender in the weird food stakes (although it’s hardly weird by today’s I’m A Celebrity jungle challenge menus) was snails.
These were first sampled at the wonderfully named Le Chien Qui Fume restaurant near the old Les Halles central food market in Paris.
The Smoking Dog restaurant!
What memories!


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