My good friend Lenny Karpman, a cardiologist I worked with during my days as an emergency physician at Kaiser San Francisco, has written an absolutely indispensable book, aptly titled Foods That Amuse and Confuse: 1200 Eclectic Names Demystified. The book is the perfect reference for foodies who want to impress their friends with the breadth of their culinary knowledge. You know the type person who would say, “Why yes, my friends, I know the perfect place in Boise to find the best Sawsawang Kamatis! [a salad from the Philippines that combines sweet tomato slices with sour green mango, ginger, and scallions]…I think you will find that it’s just heavenly.”
And, even if you aren’t a foodie, think of the possibilities for a wedding anniversary dinner: “I bought us a fine bottle of Cats Pee on a Gooseberry Bush wine from New Zealand that should exactly complement the Geoducks [huge clams from the Pacific Northwest whose name is pronounced ‘Gooey Ducks’] that I picked up at the farmer’s market today.”
Or even a first date at a Dim Sum restaurant where the impressee can impress the hopefully impressed with an order of Peacock Claws [steamed chicken feet in fermented black bean sauce] and Pearl in the Palm [Quail Eggs and Duck Webs—yes, the webs in duck feet).
It’s all in alphabetical order
The exotic food names are organized alphabetically, ranging from Aass Bryggeri [Norway’s oldest brewery] to Zongzi [a pyramid-shaped dumpling made of sticky rice wrapped in bamboo or lotus leaves]. Each food comes with an amusing story—often from Lenny’s world travels with his wife Costa Rica Joan, one of my best friends for years.
Here’s a taste of some of my favorites food stories from this little gem of a book:
St. Agatha’s Nipples
“The breast-shaped pastry originated in the monastery kitchens of Palermo, made its way to Catania, and then landed in Italian pastry shops in New York and everywhere else Italians wound up in this country. The nipples must have been very cute and a little shocking to kids. Saint Agatha was born in Catania in the third century and, according to the various versions of her story, rejected the advances of a Roman prefect, and he began to persecute her for her Christian faith. Among the many tortures, she underwent was having her breasts cut off. In art, she is usually depicted carrying them on a platter.”
“Don’t laugh at the name of these raisin- or dried fruit-dotted sweet scone-like griddle cakes from the north of England. Hinny is actually a regional term of endearment, at least so I have been told. From Newcastle to Northumberland, people pronounce honey as hinny. The batter is laden with lard and/or butter and sizzles audibly when it hits the hot griddle as if it is were singing. They are also called fatty cutties in neighboring Scotland.”
Chicken Eye Jelly
“My wife and I have been to China four times, but we ventured off the beaten tourist path only once [when we went] to Lijiang, the capital of the Naxi Kingdom in Yunnan…51 of China’s 55 ethnic minorities have communities in Yunnan. With so many different traditions and food products, it is very hard to separate specific culinary features of any group. But regionally, the four most memorable were wild mushroom dumplings, yak sweet cheese (though I am not a fan of yak butter, milk, or tea), cured ham, and an unappetizing-looking gray glutinous jelly called chicken eye jelly. No, it is not created from eyes of anything. The beans from which it is made look like a type of lentil. Their oval flat shape does look like the eye of a chicken. Strands of the firm jelly adorn many vegetables and pork dishes and assume the flavor of the cooking broth or sauce. Cubed, spiced similarly to adjacent Sichuan foods and deep-fried, they are crispy-coated luscious chewy flavor packets.”
“We were in an incredible wild game camp in the Okavango Delta of Botswana sitting under a thatched roof rehydrating with cold beers, watching the sunset after a close encounter with a leopard on a nearby island earlier in the day. The couple who shared our space were newlyweds from Monaco. They were polyglots. When Martin asked our host what was on tap for dinner, he pointed at a three-legged covered cast iron pot sitting over a small fire and said, ‘classic seswaa.’ ‘C’est soir what?’ asked the bewildered Martin. Reminiscent of the Abbot and Costello routine ‘Who is on first base?’ it took them a while to understand each other. Chunks of beef on the bone simmered away for hours in a pot with salt water, pepper, and onions. When the meat began to fall off the bone, it was pounded into the shredded consistency of pulled pork or ropa vieja and served over corn meal with sides of cooked pumpkin and a spinach-like cooked green called morogo. It turns out that seswaa is the national dish of Botswana and the three-legged pots are classic cooking vessels throughout southern Africa called potjies. They are descended from Dutch ovens adapted for the bush. Native dwellers away from cities cooked their game, goat, pork or beef in them (potjiekos) for hours over small open fires in flavored water or beer.”
I highly recommend this delicious book
Whether you are enjoying a Fart Bar in Poland (a chocolate candy bar whose name means good luck), a Handkäse mit Musik (hand-rolled soft cheese from the Frankfurt area of Germany that comes on a slice of hearty bread topped first with plenty of raw onions, then the cheese [the Musik refers to the noisy flatulence that follows—it can be ordered without Musik and the onions are omitted]) or a Longevity Bun in China, this book is for you.
Foods That Amuse and Confuse: 1200 Eclectic Names Demystified is self-published and available as an e-book for the eminently affordable price of $3.99 on Amazon. It is also available in paperback for somewhat more. It’s a perfect gift for anyone who travels and anyone who loves food!
This review was first published on 03/28/16. It was updated with an additional food story and republished on 12/22/17.