Being the curious person that I am, one of my main goals when I arrived in Montreal in 1999 was of course to try all the new kinds of food that I could find.
I was always interested in the relationship between human beings and nature from every point of view, including from an agricultural and farming perspective.
I like to discover alternative and uncommon breeding and plant-growing techniques, as well as the species that are used in these projects.
In the province of Québec, I visited ostrich and bison farms, as well as salmon-breeding aquaculture projects in which one could see the complete breeding cycles and try their products at the end.
In Argentina, I had already visited nutria, iguana, caiman, lama, vicuna, and chinchilla farms. During my trips, I visited crocodile farms in Australia, ostrich farms in South Africa, sea turtle farms in Bali and Mexico, oyster farms in Namibia, etc.
The purpose of these farms is not always to consume the animals; sometimes their goal is to release them into the wild, such is the case of caimans in Santa Fe, Argentina and of sea turtles. This is possible through a farming system, which consists of collecting the eggs, raising the young animals in captivity, and releasing them once they are mature enough and have greater chances of surviving in the wild.
In other cases, these animals are bred for their fur (such as chinchillas and nutrias) or as a source of fibers (lamas and vicunas) and sometimes for multiple purposes (skin, meat, etc.). I also visited and volunteered at many organic farms, lavender fields, small fruit fields, and more.
In spite of considering myself a vegetarian (and not a very strict one) since I was 26, I tend to make an exception when it comes to trying new products, even if they are made out of meat.
In my opinion, in a perfect world people would not eat animals. Although we are far from that reality, I see the ancient relationship between human beings and domestic animals as something positive; many breeds would be gone forever if nobody had bred them.
However, returning to the subject of my arrival in Montreal, there were some times when I tried food so weird that it almost made me sick! Here we can find people from all over the world, as well as restaurants and markets from all countries.
There is a China Town where one can find anything from frozen turtles to fish, mushrooms, and unidentified dried things in big buckets for which the names are only displayed in Chinese. I want to clarify that the thing about the turtles did not seem very legal to me and I reported it to the ministry of fauna.
Sorry… I keep going off topic! When I came here, my dad told me that there was a Vietnamese store near our house that sold eggs wrapped in ash, which were preserved for years. They were known as century eggs and, in a way, I dared myself to try them.
We bought a few of them and I cracked one open and ate it. Its texture was like gelatin and it smelled like if it were rotten. Yes, I was feeling sick with nausea the rest of the day…but I tried it. A few weeks later, I was talking to a classmate from my French class, and I found out that one is supposed to cook those eggs in a soup and not eat them raw! She inherited the rest of my eggs for her own enjoyment.
One afternoon shortly after I arrived in Montreal, I went to an annual event that took place at the Insectarium, which consisted in trying insects prepared by a chef. That was the first time I tried insects and scorpions. I ate ants and felt their legs and antennae tickling my tongue, and I also ate beetle larvae and more.
In Mexico, I ate grasshoppers, which are fried crickets with spices; I was impressed by the first one I tried, but then I was able to eat them as if they were chips. Actually, they are very similar, so crunchy!
I have eaten in every types of restaurants that I have found in Montreal: Ethiopian, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Jamaican, Brazilian, Peruvian, Polish, Chinese, Salvadorian, Haitian, Mongolian…I liked everything so far…I am not hard to please.
I have also eaten in every market and food stand of the countries that I have visited, something that doctors would not recommend to do! The only time that I got very sick was in Thailand after eating raw oysters and a few platters of different kinds of seafood. In any case, that did not spoil my trip, I was mostly sick at night and went on safaris and travelled during the day!
I always buy products that are different, especially tea and spices. Most of the time I have a good experience with these products and look for the cooking method online if the product is really rare.
Sometimes, I have a bad experience with certain products; such was the case of absinthe tea, which was the bitterest thing I have ever tried, or of Vietnamese egg noodles, which seemed as if they were made with the eggs that I mentioned before!
An unforgettable experience that I had was at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, where we went to a restaurant that served typical African dishes and wild animal meat. There, I tried Mopane worms, which are butterfly caterpillars, as well as warthog, antelope, Guinea fowl, and crocodile meat.
In that same place, people could dance traditional African dances, play musical instruments, and have their palms read by a psychic who predicted the same future for everyone.
I love to be able to try many different things, and this reminds me of how fortunate we are as human beings to be living in a planet that offers a great biodiversity and has so many different species that we can afford to have a diversified diet.
Author: Helena Arroyo
Translation: Noëlla Moussa