Had I known the duck's feet were raw before I put them in my mouth, perhaps I would have been better prepared. These de-boned and de-cartilaged ducks webbing were not only raw but must've been left in a vat of horseradish for over a month.
These nosebleed-inducing delicacies brought tears to my eyes and when the heel of the foot crunched during the onslaught of chewiness I decided, no, these aren't for me. Food has always been an intrigue for me and over the past few years my hunger has been the protagonist in my far-flung adventures. Here in China my appetite was getting a run for its money. To find Li Qun's Duck Restaurant you have to delve into the depths of uncommercialised, grey hutongs south of the city centre. In the underbelly of Beijing, where signs are no longer translated into English and the flat hue of grey engulfs every wall, roof and roadside, one begins to see every street and alleyway as familiar. We had been half an hour wandering these alleyways and almost at that point where I was about to admit defeat, pull out my mandarin phrase book and ask for directions, most men will feel my pain. As I swung my bag round off my shoulders I noticed a childlike painting of a duck on a wall. These infantile pictures are the tell tale sign you are near. Like a treasure hunt we followed the black and white duck drawings, the seductive smell of roasting ducks caught my nostrils and my eye's fluttered back into their sockets for a brief moment. It was too late, and so in a trance like state I wandered through the little black doorway, little did I know my duck foot trauma was only minutes away.
During my travels, I've eaten some pretty odd things. China was wrought with the weird and the wonderful. Baby seahorses that had been skewered and deep fried, silk worm cocoons and bird nests all danced with my gag reflex. Yet, on the gentler side of repulsion, there have been far more familiar foods that have left me equally as disgusted. An insipid patty of unidentifiable reclaimed meat from a burger van outside London's Natural History Museum was so bad, the city pigeons wouldn't even eat the bit I spat out.
As much as I wanted to enjoy the fabled durian fruit, on a recent trip to Vietnam, the offensively smelly fruit got the better of me. Durian is banned from hotels and public transport throughout most of south east Asia for it's penetrating aroma. The lady who sold me my particular durian kindly gestured for me to take some plastic gloves to use whilst eating my durian. Hunkered down in a shaded spot far away from the market where the vendor had directed me to go, I opened my bag of durian pods. The flesh had the same texture as a firm cream cheese and a flavor which reminded me of hot, sour pineapple mixed with banana and a certain bile quality to it. Two pods down and I realized this wasn't happening. It had beaten me.
It sometimes seems that we are quicker to remember the worst thing we've ever eaten long before we remember the best. A stain on our memory that has the power to bring back the smells, tastes and situations we find ourselves in. Whether being adventurous with our food, or merely trying to be polite to a host, these horrors of the dinner table happen to us all.