Five Foods Not Worth the Effort
Fuchsia Dunlop, in her engrossing chef d'œuvre of a memoir, Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, talks about the high "grapple factor" of some Chinese food, meaning that eating these foods first requires that the eater overcome a higher-than-normal amount of mental reservation.
Grapple factor is a little bit less of a problem when Americans eat food in America: even non-American foods may have been altered to cater to local tastes. That doesn't mean that all foods are easy to eat or worth eating, though. Below is a list of five foods so annoying to eat that the payoff at the end is not worth the work required to get there.
Poor artichokes! First they're declared something first eaten only out of starvation-facing desperation, and now they're in this list. It's so tedious to eat an artichoke: pulling off leaf after leaf and scraping across the bottom teeth for the little nugget of edible flesh where the leaf attaches to the stem, then the digging around with a grapefruit spoon for the fluffy choke, which gets everywhere, all for three bites of admittedly pretty good-tasting artichoke heart and a visit to the dental floss before dessert.
The solution? Besides frozen or jarred specimens, baby artichokes, when available (typically early in spring) don't have nearly the problems of their adult counterparts. No choke, and the leaves are typically tender enough to be eaten once trimmed of their thorny tops.
2. Chicken Feet
The great dim sum shibboleth. It happens every outing, someone orders the fung zau, someone else asks what it is, and gets the cop-out answer of "phoenix talons". Then the order hits the table and there's no doubt about what they are: the barbecue sauce-enrobed bottom-most parts of Foghorn Leghorn. To eat one is to experience a dozen tiny bones in one's mouth, surrounded by a tiny morsel of meat and a lot of gelatinous, barbecue-scented skin. There's no polite way to eat them, and the "clank clank" of bones hitting ceramic plates can be a real appetite suppressant.
The solution: De-boning is just about impossible. There's precious little actual meat on the feet, which means the flavor is going to come from the sauce. Order chicken bao and dip them in Chinese barbecue sauce: it's the closest it's possible to get without the foot.
3. Pomegranates: They're not so difficult to deal with as the other entries on this list, but the problem is that, like squid, they react badly to a hull breach: the juice goes everywhere and it stains like cochineal. The recommended method is to open them in a sink full of water (the pith floats and the seeds drop) but there's still no guarantee of a clean sink. The seeds, incidentally, are not a problem: they're perfectly edible. Just don't try chewing them.
The solution? If the flavor is all that's needed, buy 100% pure pomegranate juice. If the requirement is actually for seeds, one of the better convenience foods in the world is pre-packaged pomegranate seeds. Sure, they're not as good as fresh-cracked, but it only takes one incident with a $50 shirt and a wayward fruit before the appeal becomes evident.
4. Pork ribs
All that sucking and slurping and chewing, behavior that would make Grandma roll in her grave like an express-train axle, all for two bites of meat. If the barbecue was done right, there's no cartilage or connective tissue to contend with, but sadly the vast majority of "barbecue" out there is anything but. It's enough to make a chest cavity lover look to the beef ribs of Texas.
The solution? While there are boneless pork ribs out there, no self-respecting pitmaster is ever going to allow them into his rig. If boneless barbecue pork is the goal, consider the picnic ham or even pork bellies rather than ribs.
Crabmeat is very sweet and a taste that can't be approximated by that bizarre colored pollock creation (known around these parts as krab, pronounced "kay-rab"), but getting the meat out of the animal is an Herculean task, and the smaller the crab, the harder it is. The diner attacks the crustacean with a nutcracker, a crab pick and a spoon. After multiple rounds of trying, failing and drinking the frustration away, the crab is still whole, the diner is drunk and starving, and eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner.
The solution? Either pay your fishmonger quite a lot of money to pick the crabs for you, buy larger crabs (also very expensive) or buy tins of crabmeat, knowing ahead of time that most of it will be thready leg meat, not the more expensive claw meat. Whatever solution is chosen, know that crabmeat doesn't last long outside the host body: use it the same day you buy it.
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