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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.