Culinary adventures with strange foods in the Twin Cities

We bite into uncharted territory from testicles to urchins

Culinary adventures with strange foods in the Twin Cities
Photo by Colleen Guenther. Dress from Lula. Model is Emma.

My kitchen was covered in blood. It dripped from a pool on the counter and seeped into the cracks of the floor, staining the grout bright red. It was stuck in the beds of my fingernails, splattered on my shirt, and smeared across the drywall. I trod through a puddle that collected on the floor, and each successive step left another bloody footprint.

But the sight wasn't nearly as bothersome as the smell, a combination of stainless steel and slaughterhouses that grew worse by the second. It was the unmistakable smell of death.

Paper towels weren't cutting it. I'd already gone through a roll, and the more I scrubbed, the more it spread. I was desperate to run from the scene, but I created the mess and had no choice but to clean it up.

Meal worms
Colleen Guenther
Meal worms
A partially defrosted guinea pig gets ready for the oven
Emily Eveland
A partially defrosted guinea pig gets ready for the oven

It wasn't supposed to happen like this. I was told to run the blood through a strainer to remove clots. But lacking a real strainer, I assumed a coffee filter would work fine in its place. Wrong. The blood saturated the filter in seconds, oozing past my preoccupied hands onto the adjacent butcher knife, and finally collecting on the floor.

A friend rushed to the kitchen at the sound of my screeching. His eyes widened. "What did you do?"

I was just trying to make blood pancakes.

Beyond Minnesota's Juicy Lucys, craft beers, and tater tot hot dishes lies a little-known land of edible testicles, guinea pigs, and camel milk. Though the state has long been considered ethnically and culturally homogenous, the demographics have changed drastically over the past few decades, leading to a major shift in the state's culinary landscape.

But a few of the foods introduced over the past century have struggled to gain statewide acceptance. Raw camel milk, a popular beverage in Somalia, is illegal. Lamb testicles and guinea pigs have questionable connotations that most Westerners can't look past. Durian smells and tastes like roadkill.

In an attempt to clear up misconceptions, I made it my mission to research, prepare, and taste some of the strangest foods in the Twin Cities. And by strange, I mean they're foreign to the general public's palate, not that they're inherently flawed. In fact, most of the foods proved to be delicious, affordable, and surprisingly sustainable.

1. CAMEL MILK

I couldn't figure out whether the man who ushered Curt and me into his car was trying to help or kidnap us.

"Stay here," he said. "I'll be right back."

Curt and I were sitting with our fingers crossed that this wouldn't be our last stop. It had been three days, and we hadn't seen a trace of the elusive substance.

Ten minutes later, the limo driver waltzed out of the restaurant, grinning and sipping from a Styrofoam cup. He handed us a cardboard carrier with four more cups inside.

"It's fresh," he said. "From Columbus, Ohio."

After days of searching, too many dead ends to count, and hours in the back of a stranger's limousine, we finally had our hands on raw camel milk.

It all started innocently enough. While researching camel meat, I stumbled across an article from 2009 about the possibility of camel milk coming to Minnesota within a year, a development that would benefit Minnesota's Somali population.

I called Dr. Millie Hinkle, the founder of Camel Milk USA and the driving force behind the legalization of camel milk, to find out where all the camel milk vendors were.

"They're mostly, honestly, undercover," she said.

As recently as five years ago, it was a felony to sell camel milk. In 2009, Hinkle challenged the US Food and Drug Administration to change the law, and that year the FDA approved the sale of camel milk in the United States. Three years later, the law was amended again to allow the sale of camel milk at grocery stores.

Camel dairy farms began popping up in the states not long after. Since Somalia is one of the top producers and consumers of camel milk, it's no surprise that the milk found its way to Minnesota, home to the largest Somali population in North America.

But here's the problem: It's illegal to ship raw, unpasteurized camel milk over state lines or sell it commercially.

So why don't camel farmers just pasteurize the milk?

"A lot of [the dairy farms] are owned by the Amish, so for religious reasons — and I guess because they're making so much money selling it raw — they're not buying pasteurization machines," Hinkle said. "I have offered free pasteurization machines to every single dairy. Not one dairy has taken me up on it."

Anxious to find out what the fuss was all about, I decided to take my chances and drink it raw. When the frothy beverage first touched my lips, all I could think about was the hairy, humped creature from whence it came.

After a few sips, though, the image of frothy milk being squeezed from the teats of a kicking dromedary were replaced by pure enjoyment. The milk was grassy, startlingly sweet with a sour edge, and textured like a light kefir.

If not for the multiple warnings I'd received about drinking too much camel milk at once, I would have happily guzzled an eight-ounce glass in one sitting. But when it comes to potential colon explosions, I err on the safe side. Camel milk is known to loosen the bowels, especially within the first few weeks of consumption, which makes it a popular remedy for constipation.

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11 comments
Elisabeth Morley
Elisabeth Morley

I know some people might be pretty icked out by this article, but I really enjoy reading about the unusual foods you've tried. It helps me realize that there is a much wider culinary world out there than I might think. Also I'm a big fan of Bizarre Foods so that probably helps.

Ben Mullen
Ben Mullen

This single photo sums up all horror movies. It is the scariest thing ever!

Ben Mullen
Ben Mullen

This single photo sums up all horror movies. It is the scariest thing ever!

rugulah
rugulah

I've tried a lot of these (I write about exotic food for a rival publications) and really enjoyed your take on this. But, you greatly overcooked the lutefisk, which is why you hated it. I interviewed a lutefisk guru who supervises a big lutefisk dinner in Duluth (550 lb. each year,) where they know a lot about this delicacy. This is what she told me:

“When I cook lutefisk it at home, I set the oven at 400º,” she said. “I put it on cookie sheets, sprayed with PAM. (Make sure the cookie sheet has sides, she warned. Lutefisk produces lots of liquid.) I brush the fish with butter with a little bit of Lawry's Seasoned Salt.

She warns against overcooking the lutefisk. “The hard part is you have to watch it. After about 10 minutes, I stick my fork in the pieces and if it feels like it’s going to flake, it’s done. If it looks like snot, don’t eat it.”


Bert Schlauch
Bert Schlauch

Try Filipino chocolate meat, made with pigs blood.

Jake Wood
Jake Wood

Award for most disgusting article ever? I. Could. Literally. PUKE. right now...

emileif
emileif

@rugulah Thanks for the tip! I'm not sure I have the balls to try it again, but I'll definitely take this into account if there's a next time :)

 
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