Green ants and ham

Barney Zwartz shares his personal experience of the many and varied forms of hospitality practiced by different cultures around the world.

One of the key rules of travelling is that if someone is kind enough to invite you into their home you don’t enquire too closely about what is on your plate. Thus I have eaten horse steak in France, monkey-brain dumplings and hen’s feet in China and ram’s testicle kebab in Turkey.

In Hong Kong I ate tiny whole birds on a skewer, and the crunch as I bit into the skulls was not appetising.

Nearly 40 years ago I had the fortune to accompany the fabled Bush Tucker Man, Major Les Hiddins, for a couple of days in the Northern Territory desert. Among other delicacies, we sampled goanna roasted on a spit, various berries and – perhaps oddest of all – live green ants. We had to bite their abdomens sharpish before the other end of the ants bit us. They tasted like a bitter lime, though I may have been influenced by the colour.

Had I ever had to live like John the Baptist on locusts and wild honey I would be much thinner than I am, for honey alone is not a balanced diet.

In Vietnam last year I was introduced to snake wine – a rice wine into which a whole venomous snake is stuffed and pickled. The practice, believed to date back some 3000 years, is supposed to be invigorating, though it is not always safe. Of course, I would find any encounter with a snake invigorating, though not necessarily enjoyable.

But hospitality takes many forms and in most cultures is hugely important; this still lingers in the West. It’s a lovely thing. The Muslims have a tradition that the Patriarch Abraham never ate alone, that he would wait on the road and insist that travellers ate with him. Fried grasshopper and stuffed camel, perhaps.

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