Don’t Eat the Octopork

Last night, my fiancée and I went out to dinner with her mother, who is visiting from the Philadelphia area. After an aborted mission to eat seafood at the Red Fish in Canton (closed, maybe for good (?) – their web site is now a random search portal), we decided to head over to Ikaros Restaurant in Greektown as we’d been meaning to try some Baltimore Greek food.

It was a nice place, family-friendly, with a fairly extensive menu. Being ovo-lacto-pesco-vegetarians, we honed in on the seafood. K ordered the Shrimp Guvetsaki with Rice, a sure win. Her mother, who does not adhere to our blasphemous ways of avoiding the consumption of land-dwellers, ordered the Stuffed Grape Leaves appetizer, another sure win (except for that ground beef thing).

I, on the other hand, being of an adventurous culinary nature, and suddenly feeling like this could be my episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, decided to try one of the specialsOctopus With Rice and Feta.

Now, I thought I liked octopus – I’ve eaten it in seafood stews, I’ve eaten it as sushi, I’ve eaten it in random Spanish dishes I can’t even remember the names of… But, I’d never had octopus like this before.

Here’s the official description of my meal: “Fresh octopus cut in small pieces, seasoned w/ herbs and wine, cooked w/ rice pilaf, and topped w/ feta cheese.”

When my dish arrived, I thought they’d made a mistake. That’s octopus? It doesn’t look like octopus, I thought. (Sorry, at the time I didn’t think to snap a picture with my cell phone.) That doesn’t taste like octopus. That doesn’t have the texture of octopus. I even asked my waitress to make sure. She reassured me, but I was skeptical until I found one of the beast’s briny tentacles lurking in the rice pilaf.

I quickly felt my episode of No Reservations transforming into an outtake from Bizarre Foods – Andrew Zimmern, you’ve got to try this dish… Apparently, when octopus is left to marinate in “herbs” and Greek white wine, then baked with rice pilaf and smothered in feta cheese, it transforms into something strange and, quite frankly, disturbing – the infamous OCTOPORK!

I swear, I thought I was eating pigs’ ears and snouts. That texture totally reminded me of how I imagine pigs’ feet. Waitress, are you sure that’s not swine in my pilaf? Ah, well…

Imagine a creature straight out of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, not as cuddly as a rakunk, not as weird as a pigoon, and not quite as ferocious as a bobkitten, but even more disturbing – an amalgam of the dark briny depths and a wild boar. All tentacles and snout. It gives me the shivers.

Could be worse, I guess, like that time my mother snuck the chicken hearts into the mole… Or I ended up with soup from what used to be my favorite Thai restaurant that, literally, tasted like ass…

It’s Corn! You’re Eating Corn!

I try to be aware of what I put into my body, so I tend to be a man who reads the food labels. I also tend to read CD liner notes and the copyright and acknowledgment pages in books. Perhaps its a borderline obsession… But I digress.

As I said, I like to read the labels and know what I’m eating. That way I can purchase the best possible food items available, not ones with filler materials (like xantham gum in cream cheese), or preservatives (like sodium benzoate in lemon juice). I also try to avoid anything with a corn-derived product on the list, unless I’m explicitly buying something like corn meal or tortilla chip or, well, corn!

Corn: they stick it into everything – your bread, your fruit juice, your ice cream, your iced tea… They probably fry your potato chips in it. They probably fed it to the livestock that you eat or from which you get your dairy.

I know, I know, this isn’t news. People like New York Times Magazine contributor and UC Berkley Knight Professor of Journalism Michael Pollan have been railing against corn as a cheap food additive for years, and against U.S. agricultural policy that promotes the excessive production of this crop.

But, have you ever heard of corn being in your soy sauce? That was a new one… Granted, the package of soy sauce in question came from a Chinese fast food joint (how much could I expect from fast food?), but can they even really call it soy sauce when the third ingredient is “hydrolyzed soy & corn protein”? And when they have to add “caramel color” to make it look right?

The packaging, oddly enough, also claimed “No MSG” and that the sauce in question was Pareve. That first claim, while technically true – no MSG was added to the sauce – does not mean that there is no MSG in the sauce. It turns out that any hydrolyzed protein inherently contains MSG!

It’s a little harder to get to the truth about the Pareve nature of the soy sauce. Was the sauce really processed according to Jewish dietary law? Fortunately, as I’m not Jewish, I’m not as concerned about this, although kosher foods tends to be handled in a much more clean and humanitarian way.

Back to the point at hand. Since when did they need to start adding corn to create soy sauce? Usually its just soy beans and/or wheat, depending on whether it’s tamari or shoyu. But corn?