Nine local foods that stretch the definition of the word ‘edible’ to its very breaking point. Earn bragging rights in a single bite!
1. Salmiakki (salted licorice) at Parker and Otis. This quirky-cute cafe/grocery in downtown Durham stocks a dozen or so different kinds of international licorice, from innocuous Australian chews to deadly Finnish triple-salted diamonds. The “salt” in salmiakki is actually ammonium chloride, so that alarming cat pee aftertaste is not your imagination.
2. Down an entire plate of chittlins at Mama Dips’s Kitchen in Chapel Hill. Without holding your nose. Mama Dip’s – or simply ‘Dip’s’, as most locals call it – is the Triangle’s most famous soul food restaurant. While their fried chicken, okra and pecan pie are OK, if overpriced, what makes Dip’s truly distinctive is their house specialty, chittlins – AKA “fried pig intestines.” These chewy, whiffy little nuggets are not for everyone; non-Southerners have been known to describe the flavor as “wet dog” or “rubber hose-meets-gym sock.” Find out for yourself.
3. The menudo (beef tripe stew) weekend special at Fiesta Grill. Spicy and pungent, menudo’s said to cure everything from hangovers to dysentery, but its barnyard tang is definitely an acquired taste. Fiesta Grill, a dumpy little bungalow halfway between Carrboro and Graham, has practically no seating due to arcane building code regulations, but fans of their chile verde and enchiladas suizas will drive all the way here for takeout. But I encourage you to wait for a table – menudo does not travel well.
4. Signing the waver (seriously) to try Cold Sweat ice cream at Sunni Sky’s Ice Cream in Angier. Made with three kinds of peppers and two kinds of hot sauce, it’s been known to make customers vomit after a single spoonful. Chili-sensitive crybabies have several dozen other homemade flavors to choose from, from apple pie to white chocolate.
5. Buying, cooking and serving goat penis, one of the many plastic-wrapped bits of offal available at Cary’s Grand Asia Market. If you can send me a genuine goat penis recipe, you’ll win the Most Badass Foodie in the Triangle prize. Honorable mentions for recipes using pork bung or pork uterus, also on offer.
6. Brains! Braaains! BRRRAINS! Pork brains, that is, served with scrambled eggs (which are disturbingly brain-like, suddenly), at the cafe at the North Carolina State Farmer’s Market in Raleigh. This classic Southern breakfast has something like one million percent of your daily cholesterol limit, so you’ll have an excuse for putting your fork down after a squishy bite or two.
7. Licking a dill pickle SnoBall at Pelican’s in Apex. This side-of-the-road stand specializes in New Orleans-style SnoBalls – a scoop of ice cream rolled in a layer of crushed ice, doused with your choice of 100 kinds of syrup. The dill pickle flavor is the neon chartreuse color of cartoon vomit and tastes like someone poured salt in your Kool-Aid. Why? Why?
8. Sucking down a durian shake at Pho 9n9, a terrific little Vietnamese joint tucked away in an RTP strip mall. Durian, a spiky, yellow-fleshed fruit beloved across Southeast Asia, is so aggressively stinky it’s banned on public transportation in places like Singapore. Fans have described the flavor as “a rich custard highly flavored with almonds;” detractors think “pig shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock” is more apt. Having sampled durian in many forms – fresh, candied, in cake, in ice cream – I’m inclined to agree with the latter. You be the judge.
9. Crunching crickets and munching mealworm bruschetta at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science’s annual BugFest. Mmm, antennae.