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Ponderings on all aspects of travel - both at home and abroad.

Jim Eagles: Grubs up, so let's hoe in

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One of the best things about going overseas - for me anyway - is the chance to try different foods. But I do know people who insist on eating the sort of food they get at home.

I once had an English colleague who spent two weeks in Italy and lived on chip butties. I mean, Italy, all that fabulous food, and he ate chip sandwiches. Why bother travelling?

Of course, if you're going to experiment sometimes you find something you definitely don't want to try again. But you're also likely to enjoy some marvellous eating experiences.

Over the years I've chomped on fruitbat, assorted crabs, possum, crocodile, mopane worm, ostrich, snails, muttonbird, seaweed, crocodile, jellyfish, some sort of insect eggs (I couldn't find out whose), kangaroo, kudu, snake, emu, witchetty grub, hedgehog, frog ... well, you get the idea.

I'm sorry to say I recently passed on the goat-testicle wine, in Hanoi, because I wasn't sure about my stomach at the time, but the rice wine with a scorpion in it, in Luang Prabang, was just fine.

As a confirmed carnivore I loved the ostrich, emu, kudu, kangaroo and the rest of the red meat. The seaweeds - whether in soups or salads - were delicious. The witchetty grub had a nice savoury taste and I wouldn't have minded more.

Crab, of course, is fantastic.

But not all these strange meals have produced exciting taste sensations.

The basil frog - what a great name for a dish, conjures up images of a small, green Basil Fawlty - in Phnom Penh was disappointing because the frogs were tiny and the dish was full of little bits of bone.

The sliced jellyfish, in Tokyo, was basically tasteless. The crocodile in a cheese sauce, in Darwin, didn't seem to taste of anything beyond cheese sauce. The flying fox in Vanuatu seemed to be mostly bits of bone in a fruity sauce. The mopane worm, in Victoria Falls, was gritty (though I did get a certificate for eating it).

But the worst eating experience I can remember was the muttonbird I ate at the South Sea Hotel on Stewart Island.

I know many people think they're great - in fact several people dining there at the same time hoed into their birds with gusto - but for me the combination of the pool of oil which ran out when I made the first incision, and the oily and fishy-flavoured birdflesh was not to my taste.

Still, being a well brought up lad, trained not to leave the table until everything is finished, I did eat it all ... and drank a lot of wine to try to wash away the flavour.

But that's not going to stop me opting for the curried cat, roast guinea pig or pickled anaconda next time I see it on the menu. Who knows, it could be fantastic, and if you don't try you don't find out.

Anyway, you don't have to dine on exotic creatures to have an unpleasant culinary ordeal.

The meal most vividly recalled by my wife for its sheer awfulness was a simple McDonald's breakfast.

At the time we were staying in Sydney at one of those hotels where the rooms are cheap but the breakfasts cost the price of a small car and so - as is often a good idea if the breakfast isn't included in the room rate - we used to wander out every morning looking for somewhere more reasonable to lay the foundation for the day.

We found several great places where you could get the likes of bacon, eggs, toast and coffee for just a few dollars, but for some reason I wanted to try the big breakfast being advertised at the McDonald's, just over the road from our hotel.

No one else was keen but by dint of nagging I eventually won the argument and so, bright and early one morning, our party trooped into McDonald's and ordered bacon and egg McMuffins and coffee.

I'm not sure what was going on in McDonald's that morning, because I've usually found their food pretty consistent, but this time the eggs appeared to have been made of some ceramic material, the muffins had a consistency one would usually associate with an old leather schoolbag and the coffee tasted as though it had been produced by boiling up black shoe polish.

We did our best, but to get a single mouthful to a state where it could be swallowed took half an hour of chewing, and trying to wash it down with the coffee made things worse, so eventually we gave up and sought food elsewhere.

I have since had reasonable breakfasts at McDonald's - most notably at Auckland International Airport where Asian food seems to be the only other early morning option - but unfortunately that Sydney experience is seared on the memory of other members of the family who have never let me forget it.

Personally, I think the problem is that they lack a sense of adventure. If you always stick to the known and the predictable you'll have a very dull life. You've got to walk on the wild side now and again and try basil frog, baked snake, roast possum ... or McDonald's.

Do you have any tales of exceptionally awful, or even unusual, meals?

- NZ Herald

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