Every culture has their barometer food, by which all disgustingness is judged. I think in the United States it’s liver. Sure, there are people who love it, drizzled with onions and fried in a pan, or mashed up with eggs and I’m not sure what else to make my subculture’s signature dish, chopped liver. I am so anti the idea of liver, that I won’t even let my mother call her “mock chopped liver” dish liver near me. I call it miver, or preferably, “that dip.” It has stringbeans in it, and seems to be a not-so-distant cousin to a recipe from Camille Kingsolver in the book “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral.”
At any rate, the barometer food here in Chile is berenjena. the lowly and innocent eggplant. I cannot for the life of me understand this, as eggplant has been one of my favorites since before I can remember, with the exception of about a year when I got badly stomach-sick right after eating it and felt an aversion to it. But that was years ago.
Anyway, eggplant. Baked in the oven or charred on the stove, it practically tastes like butter. I love it in caponata, or in baba ganoush. Eggplant parmigiana is amazing (when done right), and my mom used to make baked eggplant sandwiches with the eggplant as the bread. Sigh. But Chileans will fruncir (knit/squinch) their whole face and say about something they don’t like, “es como la berenjena” (it’s like eggplant).
Fine. Everyone’s got a food they don’t like, and somehow eggplant got the short end of the stick here. But what I really can’t figure out for the life of me is how eggplant “won” over the dreaded cochayuyo.
Cochayuyo, Durvillaea antarctica is a giant monster scary seakelp with tendrils reaching 5 meters in length, which is ripped out of the ocean, folded into bundles or chopped into pieces and sold at the supermarket. It shows up in salads, in stews, even in cochayuyo empanadas. It’s high in iodine and fiber and people swear it’s good for you. I don’t want to ruin the taste of it for you by telling you what it tastes like to me, but just think of something foul. Got it? Now make it chewy and hard to swallow.
So I guess there are gustos y gustos (all kinds of tastes). Give me eggplant over monster scary seakelp any day, unless I’m kayaking in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State with some friends and we’re using the kelp to anchor ourselves and we spy a little seal’s head popping up through the tangle. Then I’ll take the scary seakelp. Because I’m pretty sure eggplant doesn’t float, and even if it did, it would be hard to hold onto.