When I was producing my international wine, food, and spirits travel show, “Culinary Travels with Dave Eckert,” I used to get three questions asked of me all the time.
The first was inevitably, “Where’s your favorite place to travel?”
I would explain that I never compared destinations. I always went on my adventures with an open mind-ready to enjoy the sights, sounds, and delicacies of each locale with a clean slate and an open palate.
I’d then say, “Tuscany.” Let's face it, Tuscany, especially on someone else’s dime, is pretty much an unbeatable place to go when you’re a food and wine lover like me.
The second question was usually, “What’s the best meal you've ever had?"
Here, I’d relate that I’m no snob when it comes to food — that I appreciate a great peameal back bacon sandwich from the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto; a wonderful Italian beef from Al’s in my hometown of Chicago or a combo beef and pork with seasoned fries from Oklahoma Joe’s (yes, I’m a fan of sandwiches) every bit as much as I love a meal at a two or three Michelin-starred gourmet restaurant.
Then I’d be honest and say, “Spiaggia” when Paul Bartolotta was excecutive chef. My wife and I had an annivesary dinner during truffle season some years ago where Paul came out and shaved black truffles on our dishes for every course (even dessert, I think), as sommelier Henry Bishop paired the wines.
But, the third question was always my favorite because it required no prestidigitation on my part. The question: “What’s the wierdest thing you’ve ever eaten?”
I’d ponder. Was it the black tofu in Shanghai that came out smoking and smelling so rank that we had to open the windows to ventilate the place? No. It was terrible, mind you, but landed only in second place.
Was it biltong-a, special cured meat in South Africa that often features water buffalo? No, I actually like biltong-a. At least you know what’s in it unlike a Slim Jim.
Was it the horse carpaccio that I had for lunch with a lovely Valpolicello in Italy’s Veneto region. No, the dish was actually quite tasty, though, in retrospect, I probably would have enjoyed it more had I been unaware of the meat’s equine origins.
No, for this question there is only one answer and it stems from the Central Mercado in the Mexican city of Guadalajara. It is, and I don’t know how to put this delicately, bull’s penis ceviche.
How does one come to partake of such a ceviche? That’s a fair question.
I was filming a segment of my show in the market with an interpretor friend of mine and we were in the meat section. There was a small platter on one of the counters with something that looked like cocktail weenies in it.
I asked my friend, on camera, if the butcher could please tell us what it was? After the question, and some schoolboy-ish snickering between the butcher and my pal, I got my answer.
My friend, soon to be ex-friend, popped a sample in his mouth, so I, as host, had to follow suit. I tried to describe the flavors of the dish, which is considered a delicacy, to viewers. I chewed, but was soon forced to spit it out — on camera.
It wasn’t so much the taste that was off-putting. It was really rather mild, with citrus notes from the lemon and lime marinade. It was the texture that was horrific. Though I’ve never had the pleasure, it seemed to be akin to chewing on a nose or an ear.
Maybe Mike Tyson would enjoy. Anyway, those are my three questions, and that’s my final answer.
And, no, I didn’t ask for the recipe.
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado.