Strange foods! I've seen a lot of them while traveling through Asia. I wasn't always courageous enough to try them all even when I wanted to. A friend of mine told me they serve live monkeys in the Sichuan area which I haven't personally seen, though I have once tried cow brains dipped in curry- it was soft, gooey, and made me feel guilty with every bite, a remorse I am haunted by to this day. They have huge fried spiders in Cambodia, a species of tarantula which I don't imagine will be coming to a KFC near us any time soon. In the movie, Old Boy, Oh Dae-su eats a live octopus which doesn't seem that tasty, though I wonder what it would be like eating a live kraken leg and if you're the one who'll end up getting suctioned to death. What's the strangest thing you've eaten? There are lots of weird foods in role-playing games, those long, sprawling, narratives, disguised in sprites and polygons. Let's start with…
Earthbound: Mammoth burgers! I just saw a mammoth fossil the other day at a museum and its tusks were longer than my body. There are whole stratifications of bodies fossilized millennia ago that once ruled, devoured, languished, and triumphed, now paraded for curious tourists so they can post selfies in exchange for likes. Tens of thousands of years ago, the mammoth would have crushed every bone in my body with a stomp. Now, they're being sold for $98 in Earthbound, proving that if dinosaurs were alive, humanity would have found a way to relegate them to a seven-course meal at some fancy restaurant to impress on an overpriced Valentine's date. Wait a second. That French quail costs $500 bucks. Even if I washed dishes, I'd have to work a real long time at minimum wage…
The Legend of Zelda: There's a certain weird looking creature that resembles a stack of pancake vomit accordioning itself into a Like Like. His cuisine of choice? Big shields. They're one of the few creatures to make an appearance in almost every Zelda game, meaning they've survived every time line, every dimensional shift, every Rubiconal choice good old Link makes in his generational iterations, indicating their evolutionary prowess, unlike the poor old Mammoth. Magical shields apparently make for a good Thanksgiving dish. Not so much human flesh which is usually regurgitated. The Like Like gets its name from a Hylian proverb: "Shield-eaters and world leaders have many likes alike."
Fallout 3: War. War never changes. Why do people eat other people? Strange Meat. Human flesh grilled into kebabs from the battlefields of corpses and those who've fallen prey to stray hunters. Eating the meat irradiates you but doesn't affect your karma. It appears even the spirits don't begrudge hunger.
Suikoden 2: Recruit Hai Yo and engage in cooking duels against rival chef schools. Cook up sunomonos, croquettes, and obentos. Competition is fierce. Why do I watch reality TV shows about food? I can't taste any of it. It all looks amazing and makes me hungry. But there's no Smell-o-Vision so I can at least savor the spices and peppers the celebrity chefs use. Instead, I watch celebrity judges taste, enunciate, and score their favorites. Are their palates similar to mine? I can never taste any of the dishes on the show, so why do I care who wins? I've had frozen foods that were thawed and tasted incredible. I've had freshly cooked organic gourmets that tasted like rubber. The fault, dear TAY readers, isn't in the stars, but my tongue. Aromas blend into one another. My stomach is left empty after I finish multiple rounds of Suikoden's cooking mini-game. Why is there a piece of hair in my ninety-nine cent sandwich?
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night: Why does a half-vampire, half-human need a pot roast to replenish health? Who is putting those pot roasts there? Do the pot roasts in Castlevania never go bad? Are they coated in preservatives (sodium nitrite, butylated hydroxytoluene, sodium benzoate, and all the other names that make vampires seem less horrific in comparison) that keep the zombies away?
Final Fantasy XI: Bad milk tastes kind of like cheese, crap, and fungus brewed together in a goulash of white. Strange Milk in Final Fantasy XI gives you health and has a regenerative effect, giving you 5HP (hitpoints) every 3 seconds. I remember when I used to await every Final Fantasy. The seconds seemed like days as I awaited the advent of Final Fantasy 6, 7, and 8. I remember hearing about Terra, a witch decimating the armed forces of the Empire with magic which had been sealed during the War of the Magi a thousand years before. I never thought a clownish madman could end up destroying the world and crushing my innocence. The world would no longer be the same as the good guys failed to win in a video game. I should play the MMORPG version of Final Fantasy. I want to try strange milk.
Ultima III: Exodus: The greatest enemy in Ultima wasn't the ogres or the leviathan serpents. It was food. The food quantities kept on decreasing whether you were excavating the dungeons or sucked into a whirlpool into Ambrosia so forays to the grocer were a necessity and you had to keep your food rates above 100. The party eventually snacked their way into the ultimate egress, the unavoidable exodus. Death.
*Peter Tieryas likes to explore strange foods as well as strange videogames. A slightly modified version of this post went up at Entropy.