The day I ate whale

BY ONEIKA RAYMOND

If you know me personally, or if you’ve read the post I wrote on my 7 travel truths, you’ll know this: I don’t like to experiment with food. Especially when I’m on the road. Which is why I still can’t believe that I voluntarily ate whale while in Norway.


First, a bit of background on my very particular palate: when it comes to food, this girl craves familiarity and tepid flavours. I have problems trying anything new, which is often a colossal problem when travelling.

My bias is unfair but not unfounded.  A spate of food poisonings in a number of international locales means that my very sensitive stomach can’t handle foreign seasonings and differences in cooking.  I puked my guts out in the foothills of the Himalayas after a hearty dinner in Nepal a few years back. I puked my guts out in Mexico after eating at a roadside stand in Zacatecas.  I’ve written on this blog about how I puked my guts out (in front of friends, the horror!) after eating some dodgy yogurt in China, and as well as shared the story of how I puked my guts out (thankfully alone, in the comfort of my hotel room) after eating some equally dodgy soup in Guatemala.

As you can imagine, these experiences have put me off being ‘experimental’ with my food choices when I travel.

But lately, instead of throwing up, I have been throwing caution to the wind.  A great way to learn about a culture, a people, is to eat their food.

In picturesque Bergen, we worked up an appetite and strolled to the central market in order to sate it. The market is a busy place, chock full of stalls selling every type of seafood imaginable. We perused the offerings with hungry eyes and distended bellies. Sauntering past a gentleman whipping up a batch mussels in garlic sauce, I couldn’t resist. I had to have a bowl, though I warily noted that, at 70 Norwegian Kronor ($11 USD) per steaming helping, this was an expensive indulgence.  Food is frighteningly dear in Norway.

Shared between us, the mussels were consumed in short order.  Appetite whetted but not satisfied, what else could we eat?  The answer was thrilling and daunting all at once. Whale.

I’m not sure why whale is eaten in Norway, but curiously, this Reuters article cites a study that asserts that whaling is less damaging to the environment than farming livestock.  According to the study, “greenhouse gas emissions caused by one meal of beef are the equivalent of eight meals of whale meat”.  According to pro-whaling lobbyists in Norway, eating whale saves the planet.  According to me, regardless of its effect on the environment, the prospect of eating whale is just plain scary.

Whatever the case, Liebling, the instigator, moved to another stall not too far from where we had the mussels and ordered a plate of whale steak. I, in turn, wrinkled my nose in dismay. The vendor told us it would be a few minutes before the whale would be ready and gave us a complimentary plate of grilled crustaceans to gnaw on in the meantime.

 

Too soon, the food arrived. To be honest, it looked like beef.  Accompanied by a roll and potato salad,  I almost forgot that it was whale. Until I tasted it, that is.

I bit into it wholeheartedly, naively, and was jolted by the shock of an indescribable flavour. The texture resembled beef but the taste was… intense.  Overpowering. Foreign.

 And absolutely not to my liking.

I chewed, swallowed, and hastily stuffed my mouth with the (very tasty) potato salad in an effort to mask the taste of the whale.  Liebling agreed that the taste was like nothing he had ever had before… and then proceeded to eat his plate clean.  I’m thinking he liked it.

As for me? I came, I saw, and I tasted whale… for the first and last time.

Do you like eating foreign/exotic foods?  What the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten abroad?

 

Our stay in Norway was arranged by the kind folks at Visit Norway USA. As always, opinions expressed are all mine.

SHARING IS CARING

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64 Comments

  • Well kudos to you for at least trying it. I have an odd palate too…I like big gourmet meals as much as the next guy, but I tend to avoid things like foie gras and anything involving brains lol. Whale is something I could work myself up to try, but I doubt it would make its way into my favorites:)

    Reply
    • Ugh.. Foie gras is another thing I despise. For some reason, for me, it tastes like a really greasy spam!

      Reply
  • I have a “sure, why not?” mentality most of the time, none more so than when travelling so I really like trying new foods but I’m not actually often a fan of said foods.

    Reply
    • Liebling is a lot like you. He may know that he wont enjoy a food, but is totally interested in giving it a try in the name of experimentation. Good on both of you!

      Reply
    • I hear ya. Unfortunately, I’m a bit uninformed when it comes to the whaling industry and the dangers to the environment- I must research it a bit more before being able to take a stand.

      Reply
  • I agree with you that “a great way to learn about a culture, a people, is to eat their food.” I love food, and I will try just about anything once. I loath snakes and I would be willing to try some deep friend morsels once. I applaud your sense of adventure for trying the whale meat. When I make it to Norway, I too will try some whale meat, I can’t let the lady with the sensitive stomach beat me at that. 😀

    Reply
    • LOL. Glad I was able to inspire (but don’t blame me if you don’t like it). 😉

      Reply
  • I’ve had whale before in Japan, but it was raw, so it didn’t have a strong taste at all. I wonder what the Norwegians do to it–in the picture it looks like it’s been smoked or somehow preserved. It looks like beef jerky, actually.

    Reply
    • Hmm, that’s so interesting that the taste was less intense when raw! If I was an adventurous gal I’d try it in Japan you compare… But after my utter dislike of cooked whale I’m not so sure I’d like to chance it with the raw version. :-0

      Reply
  • Oh no! You didn’t like it! What a pity. I’m not sure if I’d eat whale. It is perhaps not the best reason but I stopped eating my favourite candy bar in school because it had whale fat in. I know, I eat meat, I’m a hypocrite. I’ve never disliked something for the taste, it is always the texture that puts me off. So kudu meat is tasty but too gritty and tough to eat. Although kudu biltong (jerky) is nice.

    Reply
    • Sometimes I’m just biased about food because of its origins or appearance, so I don’t blame you!

      Reply
  • That was so funny & decidedly brave of you for carrying on regardless. I have no qualms about discreetly spitting out a mouthful of unwanted food into a paper napkin! I kind of like fish but hate the ‘fishy’ taste if that makes any sense. Hence I can happily eat grilled mackerel or salmon (my favourites) but gag at the taste of cod-liver oil, nori or similar seafoods. I imagine whale would have an intensely fishy flavour, a huge no-no for me.
    Generally speaking I am not very adventurous when it comes to trying new foods not because I have a sensitive stomach (if anything mine is made of iron) but my senses of smell and vision are intense and easily excited (or turned right off) depending on what I see (or imagine!) So knowing its whale would be off-putting but if it smelled fine (to me) and tasted okay I may press on.
    I don’t ever feel I am missing out on experiencing the culture as usually there is something fairly bland or sweet in every country’s cuisine that most people can try. I’d rather be happy when I am eating and for me that means eating food I willingly chose and know I enjoy.

    Reply
    • Lol at you spitting out the offending food into a piece of paper! I always feel bad rejecting food even though it has the potential to make me sick. Conversely, I hate trying something, not liking it, and then having the bad taste linger in my mouth. Ick!

      Reply
  • The grilled crustaceans looked very tasty! You never know exactly what you are eating with most SE Asian soups or noodle bowls so I can’t tell you the strangest item (unidentified). Safe Travels !!!

    Reply
    • Agreed! When I lived in Hong Kong a vegan friend of mine visited and had the hardest time finding food that was pork free. In China, pork seems to be in everything!

      Reply
  • I am the opposite and I’m all about eating new food. I grew up in a household where you had to try it but if you didn’t like it you didn’t have to eat it. But I am so proud of you for trying it.

    Reply
    • I’m really trying to stretch myself more when I’m abroad- I figure that it’s a unique opportunity to give new foods a try! Besides that, your yummy food posts give me that extra nudge. 😉

      Reply
  • When i was in Iceland I had the opp to eat whale and i just couldn’t do it. I was informed that its a largely Scandinavian traditional that mostly tourist take part in. Maybe its because i had just come from whale watching as well. I did eat a bit of lamb and skyr since that is their specialty. I did try antelope in Zambia and it was delicious. Gonna try some more game in Cape Town so i will let u know how that ends up…

    Reply
    • Wow, you are super adventurous, I need to take a page out of your book.. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  • Well done, it’s good to try everything! well, maybe it’s a good thing you didn’t like it as it is a bit difficult to find any whale sandwiches around London 😉

    Reply
  • I’m proud of and excited for you that you’re trying new foods these days! Hopefully you’ve already gotten your fair share of food poisoning and will be safe for a while. I don’t know if I’d try whale specifically because of some of the ethical issues surrounding whaling – although I’m not informed on the details – but you know I’m usually up for trying the exotic!

    Reply
    • It’s been nearly a year since I’ve gotten food poisoning lol. Hoping to continue on this trend!

      Reply
  • I just can’t get behind anyone eating whale. Probably because here in Australia we have a bit of an issue with people coming into international waters around our country and whaling for “scientific research” but really just to feed the lucrative whale meat industry in their home country.

    I think that it’s one thing to eat animals farmed for that purpose, animals that aren’t endangered or at risk, and completely another to eat more exotic animals. Would anyone ever eat tiger? Or elephant? Or rhino? (Maybe some of you would, and that’s your choice!).

    I don’t mean to criticise you at all, everyone has to make up their own minds about this sort of thing, it’s just my opinion. Trying new foods is great!

    Reply
  • I just returned from Iceland where I tried Minke whale. It did have a beefy taste to it. I just had a small slice. I don’t think I would order a whole meal of it. I’ve had alpaca in Peru. It was pretty good. I couldn’t bring myself to try the guinea pig, especially after seeing them running around in their pen.

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