Q: As a Texan (currently deployed overseas with the Texas Army National Guard), I have eaten my fair share of strange things. I’ve come to love deep-fried tripas and smoked machitos (heart, liver, and kidneys of kid goat stuffed in goat intestine and smoked on the pit). I have also eaten rattlesnake, armadillo tail with gravy, alligator gar, Rocky Mountain oysters, and mollejas (sweetbreads) cooked on the grill. And because my family enters the World Championship BBQ Goat Cook-off, in Brady, every year, I have also eaten my share of barbecued goat. My question: what is the strangest thing you have eaten in Texas?
Christopher “Jonesy” Jones, Camp Redleg, United Arab Emirates
A: Among all the things for which Texas is known, the easy availability of exceptionally good grub might be tops. Texas cuisine, or “Texas Cookin’” as Guy Clark so mouthwateringly put it on the title track to his popular 1976 release (“We gonna get a big ol’ sausage/ A big ol’ plate of ranch-style beans/ I could eat the heart of Texas/ We gonna need some brand new jeans”), stands up to any of the country’s famous regional foods. Indeed, Texas’s edible offerings also stand out from other provincial victuals. And that’s not just the Texanist’s opinion. You can ask pretty much anyone and they’ll tell you the same thing. Has any singer-songwriter ever seen fit to pen an ode to Utah cookin’? Or Connecticut cookin’? Or Oklahoma cookin’? The Texanist doesn’t know for certain, but he seriously doubts it.
So unique, in fact, is the fare we consume here in Texas that if all the dishes that could be reasonably labeled “weird” were set out buffet-style on a long table, we’d have ourselves quite a strange smorgasbord. Such a spread would, no doubt, include all the foods you mentioned, but there’d also likely be alligator (as opposed to alligator gar, which isn’t an alligator at all), squirrel, oxtail, cottontail, snail, mutton, pork rinds, toasted chapulines (grasshoppers), mescal worms, mudbugs, frog legs, soup made of turtle, blue crabs, chitlins (hog intestines), head cheese (jellied loaf of sundry pig parts), tomato aspic (like the one served by the nice ladies at the old Stagecoach Inn, in Salado, and by the Texanist’s aunt Nino, in Temple), chili with beans (a.k.a. beef legume stew), vegetarian “chili” (a.k.a. not really chili), beef tongue, beef cheek, steak fingers (only strange sounding), blood sausage, pickled sausage, pickled eggs, pickled pig feet, and waffles shaped like Wyoming instead of the Lone Star State.
The Texanist is proud to say that he is fairly certain that he has, at one time or another and with varying degrees of satisfaction, choked down most all of these somewhat strange items, as well as most of those on your list. He cannot say for sure which was the absolute oddest, though that jiggly tomato aspic is pretty peculiar stuff. Also, the Texanist once ate a potato salad that had been jazzed up by way of numerous small triangular-shaped pig ear tips, but that was in Mexico, not Texas, as your question specified. Perhaps the strangest thing the Texanist has ever eaten in Texas was a batch of southeast Texas boudin that was bought from the car trunk of a roadside purveyor and brought to the magazine’s office by one of the Texanist’s colleagues. It certainly caused the strangest gastrointestinal reaction the Texanist has ever experienced in Texas. Enough about that, though.
What the Texanist can say for sure is that the weirdest food he’s never eaten in Texas—and never wants to eat in Texas or anywhere else—is the Tex-Mex barbacoa delicacy known as ojos. Yes, ojos. That’s right, eyeballs! For the uninformed, barbacoa, at least traditional South Texas-style barbacoa, is derived from a traditional method whereby the whole head of a cow is slow-cooked in a pit in the ground before the various tender meats—cachete (cheek), lengua (tongue) sesos (brains), and ojos (eyes)—are scraped away (and plucked out) and served up.
To satiate the curious, the Texanist asked Texas Monthly’s barbecue editor, Daniel Vaughn, to describe the experience of eating great big barbecued cow peepers, which he has done twice and which he ranks as the strangest thing he’s ever eaten in Texas. The Texanist will spare you all the grimy details (they were plentiful), but Daniel did say that the eyeballs were heavier than he thought they’d be and that they were less like an extremely fatty meat than like a slightly meaty fat. “Gelatinous” is the word he used to describe them. “Probably tender enough to swallow without chewing, but much like a large oyster, you definitely want to chew so it doesn’t go down your throat all at once,” he said. Yum! Daniel, despite the Texanist’s prodding, could not give a convincing explanation for why he thought it was a good idea to give this freakish foodstuff a second chance. Still, here’s to his intestinal fortitude.
How’s that for a strange food eaten in Texas? If there’s a stranger one, the Texanist has thankfully never heard of it, and doubly thankfully never ingested it.
Thanks for the question. And if you ever find your way from the United Arab Emirates to neighboring Saudi Arabia, be sure to keep an eye out (sorry) for the rare regional dish known as uromastyx kabsa. If you do manage to find and partake of it, please let the Texanist know where it stands in your personal ranking of weird foods. Bon appétit, Mr. Jones!
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.