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August 26, 2008

Top 10 Most Difficult Foods to Eat

DificultPomegranate.jpgWhen I decided to go with a Top 10 Most Difficult Foods to Eat,  I thought, no problem. I'll do a search in the Sun archives, key phrase "difficult to eat," byline "Large."

But I found that in almost two decades I've used the phrase three times: once to describe someone who finds it difficult to eat healthfully around the holidays, once complaining that Wayne's Bar-B-Que's wings had so much sauce they were difficult to eat, and once saying that the baguette at the Vanguard Cafe, which had been toasted, was so crunchy it was difficult to eat. (Vanguard Cafe? I don't even remember it, let alone its baguettes.)

In other words, there are few foods greedy people find difficult to eat, and I imagine that's true of most of you foodies.

Still, the object of this exercise is to think back to when you were first introduced to something, perhaps at a dinner party, that you had never faced before. Raw oysters on the half shell might fall in that category, but they are sort of self-explanatory. The idea behind this Top 10 is foods that either a) made you feel a little panicky that you would embarrass yourself if you tried to tackle them or b) take so much work they are hardly worth the trouble.

I decided to eliminate hardshell crabs from contention because, hey, all of us have been picking crabs from birth, right? And because you thought they would be No. 1 on the list.

Luckily I had a lot of help from my friends making up this Top 10. Also here: ...

1) Whole lobster. Not only does it take specialized equipment, you have to know what's edible and what's not. The telsons? The tomalley? The mouth parts?

2) Pomegranates. I wondered what advice I could find on the internet, and here is a list of the equipment (not sure why the plurals) you'll need to get pomegranate juice, which admittedly is not exactly eating them, but still:

*cheesecloth strainers

* pomegranates

* blenders

* food processors

* knife

* nut picks

3) Snow crab claws. Why these would ever be served as part of a buffet (see link above) is beyond me.

4) Escargots in their shells. Remember that scene in Pretty Woman where the shell slips and goes flying?

5) Marrow bones. When you eat your osso buco, you can suck the marrow out or use your marrow spoon.

6) Whole fish, not filleted for you, especially when it's fried and sauced. 

7) Sushi. Whether you have to eat it in one bite is still a controversy in the U.S. If you do, you could choke on some of the bigger pieces. And do you know what to do with the wasabi? Do you know when to eat the pickled ginger root?

8) Whole artichokes. If you had never seen one before, could you guess that you scrape the bottom of the leaves off with your teeth, or that you scrape off the choke with your fork to get to the heart?

9) Mangoes. It's like when George Burns, playing God, admitted he made a few mistakes, such as making the avocado seed too large. The mango seed, it seems to me, is a much bigger error.

10) Brazil nuts and hazelnuts in their shell

Bonus food: Rice with chopsticks if you're not Asian.

You may think I didn't do any work putting this list together because I stole so many suggestions from my readers. You would be wrong. I just did a survey in which I asked five editors if they thought small game birds were difficult to eat because of the bones and lack of meat. I got two vegetarians, one who said she didn't even look if someone else ordered them, one who had never eaten them, and one who said, "No."

I also had one editor say, "Why would I want to read a Top 10 list of things that are difficult to eat?"

OK. Next week we revisit Top 10 Crab Houses.

(Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 4:09 AM | | Comments (63)
Categories: Top Ten Tuesdays


Hubby says that pomegranates do not belong on the list. Anything can be messy & difficult if you're making juice. If you're just eating, sit outside, cut the pomegranate open, and eat the seeds (while fighting off the dogs, who also love them).

Otherwise, he thinks this is a good list.

Perhaps I shouldn't have included the juice; I just thought it was funny. I do think people who don't know about Persephone aren't sure what to eat when they open a pomegranate for the first time. EL

Like game birds, goat curry can be difficult to eat, because it's so bony. But it's so delicious. Perhaps if I had a marrow spoon ...

Always amazed at the little asides that really lead some of us to new information. I was not familiar with Persephone. You made me look! Dining@Large, not just for the!

Sticky rice is not hard to eat with chopsticks. Of course I am Asian...

Just a hint out there for non-Asians: putting soy sauce on white rice is not only disgusting but an insult to the chef who prepared your meal!

The Vanguard Cafe was a great artsy-homey place on Charles Street with lots of stuffed chairs and sofas, that was replaced by Sotto Sopra.

I'm waiting for the creation of "pitless" cherries. I love cherries - but having to spit the pit almost spoils the experience for me.

Picture Lucille Ball ,as Lucy Ricardo sitting at a French cafe trying to eat an order of escargot

Anyone ever wrestle with tails on shrimp in a plate of saucy pasta. Do you leave one third of a $2 to $5 @ shrimp or just go for it and hope for the best. I always request tails removed and know what kind of restaurant i'm dealing with by there response. MM can you id me?

Maybe we need to put a caveat on the pomegranate entry: difficult to eat without looking like you've survived a blood bath. I can never get the seeds out without getting covered by a spray of bright red juice. But maybe that's just me . . .


My boyfriend loves white rice, soaked in soy sauce. Bleah. Maybe if I tell him that he'll believe me that it's sick and unnatural. :)

Also- I can eat most rice with chopsticks, and I am probably just about the least-Asian person you will ever meet. Practice makes perfect!

A good gyro is pretty hard to eat, primarily because they're so darned messy...but oh so good.

Hey, there's another Top 10 idea. The top 10 Gyros. Penn Restaurant on Pratt St., The Greek place in Lexington Market (don;t know the name), Samos, and Maria d's in Fed Hill would all make my personal list.

I had an unfortunate incident in Rotterdam while eating escargots, periwinkles, cockles and the like, all on a bed of ice. As I went to stick my fork in one of the escargot, it ducked back into the shell. I was laughing so hard, I nearly fell off my chair. It was alive, alive-o!

I had to laugh at your mention of Persephone. My elder son would have been named Persephone if he had been a girl.

By the time my duaghter came along, I decided to name her Jenni Rebecca after a Barbra Streisand song. Lucky girl...

Brazil nuts are extremely hard to open. Many a holiday fingers have been pinched trying it.

Also, what about sunflower seeds? I dunno if they are worth all the trouble.

Sunflower seeds are more about the act of eating them than the enjoyment of the taste. I'm not saying they aren't good to eat - they are.

Oh, those holiday nuts like Brazil nuts are not meant to be eaten. People always put out a basket of those things along with various cracking tools that look like they came out of a medieval torture chamber. The nuts are almost always rancid, and the shells end up flying everywhere from the couch to the carpet where they will not be found until someone discovers them while walking barefoot in July.

I keep thinking about the Tom Hanks character in "Big" eating baby corn in the same way as corn on the cob. Great scene!

Stick with burgers and fries!

Place a large bowl of water in the sink, and seed the pomegranates under water. Then strain out the water to leave a pile of delicious pomegranate seeds. It doesn't make a mess, and it's kind of fun.

I love the effort that goes into eating a pomegranate, and the ritual of eating sushi.
How about the portabella sandwich from the farmer's market, handed to you in tinfoil? The juices soak through the pita, dissolving it, and leaving you with a mass of mushroom, cheese, greens, etc...
messy but good, and Baltimore specific.

Durian, jack fruit and coconut.

Good ones. I thought of coconut too late. EL

The crepes at the Baltimore farmer's market when they don't use the paper cones - how are you supposed to eat a crepe with a fork on a plate when you're shopping for your groceries???? (And you need a knife anyway.)

My husband and I ordered duck in Chinatown in Chicago once and got a pile of duck about difficult to eat...

One late night dinner at Sabatino's I was having trouble getting the escargot out of the shell with my fork. I finally decided to use my hand to crack it open. Stupid mistake! I ended up slicing open my finger and having to go to the emergency room. So much for a nice late dinner!

Whole shrimp, in their shell, sauteed or in sauce.

Whole shrimp, in their shell, sauteed or in sauce. This raises an interesting question: why? I understand the shell may impart flavour, but in a place with more than paper napkins, WHY? Peeling shrimp at the sink is messy enough.

I know it's second nature to us natives, but I just went to a crab feast last weekend with cousins visiting from Italy - let's just say that for the unitiated steamed crabs probably deserve to be on this list!

not hard to eat in handling - but eating it for the first time was my experience with terrapin soup at a lovely dinner party - needless to say it was doused with lots of sherry

If we are also talking about fear of the unknown at dinner, think about the first time you sat down at a formal dinner and were confronted with: Two dinner plates, one atop the other; at least one small plate on the table just beyond the dinner plates; two or three knives; three spoons; three forks; one each small spoon and fork between your dinner plates and small plates, three stem glasses; and a coffee cup. For me it was a high-level government dinner. Luckily I remembered the advice about using utensils from the outside in.

What about edamame? If you don't know what it is or how to eat it, you'd think it was just a snowpea pod and get a mouthful of stringy yuck!

RoCK, My mom made us crack open any kind of nuts by wrapping the free hand around the nut & nutcracker. Sometimes you get the palm and fleshy parts of that hand caught and squeezed, which hurts like the blazes, but at least there are no bits of shell flying around!

I still like my suggestion of lychees, although they were snubbed... sniff...

hehe, good list

KLC - that reminds me of my co-worker laughing one day about how she'd cooked edamame the night before and not thought to tell her husband. She looked up partway through dinner to realize that he was politely and dutifully trying to eat the whole pod without spitting it out or even criticizing her cooking. Ha!

From what I've seen and heard about durian, they smell so horrid it boggles the mind that anyone ever had the temerity to venture any further. This reminds me of a George Carlin joke.

A friend's first encounter with a tamale had him trying to eat the corn husk. There is a special tool to hold the escargot--don't know if it works on a live one, though! Our children loved to eat artichokes. I think it was the general mess and eating with their fingers that appealed. We know a golden retriever that likes to eat corn on the cob--typewriter style. Never have mastered the mango. The lobster isn't so hard--works best if you are sitting on the rocks on a Maine beach next to a lobster shack. Somethings are not meant for white tableclothes and good clothes. A good solution to eating a lobster is to order the lobster roll. Can you find one in Baltimore?

gcat - I feel the same about shrimp tails, so I slip the tip of my knife under the shell then downwards and kind of just ease it off... although more than a few shrimp have gone flying over the edge of my plate that way. But at least you're not wasting your good hard-earned money, as my mother would say!

Years ago I read a memoir which mentioned the first time anyone in the author's family had seen a grapefruit. The mother gave each person in the family a whole grapefruit (not halved) and no one had a clue what to do next.

Les -- my last local lobster roll was at Legal Sea Foods, which has, alas, since left town (although it still has several locations in the DC area). Some Chowhound posts indicated that lobster rolls may be had at Mama's on the Half Shell in Canton, Stone Mill Bakery in Green Spring Station (as a special only), and Conrad's Crabs on Joppa Road, but I can't vouch for any of them.

The entire time I was reading both the article and the responses, all I could hear in my head was George Carlin...

"Guacamole. It sounds like something you can't quite remember the name of' like 'where's that little guacamole I had lying around here?'. And of course the funniest food...kumquats. I don't even bring 'em home from the store anymore. I'd just sit there laughing and they'd go to waste"...

Kumquats are the hardest food to eat, because you keep laughing and then you choke on the little buggers.

I resisted, but now I have to explain my shrimp tail technique. I've never seen anyone else do this, so as far as I know I invented it, along with break dancing and naked miniature golf.

Stab the fleshy part of the shrimp with your fork. Take your knife and press it into the shell part where it almost meets the tail. Pull fork away from tail and you get the whole shrimp in one piece, no mess.

Simple--Don't try to eat any of that crap except for lobster and snow crab.

Is that little part of shrimp in the tail worth all the effort (or potential disaster)? I just cut off the shrimp at the tail, and let go of the idea that the 1/16 part of the shrimp left in the tail is necessary. Really. You can always get more shrimp.

Bill, don't believe the hearsay. You should try it yourself. In Thailand durian is called the king of fruits, the queen being mangosteen.

I second the coconut vote. Especially if it still has the husk on.

I dunno, I think fileting a whole baked fish is pretty much a matter of logic. I'll never forget my vacation in Germany some years ago. I was sick to death of pork and beef after 4 days. Our host took us to a lovely restaurant named Forelle that was beside a lake. I ordered trout and was directed to a tank to choose my supper. About a half hour later it was brought out on a plate, beautifully browned and slathered with butter and almonds. I made short work of that critter, which turned out to be one of the best meals I've ever had. Fileting a whole fish at the table impressed heck out of my friends, too.

Dan, you may be right and the taste of durian may be all that it's cracked up to be, but it just makes me wonder whatever possessed that first soul who tasted one? Maybe it was the thought that something that smells this bad can't taste worse? Kind of like limburger cheese: my grandmother used to snack on it every once in awhile and I made a beeline out the door whenever she did so. I never was tempted to eat anything that smelled that bad. No guts no glory I guess.

I shudder at the thought of a Baltimore lobster roll. It's probably have Old Bay in it.

Lissa - Old Bay is good on lobster! I wouldn't recommend getting a lobster roll in Baltimore though because the price is likely to be atrocious compared to Vermont or Maine (don't know about Boston). BTW, Old Bay is also great on corn on the cob, scallops and fried chicken.

Joyce W. -- even in Maine, lobster roll is likely to be "market price", which, for the legendary Red's Eats in Wiscasset, was $16.50 as of June 2008, when Allen "Red" Gagnon passed away. (Why you would consider Vermont to be a source of cheap lobster is beyond me -- last time I checked, the state didn't have a seacoast.)

hmpstd: "Abbott's lobster rolls are priced at $13.50 including coleslaw and chips as of the summer of 2008". this place is in Connecticut, as I mentioned, I believe New England prices to be pretty good. I considered Vermont because a very dear friend of mine who passed away
earlier this year was from Vermont and couldn't wait to go home to visit and have lobster rolls. I've personally never been there (nor do I know geography very well).

Vermont is lovely, but it isn't a good place for lobster.

Old Bay is not good. Can you tell I'm not from here?

That's ok Lissa. Maybe it is something you had to grow up with to appreciate. I also like gefilte fish - definitely not for everyone!

LJ are you kidding me? did you ever order a shrimp cocktail at an upscale restaurant and pay $15.00 for four shrimp? You do the numbers.

Lissa, Old Bay is good - for what it was made for. Not for everything and not necessarily for Fusion cuisine, such as "Barbitalian."

I like gefilte fish. Without Old Bay.

I'm just not a big celery fan.

Vernor's, though...I loves me some Vernor's...

LJ, I tried unsuccessfully to convince my wife that Old Bay would make an excellent perfume. Who's with me on that one?

I'm just not a big celery fan.

I think many people would be quite surprised to find out how much of the flavor of Old Bay is from celery seed.

We didn't have enough Old Bay in the house once when we were about to cook crabs, but had all of the spices on the ingredient list in the pantry. We experimented with the mix until we got the flavor profile right, and it required lots and lots of celery seed.

Celery seed is the first ingredient on the Old Bay box, if I remember correctly.

And for all the shrimp people trying to extract every tiny bit of shrimp: if its cooked correctly, the whole meat comes out of the tail when simply pulled upon, if it doesn't, I don't eat that part.

VDP - not sure why you're throwing this question at me in particular, but here is my take - I'm not married, but if I were, and my husband wanted me to wear Old Bay perfume, I would (around him at least, whatever turns the guy on). Around other people? Not so sure. But maybe - have you seen that commercial where the not so attractive, not so thin woman rubs cashews all over her body and the men fall out all around her on the street? The question there is, would Old Bay have the same effect as cashews? I'm not sure.

From a woman's perpective, I might be initially attracted to a man who smelled like Old Bay Seasoning, since I'm a big fan of Old Bay, but it's very strong and that would get old quickly.

The sexy man who cuts my hair smells like limes... I could bask and revel in that sublime heaven for all eternity.

gcat - my point was that there is a time and place for everything. and if you're eating out, it's not the time to engage in risky and possibly grotesque behavior to get a tiny last bit of shrimp out of the shell, as if you're some kind of Dickens orphan. that's fine if you're at home, but if you're out, bad form. no matter how much a cocktail of 4 shrimp costs.

Mein Gott im Himmel! VDP, you never cease to amaze me. You truly are a barbarian. You want Amanda to smell like a disgusting steamed crab? Aside from the fact that I know she would rather die than do that, is that seriosuly your level of sophistication? I understand that smell is a powerful motivator for humans, but try and keep your pheromonal urges within the same branch of the animal kingdom. I am aghast. Don't make me be the normal one here.

And yes, Old Bay is disgusting because celery seed is the overwhelming and repulsive ingredient. Sorry, people, it just isn't in my DNA to dig that stuff. Blech.

Maybe I was wrong VDP. Perhaps you can make your fortune in food colognes. For me Old Bay = crabs and I don't like them. Let me know when Pumpernickel Popcorn is formulated.

Dickensian orphans eating shrimp cocktails. I missed that part of Dickens. Why do they leave the tail on at all in a dish, say with pasta? Do they? If you need to cut the tail off with knife and fork anyway, I suggest my patented tail forkingl.

Nice to see Owl and Pig are back for another round of steel cage blogging. Be warned animal-boys, the Girl Collective is strong and growing.

I think you forgot one of the most obvious: Cashew. A raw cashew shell contains urushiol which can cause rashes and is not to be eaten. Accordingly, cashews are not normally sold in their shell and most cashews bought have been steamed open or opened with special equipment to prevent the urushiol from getting on the nut.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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