I can’t wait until I’m old enough to start my stories out like Sophia, from Golden Girls. I can’t really pull it off because I don’t have a wicker basket for a purse, a look that she absolutely rocked. But there I was at a beautifully rustic dinner party to welcome my family and me to Italy. We sat at one giant table outside with dishes passed around, just like the Olive Garden people want you to think eating in their crappy restaurants will feel like.
A lovely member of the host family, I can’t remember who it was now, leaned over and said in Italian that the next dish we would have is a local delicacy called cavallo. At the time, I didn’t speak Italian, but I vaguely remembered having heard that word somewhere before.
Oh yeah. In Spanish class. And in English class when we talked about root words and their Latin origins and blah blah blah before my mind started that swimmy thing that happens to people on TV right before they pass out. My mom began thumbing through her Italian-English dictionary to find out what the word meant.
Yup. Cavallo is a really neat rustic-sounding word for horse. We were going to eat a horse. And given how long this dinner party had already lasted, it’s really possible that it was one of the horses we’d just seen munching grass in the fenced paddock on the way up the road, eating like it was his last meal or something.
I immediately started looking on the bright side by thinking of famous horses I knew, wondering if I was going to get to eat something famous like maybe a race horse or a TV star. Of course, I’ve eaten meals in foreign countries before that one, so the real bright side was that horses don’t have tentacles and it couldn’t be as gross as eating octopus, unless maybe they left the hoofs on for decoration. Like those little pants fancy restaurants make turkeys wear.
I had enough time between the announcement of what we were going to eat and the actual arrival of said meat course to undergo this life-before-my-eyes montage of everything I’d ever eaten in my life, including school cafeteria food and stuff I’d eaten on a dare. I struggled to recall anything that I’d eaten that could prepare me for horse.
Nothing prepares you for horse. It was just a regular-looking slab of meat with a nice marinade ladled over the top. Did I mention it was raw? Yes, apparently actually cooking it would have done something to detract from the experience, because it was raw. And mildly slimy. Like chicken, when it’s raw.
When you do have to consume something that you’re not really sure was supposed to be food, take small bites, swallow them whole, chase them with a glass of water that has preferably been laced with bleach just in case. I consumed that meal (ate is just the wrong word here) wondering if the locals had some special enzyme that would keep them from getting sick and wondering if I was lucky enough to have caught the enzyme as I was going through customs.
Then I decided if Sophia could eat food in this country and still live to be four hundred years old, I was probably going to be okay. That woman went from eating horse to eating store-brand hot dogs, and no one has an enzyme to battle those things.