From North Korea to Benin, from Mongolia to Madagascar, Albert Podell is one of the few people to have visited every country on earth.
It took him fifty years and during his travels, he blasted his way out of minefields, came within seconds of being lynched, and coped with riots, voodoo priests, trigger happy child soldiers and Cape buffalo – all of which is recounted in great detail in his exciting new book “Around the World in Fifty Years: My Adventures to Every Country on Earth“.
With a flair for storytelling and a sharp wit, Podell tells tales about being attacked by flying crabs in Algeria, getting out of jail in Baghdad, swimming with penguins in the Galapagos, and eating rats in Ghana.
And while he has an “uncanny ability to extricate himself from one perilous situation after another and return with the most memorable, frightening and hilarious adventure stories you have ever read”, his adventures in eating have fascinated me the most.
He has eaten everything from old camel meat and rats to dung beetles and the “pulsating brain of a live monkey.” These are Albert Podell’s absolutely incredible tales from his adventures in eating abroad.
Would You Eat Live Monkey Brain? Albert Podell’s Adventures in Eating Abroad
What do you love the most about travelling?
All of it. The new sights, sounds, smells. The unusual foods, customs, people. music, landscape, handicrafts. And, above all, the adventure of not knowing what lies behind the next turn in the road.
What inspired you to start travelling?
At age six I started collecting stamps, and by age 7 I wanted to go see the places from which came all those interesting bits of brightly colored perforated paper with their sailing ships, pirates, wild animals, exotic flowers, beautiful scenery. And multi-hued people.
Today we’re focusing on your adventures in eating. What are the more memorable or bizarre foods you have survived from on your travels abroad?
A roadkilled anteater we found on the Inter-American Highway in Panama and stewed for dinner. A live salmon that he Inuit gave me in Alaska. I bit off its head and ate it like sashimi.
An armadillo that had to be cooked for almost two days in the hills of Grenada. Dried diced yak cheese. Like eating small, sharp rocks.
Fermented mare’s mile seasoned with salted yak butter. In Bhutan. Tastes like it sounds.
Sauteed scorpions. Over-baked tarantulas. Dog, in New Guinea.
Is there anything you won’t eat?
Sure: Veal and endangered species, as a matter of principle. Raw sea urchin roe. olives. and soft-boiled eggs, as a matter of taste.
I might have trouble eating a person, but I don’t think I would. Although I haven’t been served one yet, so I can’t state this authoritatively. Might depend on how well I knew him or her and what part I got.
Oh yes, I did cop out on eating fruit bat pie once. As I explain it in Around the World in 50 Years:
I decided not to push it in Tonga, where fruit bats were reserved for the royal family, and to wait for Palau, where the indigenes also savoured these crunchy critters, but where anyone could eat them.
I went to a bakery in Koror, the former capital, and found several fruit-bat pies for sale for 35 dollars. But they were not what I’d envisioned; I’d hoped for a tart-sized taste, not a ten-inch multi-meal. And I’d assumed the bakers gutted and cleaned the bats and ground them all up like mincemeat. Instead, each pie contained ten to twelve whole bats. And I do mean whole! Complete! Entire!
The Works: wings, heads, fur, feet, and all. And they were all facing up, laid out side-by-side inside the fringing reef of brown crust, with their fragile little wings spread and touching, their hair thickly coated with dark purple jelly, hirsute ears erect and slightly pinkish, their tiny pointed teeth shining — and all of them looking, pathetically and accusingly, right at me.
Old camel meat – tell us about that story!
Ultra greasy and hard to get a grip on. You try to bite it and its just slithers away and coats your tongue and teeth and palate with layers of fat. Smells like turkey vomit.
You ate rats in Ghana. Is this a normal meal for that part of the world? Did you participate in catching and prepping them yourself?
The locals barbecue them by the roadside, so I guess others eat them. Firm white meat, like a chicken. Tastes like wherever it lived.
If it lived in cane field, it tastes like sugar. If it came from a pineapple field, tastes just like it.
When is it appropriate to eat elephant dung beetles, and how did you get past the smell?
Probably not appropriate during Passover. Not sure about Lent.
The smell? I smeared some off! Insect repellent on my moustache to block it out!
You’ve eaten the “pulsating brain” of a live monkey!!! Please explain!!
I think I tell it best in this excerpt from Around the World in 50 Years:
In some situations you have no choice but to eat whatever is put in front of you, as when you’re someone’s guest in a land where refusal to partake is considered rude, and caused your host to lose face.
Steve and I were such guests of several Hong Kong dignitaries who’d been helpful to us. They took us to a gourmet restaurant in the colony’s Wanchai district, where we were seated around a circular table having a grapefruit-sized hole in the center. Because of my strong convictions favoring conservation, I had much difficulty ingesting several of the courses, particularly a bird’s-nest soup and a jelly made of shark’s fins, but I had no way to decline without giving great offense.
Then came the killer: Near the conclusion of the meal, the stony-faced waiter brought out a live monkey in a basket. He deftly slipped the unsuspecting simian under the table and brought his head up through the hole in the center. Before I could comprehend what was happening, the waiter, with a hard, practiced swing of his cleaver, hit the little guy with a sharp blow to the middle of the forehead that broke through his skull, and, still with the same sweeping motion, flipped back the top of the animal’s head to reveal its brain, gray and moist and pulsating inside.
With my hosts eagerly demonstrating the proper technique for scooping out pieces of the still-living brain with a demitasse spoon, and exhorting us to eat while it was still warm, and assuring me that no creature feels any pain when you consume its brain, I reluctantly dipped in.
That was not a dinner I’ll ever forget. Or want to repeat.
Have you ever regretted eating anything?
Yes, Ice cream, Every time I gain another pound. And my mother’s leaden matzoh-ball soup. But I had no choice.
Also, a dinner I had in a restaurant near the Eiffel Tower on my first trip to Paris, where I tried to show off my French and mistakenly ordered cold calf’s brain covered with a black butter sauce.
Have you ever become horribly sick from eating anything?
Only twice in my life. Some paella in Valencia (1965) at an outdoor stand where it had stood in the sun too long. And some tainted ceviche in Peru (1987). Not even a mild stomach ache for the last 30 years.
Have you ever been truly shocked by the concept of consuming something? Ie biggest culture shock regarding food you’ve experienced abroad?
Yes. Eating a whole mouse. As I recount it in the book:
I also failed on my quest to eat a mouse. I’d heard, at my campsite in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, that some rural folks ate whole mice charred on skewers. Although I am ever eager (within reason) to eat strange stuff, a mouse offered a unique experience.
While I had previously eaten many crustaceans and aquatic entities in their entirety (e.g., clams, oysters, shrimp, baby octopi, snails, sardines, and fingerlings) and had consumed the main meaty parts of a few small animals, like rats and guinea pigs, I’d never devoured an entire mammal in one bite. The challenge of popping a whole mouse in my mouth – head, tail, feet, fur, guts, bones, heart and all – was simultaneously exciting and intimidating, like my first – it was also my last – frightening dive off a six-meter board.
For starters, I needed to check out the cautionary tale I’d heard that these mice were dangerous to eat because they’d been killed with cyanide. I found this allegation to be false (probably started by the chicken farmers) and learned that the mice were dug out of their holes in the fields by children trying to help balance the family budget.
It took a lot of asking around Lilongwe – I got the sense that mouse-munching was frowned upon by the sophisticated city dwellers, and even regarded as a disgusting relic of colonial poverty — until, on my last day there, I tracked down a bearded old-timer at the main outdoor food market who told me I could find the mice shish-kebabed at a stall way out in District 36; whereupon, he (for a ten-dollar fee) and I took a minibus far out to the boonies and, at about 4 PM, found the sought-for shop – greasy but empty. We searched around it and located the butcher/chef out back, cleaning up. I asked if I could get some roasted mouse.
He gently scolded me: “We are all sold out for today. Come back tomorrow around noon. Your customs must be different from ours. We eat mice only for lunch.”
These foods, which probably make others cringe at the thought, what was your main reason behind eating them? Are you naturally adventurous and curious or was it purely for survivals sake?
Always out of curiosity. (For survival I travel with nuts, seeds, and vitamin pills) I also assume that if these cultures have been eating whatever it is for hundreds of years and are still going strong, it won’t do me any permanent harm.
Which countries have the tastiest food over-all?
France, Italy, Spain, Vietnam, Burma, Thailand, China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Mexico, and (since I love sushi) Japan.
Which countries have the most bizarre food over-all?
There is almost no food I regard as bizarre. But some of the worst-tasting or most boring meals I’ve eaten have been in Albania, Kosovo. Great Britain, Germany, Bolivia, Namibia, Mongolia, and New Jersey.
What advice do you have for others who may find themselves in a situation where they’re faced with eating something more “adventurous” than they’re used to?
Just do it! You only live once, so live fully and grab all the gusto you can.
You have 50 years worth of travel experience – what is one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you started travelling?
That I would live to be at least 78. If I only knew that 50 years ago, I would have led a really wild life.
Three things you can’t travel without
Passport, paperbacks, and cash. And water-purification tablets.
You’ve travelled to every country in the world, is there anything left on your bucket list? Any exotic foods you’re still waiting to try?
I would love to go to Antarctica but, much as this macho adventurer hates to admit it, I get easily and wretchedly seasick, the that continent is surrounded by the roughest oceans on the planet.
I can’t think of any exotic food I’ve missed, but if I find it I will try it. If any of your readers come across one, they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me where to find it.
Most practical piece of advice for those planning travel?
Spring for $1.99 and buy my new e-book titled Survival Guide for the Adventurous International Traveler. And never drink the water!
Why should people diversify their normal eating habits when traveling abroad?
Because it is fun, interesting, and part of the adventure. And you can return home with some interesting (or at least disgusting) stories to tell your friends.
We only briefly touched on your amazing international adventures; how can people purchase your book to read more?
What a thoughtful question, Megan. Authors love questions like that!!
To buy Around the World in 50 Years, you can go directly to Amazon.com and order it. Of, if you want to know more about it, go on albertpodell.com and you will find loads of information together with links for ordering.