Speaking of ConFrancisco, we should mention that worldcons do not only present you the opportunity to meet people you've previously only known in print. They also provide maybe the only yearly occasion to see old friends again. Winning our second Hugo at ConFrancisco was indeed pleasant; it was a bright moment in our Worldcon trip. But what we value even more was reunions we had with many friends and acquaintances, including the writer of the following article.
'Eatin' With the Force' by Allison Dyar; title illo 
  by Charlie Williams
Nicki told to us at ConFrancisco that Mimosa would produce an issue concentrating on food and would we have anything interesting to say?

Do birds fly?

My spouse and partner for 12 years just recently retired from the Air Force after 20 years of faithful service. During those 20 years, he has literally traveled around the world and in so doing, has sampled cuisines that we in America just don't normally experience (in some cases, this is a Good Thing). I joined him in 1981 in Guam, so I missed some of the more interesting fair such as 'Alpo on a Cracker', and 'Pasties'. The following is Dafydd's first-hand experiences; I'll take up the narrative again at the end.

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David Neal Dyar, TSGT, United States Air Force, Retired:
My first experience with truly alien cuisine was in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, my first active-duty assignment, from 1973 to 1976. Sandwiched between Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, it has more in common with Wisconsin, to which it connects to the west, than to Michigan proper, to which it connects not at all. Settled mostly by Finnish immigrants in the 1880s, the 'U.P.' is home to numerous saunas and a turnover-like meat pie called a 'pasty' (PAH-stee). The easiest way to tell a newcomer to the U.P.(besides the fact that they have no idea what the initials 'U.P.' mean) is their obvious confusion over the many signs exhorting 'pasties' -- the plural of pasty, not, as is most often assumed, the ornaments of striptease dancers (PAY-stee). Pasties are strictly a local delicacy, being bland and almost tasteless, with a consistency like boiled leather wrapped in stale dough. Fortunately, sub/hoagie/hero/grinder sandwich shops also abound to supply much-needed sustenance. The trick is to get them home before they freeze.

My next assignment was in Turkey, from 1976 to 1978. The Turks like to think of themselves as being vastly different from the Greeks, whom they despise, but their cuisine is actually quite similar. Almost everything is soaked in olive oil, which has a devastating effect on regularity in those unaccustomed to such plenty, resulting in a condition commonly known as the Turkey Trots. Since the Turks owned and operated the NATO bases in their country, there was no escape from their culinary method. Turkish sanitary facilities are little more than ceramic sewers, so it was a good idea to build up one's immunity before attempting off-base dining establishments.

illo by Charlie Williams The main constituent of Turkish food is goat and lamb. Beef is almost unknown outside of Istanbul and even there it's imported. While we had beef patties for hamburgers on-base, it was topped with a local goat's-milk cheese whose distinctive flavor earned them the nickname 'lamb-burger'. These were actually quite good, once you got used to the olive oil in which they were fried. There was also a local 'pizza' made with pita bread, ground beef(?) and goat cheese which has been likened to 'Alpo on a cracker'.

Several local foods earned a large American following, the best of which was a roast lamb dish called 'Doner kebab'. This was basically a haunch of lamb turned on a spit and basted with (you guessed it) olive oil and sesame seeds and sliced off in slabs as it cooked. Served on a bed of lettuce and pita bread, it was the all-time favorite local dish. There was also a fruit drink called 'Meysu' which came in three flavors: cherry, orange and grape. This was also quite popular but had to be filtered carefully because it was laced with wormwood.

I spent a year in Greenland from 1979 to 1980, but everything I ate there was imported from either America or Denmark. There was some very good cheese called 'Maribo', with a consistency like Gouda but a flavor and color closer to Swiss, some of the richest and sweetest butter I've ever tasted (which was also a favorite with the Arctic raven)and Danish pastries that were served daily with breakfast. The only reason we did not fatten up to blimpish proportions is that the temperature averaged 20-below for most of the year and you could burn off a thousand calories just walking from the dining hall to the dormitory. If you carried any food with you, you could expend another thousand calories beating off the ravens (wingspan up to six feet!) that would swoop down on you. A common trick played upon new arrivals was to drop a few of foil-wrapped pats of Danish butter in the pockets of their parkas during lunch.

I was in the Philippines from 1980 to 1981. 'Pancit Canton', a variation on chow mein, and 'shu pao', a steamed rice dough stuffed with teriyaki pork or beef and a hard-boiled egg, were particular favorites also found later on Guam, but you could find almost anything in the Philippines. Within walking distance of the main gate were the Kobe Japanese steak house, Peking House Chinese restaurant, Muy Thai restaurant and Didi's Pizza Parlor. One had to be careful ordering a pizza 'with everything' as that request would be taken quite literally, resulting in a pyramid of toppings of dubious origin. The streets were lined with vendors selling everything from raw sugar cane to Mongolian barbecue (a sort of Asian smorgasbord) to barbecued beef, chicken and pork on a stick. The latter was quite an adventure for two reasons. First, each stand had its own unique blend of barbecue sauce, ranging in intensity from mild to deadly, whose potency could only be ascertained by trial and error. Second, while there were chickens and caribou (a kind of ox) a-plenty, I don't recall ever seeing a pig anywhere in the Philippines, raising some serious questions as to what constituted 'pork' in these dishes. Given the Filipino taste for canine and feline entrees, it was probably best to avoid pork altogether or order it with extra sauce. The sugar cane was also a good investment, as it proved an excellent antidote to even the most powerful barbecue sauce.

illo by Charlie Williams One Filipino 'delicacy' doubled as an initiation for newbie Marines and a general test of manhood for both gennders. 'Balut' (Ba-LOOT) is a duck egg allowed to develop to the embryonic stage and then fermented in the shell. The result is best classified as a biological weapon. I have no idea how it tastes, but the rotten-egg smell will gag a maggot at twenty paces -- and that's before the shell is cracked open. Since taste and smell are co-dependent, that was more than enough for me.

Guam, where we resided from 1981 to 1983, is a polyglot with almost no native culture left. Filipino and Japanese cuisine are to be found all over the island. One of the few remaining vestiges of Chamorro culture is the 'fiesta' -- actually more of a luau -- and the 'boonie pepper', a cross between the jalapeno and kung pao peppers. The boonie pepper is so potent that the oil from its skin that sticks to your fingers will blind you if it comes in contact with your eyes. The effect is similar to the controversial 'pepper spray' self-defense aerosols. It was on Guam that we were introduced to the chicken burger, a breaded chicken patty served on a sesame seed bun with shredded lettuce and the usual hamburger toppings. The Guamanian chicken burger was somehow lighter and more flavorful than the chicken patties available Stateside, but I don't know if it was a local breading recipe or the way they deep-fried it that accounted for the result.

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Montgomery AL, where we lived from 1986 to 1990, should be considered a foreign-duty assignment because the food is vastly different from anything we had previously encountered. What are grits and why do they come in so many varieties? Southerners expect them at breakfast and don't seem to understand requests to omit them. Their only discernible virtue is that you can use them to scour the plate after breakfast. On the other hand, only in the South is iced tea served either sweetened or unsweetened. This proved especially attractive because the sweetened tea was a saturated solution of sugar and ordering it unsweetened allowed us to sweeten it to our individual tastes. At least we had the option.

This isn't to say that the food was all bad in Montgomery. The BEST barbecue we ever had is still at Country Barbecue. I mourn each day I munch a rib because Country had the BEST ribs and sauce these lips ever smacked. Our last meal in Montgomery before going on to Iceland was at Country Barbecue.

Iceland was the last stop on Dafydd's journey of what would be 20 years in the Air Force. What an interesting place (NOT!). As with Turkey, all perishable items are purchased on the local economy, so we ate Icelandic eggs and yogurt whilst we drank Icelandic milk. They use different cultures in their yogurt which I found to be intolerable despite my love of yogurt. Their sour cream wasn't the thick, delicious white globs we've grown to love here in America, but rather thin, runny and disgusting. I didn't sample any of their milk and cheese as I have an allergy to same. If the yogurt and sour cream was any indication, I imagine it was foul.

illo by Charlie Williams Icelandic 'pickled' foods were also unusual, because the Icelanders pickle with sour milk instead of brine. One of the local delicacies was a pickled shark and pickled herring was a close second. Every winter they would celebrate 'Thorrablot', a banquet of Icelandic delicacies such as the aforementioned pickled fish and sheep's brains. As you can imagine, we and our stomachs opted not to attend.

With the number of sheep on Iceland outnumbering the native population of 250,000 by a good 10 to 1, I expected to find more lamb available. Lamb was expensive and I never purchased any of it even at the base commissary. I just couldn't fathom spending $2.50 PER lamb chop (that was fatty to boot). Lamb, I subsequently discovered was still considered a delicacy that was served on special occasions such as Easter. We did eat smoked lamb on a trip around the Snaefellness Glacier (prominent in the Verne book Journey to the Center of the Earth) which was exquisite though fatty.

The main problem with travel is that, while you encounter items that defy classification as food, you also come to love items that you can't find on your return home. You don't have to travel all that far either -- restaurants have built their reputations on a unique recipe for this or that and once you've gotten hooked on a particular recipe nothing else will do. If ever there was a definitive application of the IDIC principle, it would have to be food.

All illustrations by Charlie Williams

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