The scene: An invitation from my friend T. to join her for dinner at the house of a Dutch man who does lapidary work on Mozambican gemstones.
Awkward Moment I
We realize, after drinking a coke and some juice and throwing about much more conversation than is socially obligated, that food is not in the plans. Unfortunate, given that we'd understood this to be a dinner invitation. Especially unfortunate considering I'd spent the entire day at the plantation with my crazy boss who doesn't eat lunch, and was completely ravenous as a result.
Awkward Moment II
Dutch friend: Would you like some wine?
T.: I don't mean to be rude, but is there going to be something to eat? Because I can't have alcohol on an empty stomach, I'm still recovering from the party this weekend. If there's a snack available, I'll have some wine, otherwise just another coke for me, thanks.
Dutch friend: Oh, did you expect to have dinner?
T.: Noooo! I just brought Ali over to look at your gemstones.
Dutch friend: Well, I can make you a specialty from the Netherlands! We will have croquettes.
T.: Ummm, I don't really know what that is, but I don't eat pork.
Dutch friend: Let me check the package. If there is no pork in the ingredients, we will have croquettes.
Ali la Loca (thinking): I don't care what's in the damn things, please feed me!!!
Awkward Moment III
After confirming there is, in fact, no pork or semi-hydrogenated pork products in the croquettes, we move to the living room to have a look at the guy's impressive gemstone collection. I am completely enchanted - imagine a table full of rough and cut aquamarines, tourmalines, topaz, rubies, emeralds, apatite, iolite, amethyst, garnets, sapphires and more! Total heaven for a rock and mineral geek like me.
But I am also starving, so my attention is fully directed to the basket of french fries and sausage-type things the friend finally brought out for us. T. looks at the croquettes and mouths to me across the table, "I don't eat beef, either!"
"That's okay," I say. "Just eat some potatoes and I'll have the sausages."
Unfortunately, the friend serves the food for us, a crispy breaded sausage for T. and a long, thin one for me. I dig into my food, and poor T. does her best to camoflauge the fact that she hasn't touched the sausage. Inevitably, at some pont, the friend catches on.
"Oh. You don't like the croquette."
"No!!" T. protests. "It was just too hot when I cut it open. See?" And to prove her point, takes a valiant bite of the beef-laden sausage.
However, she is unable to eat any more of the thing. When the friend excuses himself for a moment to the other room, T. hisses across the table, "This has pork in it! I can taste something funny. It's pork!!"
The friend returns and sees the nearly-whole sausage still on T.'s plate. "You don't like it. I knew it. It's okay."
Sheepishly, T. admits she suspects the croquette is made with some pork.
"That's okay," I say. "I'll eat it for you," and hungrily take the sausage from T.'s plate. I take a bite and enjoy the crispy breaded coating that contrasts with the almost creamy meat filling.
The Dutch friend looks puzzled. "I'm sure there is no pork in it," he says. "I looked at the packaging! This croquette is only made with beef and horse."
"HORSE????" T. and I yelp simultaneously, swinging around to look at the man with carbon-copy horrified looks on our faces. "This is made with HORSE??"
My stomach turns into a spin cycle, and I can tell by her face that T.'s is doing the same.
Then I realize how ashamed the poor guy looks, how red his face has suddenly become, how he has slumped in his chair and his neck has disappeared into his collared shirt under the weight of his bowed head.
I decide to play the diplomat.
"Ah, horse," I say, as if it were the most normal thing in the world to be offered as a compensation for a dinner that never materalized. "I used to eat horse all the time as a child at my grandmother's house in Italy. It was considered a realy delicacy," which is a semi-truth because they did indeed serve it on many occasions, but I was always too finicky to muster up the courage to try the stuff.
I wonder if he knows I'm lying. I realize, somewhat horrified, that I'm going to have to eat the horse croquette if I wish to pull off the story I'm spinning.
"Just eat it," I tell myself, having flashbacks of all the times I've been in a similar situation. I try not to think of the horses we had at my dad's house when I was a child.
I manage to get down the entire thing, except for one bite which I leave on my plate to give the illusion of politeness. I could eat more, but the awkwardness of the situation has made it imperative that T. and I make a timely exit.
After saying our goodbyes, T. and I head to the car and have a good laugh at the whole evening once we are around the corner and certainly out of earshot or sight.
"I'm so sorry!" T. says emphatically.
"It's okay." I assure her. "I really liked looking at the gemstones. It was a nice night overall."
"Do you want me to take you to Mundo's to get something to eat? Poor thing, you were starving when we got there."
"No, it's okay. I'm not really hungry anymore...that horse sausage was actually really good!"
We start laughing again and replay our synchronized "HORSE!?!" exclamation a few times just for kicks.
"I can't believe you liked that stuff," T. says, shaking her head.
Quite honestly, I can't either. It seems totally wrong, but then again, it was in a similar situation that I first discovered how tasty intestines can be. On a regular day, no way I'd eat such a thing. But under the right circumstances - after a day of work with no lunch, or when fried and put inside a tortilla with a bit of chile and eaten at 3am on a Juarez streetcorner after a hard night drinking - anything is possible in terms of culinary appreciation.