Sunday, 20 October 2013

Duck Eggs

I'm fairly open-minded when it comes to food. Although I'm not crazy about offal, I've eaten a lot of things other people might turn their noses up at. Fermented fish guts, for instance (shiokara in Japanese),  raw onions, inago, or fried grasshoppers (by mistake, but they weren't that bad), and my mother's infamous peanut butter and mustard sandwiches.

So the other day, when I got home from shopping and discovered that we'd bought duck eggs instead of the usual hens' eggs, I wasn't upset. I told myself that duck eggs would be just as tasty in egg salad sandwiches, perhaps even better. As I popped the eggs into boiling water, I marveled at how different they were from conventional eggs: larger, sturdier, and oilier, somehow. It wasn't until I broke one open that I discovered just what we'd bought: preserved duck eggs, the color of dark chocolate.

Unlike chocolate, however, the eggs smelled strongly of sulfur and were intensely salty. They weren't anything I wanted to make lunch with.

I gave up on making egg salad sandwiches, packed the eggs into a bag, and took them to work.  I put them on a counter in the office, wrote Bought by mistake, free to a good home on a piece of paper, and pasted it to the carton.

"Why are you giving these away?" a colleague asked incredulously when she saw the eggs. I explained what had happened.

"I hate to waste things," I said. "And we couldn't possibly finish them ourselves, not even if we had weeks." I grimaced. "And they're not going to last weeks, are they?"

"Yes they will-- they'll keep forever!"

This shouldn't have surprised me--'preserved eggs' must be like other preserved things, after all--but it did. "Really?"

"Absolutely. Just keep them until you need them. Then slice them into wedges and serve them with some pickled ginger." She nodded approvingly. "Delicious!"

In fact, one of my writing pals had said the same thing. Try them with pickled ginger, they're great. And yet at the time, this advice was hard for me to take in. Because I hadn't want pickled eggs when I bought them; I'd wanted eggs for egg salad sandwiches.

Expectations are everything, especially when it comes to food. Years ago, when I lived in Japan, I dropped a clove of raw garlic while I was cooking. I searched everywhere for it, but finally gave up, thinking it must have fallen behind the stove. A few hours later, I was eating sweetened popcorn when I bit down on the clove of garlic. Although I'm a huge fan of raw garlic, on this occasion, it was hardly a welcome treat. My mouth had been expecting carmelized popcorn, not a big clove of raw garlic.

Now, free from my dreams of egg salad sandwiches, I saw the duck eggs in a different light. Not as disappointments that couldn't be mixed with mayonnaise and white pepper, but as potentially tasty appetizers. I could picture them sliced onto a bed of thinly-sliced cucumbers with a garnish of pickled ginger and spring onions, or tossed like anchovies with cold noodles and sesame oil. My mouth even started to water.

Those duck eggs are sitting on my shelves, waiting for their chance. They won't go to waste. Besides, there's always April Fools Day.