Rockhound adventures can build up a serious appetite. Here are stories from Bob Jones from his worldwide travels and exotic meals.
When you order a meal while in a foreign country if you do not recognize it, ask what it is…and never ask what you have eaten after you have finished it. You may not like what you hear! I learned this lesson when I was in China to lecture at their first International Gem and Mineral Symposium in Beijing. Symposium speakers were guests at the Saturday night banquet. The entertainment was a group of singers known as Mongolian Throat Singers. This group of men had been trained since their youth to make deep-throaty howls. They howled in harmonized tones that went up and down the scale that was designed to be heard at great distances.
The banquet food was an assortment of vegetables and meats served on a large turntable at each table. We helped ourselves and I chose several slices of what looked like beef medallions along with some familiar vegetables. The meal was excellent and accompanied by nice wine. After we finished, the table conversation was about the various foods we had eaten. I made the mistake of commenting on the steak medallions and someone chuckled and said, “That was a dog!” Lesson learned!
Rockhound Family Day Dining
On another evening in China, my wife Carol and I were invited to dine with a wholesale mineral dealer and his family on Family Day. This is a special day in China. It is a day off work, so families gather at each meal. Unfortunately, the dealer chose a restaurant where spicy food was served. I asked if it would be possible for the spices to be reduced in the food. My request was conveyed to the chef. Suddenly, he came out of the kitchen looking quite annoyed. He and our host had a spirited discussion and I was informed the chef was quite insulted by my request. I was told I should apologize to the chef so I did. I ate his food with the help of a few swigs of beer.
Age & Respect
When I had lunch with the Beijing Museum staff, 15 of us assembled in a private room. As we filed in, everyone stood behind their chairs and did not sit. I assumed we were waiting for someone else. Then I was told that since I was the oldest person in the group they were waiting for me to be seated. I sat and so did the group. Then someone raised a glass of beer and toasted my age. I, in turn, toasted the group for inviting me to lunch. That’s when I learned another Chinese tradition. When you raise your glass to toast and touch glasses you must drink the entire contents of your glass. If you almost touch glasses but do not, you are allowed to just sip the contents. I must say I like their customs respecting age.
McDonald's for the Win
A couple of nights in Beijing, Carol and I were on our own so we walked around downtown. Luckily, we found a McDonald’s and we feasted on familiar foods. On Saturday night we went for a walk along the main avenue because we were told there were lots of small kiosks where food was sold. Sure enough, there were dozens of small kiosks offering cooked food. There were piles of raw tripe (cow’s stomach) or you could have it deep fried. Another attractive choice was big scorpions deep-fried on a stick. If you did not care for scorpions, you could choose six-inch-long centipedes deep-fried on a stick. We decided to have an ice cream cone.
In Russia, the restaurants are similar to ours. The only difference was they served several varieties of cabbage. But there was one restaurant Michael wanted us to visit. It had not changed for decades. After checking our coats, we sat and waited for our waitress. It took some time but she finally showed up and we ordered drinks which also took time to arrive though we were the only people there. She also handed our host one menu and walked away. That was it, one menu for six people. We had to take turns. Michael read the menu to Carol and me and then handed it to our Russian companions.
We finally decided what we wanted and again we waited and finally, the waitress came to take orders. I ordered a chicken dish and was told they had no chicken. Another check of the menu and I asked for something else and we were told they did not have that. I finally asked the waitress what they did have and her answer was one word, “fish” and she walked away. I had had enough and suggested we leave. We ended up in a Mexican restaurant near Red Square. We hoped the food would be good, but knew a couple of margaritas would help make everything taste good. Our Russian friends liked the food so much we went to that place again.
On my second trip to Moscow, I stayed at the University of Moscow. On the first day of my stay, I tried the school cafeteria for breakfast. A big mistake! The counter was filthy and greasy and the food looked gray in color and non-descript. I decided eating there once was enough. I learned there was a McDonald’s in Moscow so I took the underground into town the next morning. The McDonald’s had the usual signs displaying the choices so I used my fingers to sign the number for a fish sandwich and that is what I had for breakfast every morning for nearly two weeks.
Namibia and Rockhounds
When Dick Bideaux and I went to Namibia to check out Tsumeb and a couple of other mines, we got very lucky. Namibia was German West Africa before World War I. The country eventually became independent and is now Namibia. What was great was the restaurant and the entire camp was managed by the original staff who continued the German culture. The food was superb. At that camp on the Etosha Pan, we ate like royalty at every meal.
Food & Emerald Mines
I can’t say the same about the food when I visited the emerald mines in Colombia. The food in Bogota was very good but in small villages around the mines, things were quite primitive. I was standing outside my hotel in Muzo one morning waiting to be picked up when two men came along driving a small group of cattle. They tied one steer to a pole across from the hotel and went on with the others. My ride came and we spent the day in the mines. When we got back in the evening the steer was still there, but it had been slaughtered in place and huge chunks of it were hanging there covered with flies.
A Stop in the Jungle
On another day, we were driving through the jungle on our way to a mine when our driver, who was also the hotel owner, suddenly stopped. Among the trees were native huts. Sitting by one was an old lady with a large dish pan in her lap that was full of bloody animal guts. Hanging on a rope by her were inflated animal intestine skins drying. She was stuffing them with the bloody meat. She was up to her elbows with blood and clouds of flies hovering around her. She was making sausage and our driver was excited enough to negotiate for some sausage links. Back in the truck, he exclaimed we would have sausage for breakfast tomorrow. For breakfast the next day I had soup left over from the night before.
Rockhound Food Adventures
Don’t get the idea that food in other countries is always a negative adventure. What I have described here are the few times I experienced food that was unusual and different enough to be memorable. Such foods are the exception to the countless enjoyable meals I have had when traveling the world in search of good minerals.
This story about rockhound travel stories and tips previously appeared in Rock & Gem magazine. Click here to subscribe. Story by Bob Jones.