Strange Foods In California

Jason Mission 332In 2003 I served a mission for the LDS church in California.  I know this may surprise a few of you, given my harsh views on religion in general, but it was a time of my life I enjoyed.  I was given the opportunity to help people, and it afforded me experiences, and friends I wouldn’t trade for the world.

When I arrived in CA I was assigned to serve in the Bakersfield CA area.  Bakersfield is a smog filled dessert valley, that is surrounded by mountains on all sides.  At least that was what I was told.  I never actually saw the mountains due to the heavy smog in the area.  I had been serving in Bakersfield for four and a half months, and my companion at the time was a man by the name of Elder Rank.  You see in the LDS church missionaries are called Elders.  Some people find this confusing, because most LDS missionaries are only 19-20 years old, but for the sake of the story go with me on this one.

Elder Rank and I had been invited to eat dinner at the home of the Rodriguez.  It was a dinner invitation I could not turn down.  You see, the Rodriguez family was very poor, and their lives had been visited by hard circumstances.  Brother Rodriguez used to be a professional body builder and was featured on the cover of several magazines.  Then, one day he discovered he had some medical problems that caused him to start gaining weight.  It took a couple of years, but soon he was extremely overweight.  With his doctors worried about blood circulation, Brother Rodriguez would exercise in the community pool.  Without that exercise his legs would have to be amputated. Sister Rodriguez was once a professor of linguistics at The University of Bakersfield.  Sadly, she suffered a massive stroke and lost the ability to communicate in any other language but Spanish.  Spanish had been the last language she had learned.  Before her stroke she spoke 6 languages fluently.  As a family the Rodriguez consisted of Brother and Sister Rodriguez and their two daughters (I don’t recall their names).Jason Mission 310

So for Elder Rank and I to be invited to dine with them was a BIG deal.  They had next to nothing, and here they were inviting two missionaries over for supper.  It was an invitation we could not refuse, and both of us knew it.  So on a warm Californian night we knocked on their door, and were invited in.  The moment I walked through the front door my senses were over powered by a delicious and erotic smell of soup.  The smell was rich and creamy, and even had a hint of spice like oregano.  I had never smelled anything so delicious in all my life!

“What is that smell?” I asked one of the daughters.  Smiling, she said “Its a family tradition. Menudo.”  I had no idea what “Medudo” was, but I was starving, and the delicious smell wasn’t helping my rumbling stomach.  After a few minutes of pleasant small talk we were invited to sit down at the family table.  In front of each person was a large soup bowl that probably could hold two liters of liquid.  One of the daughters carefully brought out an enormous pot and placed it in the center of the round table.  The smell was intoxicating and I was greedily anxious to try whatever this new delicacy was.

That’s when it happened…

Brother Rodriguez did his best to stand, and offered his hand to me, indicating I should hand him my bowl.  I did so eagerly, and he began ladling soup into my bowl.  As he handed it back to me my stomach was all but screaming at me, and that’s when I noticed something floating in my soup.  No it couldn’t be, I thought to myself.  Is that a, chickens foot?  I poked at it with my spoon, and that proved my fears.  There was indeed a chickens foot floating at the surface of my soup, along with other odd and strange looking bits and pieces.  I looked over at Elder Rank and he had an odd expression on his face as he looked down at his bowl.  I followed his gaze and noticed that floating at the top of his soup was what appeared to be the front portion of a pigs nose.

Jason Mission 159This had to be some sort of practical joke!

I looked up at the family, and each of them were eating their soup with passionate hunger.  “Brother Rodriguez” I said “What is this soup made from?”  Brother Rodriguez beamed at the question, and with a wide grin on his face he said “Its a soup made from blood and water, mixed with the left over pieces of animals not normally cooked.”  This could not be real.  This had to be a joke, and then I noticed that everyone, with the exception of Elder Rank and I, were eating.  I knew what having us there meant to this family, and so I could not insult them by not eating their soup because it was gross.  So I took my spoon, dipped it into the soup, and began eating.

To say I gagged that soup down has to be the biggest understatement of the century.  I have never called up my willpower like that since.  It took great effort, and extreme mental thought not to hurl all over the Rodriguez kitchen table.  But I did it.  I ate the soup, chickens foot and all.  I looked over at Elder Rank, and noticed, with some pride, that he too had summoned his will, and finished his bowl. Now I really don’t know why I did what I did next, but somewhere in my brain a very evil and sadistic part of me woke up.  Brother Rodriguez looked at me and said “Elders you ate a whole bowl!  You must have been very hungry.  Can I get you some more?”  Before I knew what was happening the evil sadistic side of me took control of my mouth and said “Brother Rodriguez, thank you for the offer, but I am stuffed.  But Elder Rank would love another bowl!”

Elder Rank looked at me with an expression of horror and shock on his face, and before he could say anything Brother Rodriguez had ladled him another bowl.  Now I don’t know how he did it, but somehow Elder Rank summoned up his will, and finished his second bowl.  He was sure to tell everyone he was full as soon as he had swallowed his last spoonful.

The rest of the evening proceeded pleasantly, and we enjoyed a wonderful evening with the Rodriguez family, but the moment we had all said our goodbyes, and shaken everyone’s hand we departed, and began our long walk home.  I say walk, but in all reality we didn’t walk, because the moment the door closed to the Rodriguez home  Elder Rank was after me, sprinting at near inhuman speeds.  He didn’t catch me, and I was able to stay just ahead of him the whole way back to the apartment.  Once we arrived he was too tired to do anything to me after sprinting for several miles.Jason Mission 254

Thinking back on that night I should probably feel bad, but as I remember that soup, and the entire evening I cant help but smile and laugh and what I remember to be a very funny night.