Stupid Tuesday Questions, yeast extract edition

Somewhere in the murky depths of a comment thread on one of the other sub-blogs, I admitted a fondness for Marmite.  For those of you unfamiliar with this product, it is a popular spread in the UK made from yeast extract.  As the product’s own website cheekily acknowledges, its flavor is a deeply polarizing one.  People either love it or hate it.

My father is from England, and has forced many of his tastes upon me.  On car trips he would make the rest of the family listen to bagpipe music when it was his turn to choose.  I know in this crowd a familiarity with Dr. Who is an asset, but it did nothing to help my somewhat less than cool reputation back in the day.  And I was periodically forced to eat toast smeared with a thin layer of Marmite, which to my juvenile tongue and nose tasted and smelled like an unrefined petroleum product.

Now, of course, I love it.  It is umami in its purest, most intense form.  On days when I have the time to make toast (workdays are usually too rushed even for that), Marmite on crispy, buttered toast is my breakfast of choice.  I  looked in four local grocery stores before I found one that sold it, and promptly bought two jars.

So, what do you like that marks you as a foreigner or cultural outlier?  Now, I’ve already alluded to the fathomless depths of geek lore that flow through the LOOG-sphere.  Anyone who has spent any length of time at either the main page or most of the sub-blogs knows we pride ourselves on our devotion to the not-quite-mainstream.  (Apologies to any offended sub-Ordinaries or main page posters, but I calls them like I sees them.)  Being able to parse Klingon or hold forth with authority on whether the late, beloved doyenne of nerd fiction wrote sci-fi or fantasy (and the correct answer is “sci-fi”) may make you an oddity at your next neighborhood party, but those are perfectly respectable homegrown geekeries.  As such, they don’t count as answers for today’s question.  No, what I mean are tastes that do not spring from domestic shores.  A love of Tibetan throat singing, for example, or a yen for salty licorice (which, if you’ve never had it, is the worst “candy” product known to man).

What is your peculiar or foreign fancy, and where did it come from?

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. I don’t really like the salty licorice, but I can’t stop eating it once I start.

    I grew up in a reasonably observant and old school ashkenazi Jewish household (we actually vacationed in the borscht belt Catskills, and I am only in my 30s) and the things that I ate growing up that disgust the goyim are gribenes ( and tongue. I’ve assimilated enough so that the tongue disgusts me a bit now, but, mmmmmm, gribenes!

    And I am a philosopher, and hang around with a crowd that is either the Dr. Who/comic book types or more traditional high art types and have a terrible weakness for historical romances, preferably involving sex, murder, betrayal, and royal families. Also, Us Weekly.

  2. Kroketjes, sate, peanut sauce, babi meats, kurupuk… I married into a Dutch-Indonesian family. It would have been worth it for the food even if they weren’t all such good folks.

    As for non-food items, 70s/early 80s punk. That may not be quite so weird in the League culture, but singing “Oh, bondage, up yours” gets a lot of weird looks out in the real world.

  3. Campari. The unnaturally red essence of the bitterest herbs known to man. Putrid stuff, really. And I quite enjoy drinking it.

    Sure, you can mix it into a Negroni and then that alters the taste somewhat. So I don’t do that very much. Just a bit of ice to chill it.

  4. A number of years back, I was at a mall food court with my family and some of my kids’ friends. We all did our own thing cuisine-wise, and so I selected the Indian option and came back with a big plate of palak paneer. Everyone else at the table (white-bread Americans, all) made gagging noises, and there were suggestions that it looked like a heaping pile of mucousy puke (and my explaining that I was about to ingest several bowls’ worth of spinach didn’t really help matters).

  5. I grew up in a Scottish home so I share with your father of a love of pipe music, though I find it interesting to hear that, as an Englishman, he actually liked it. Historically, that sound usually meant that the clans had risen again and that was generally no good news for the Sassenachs.

    Not everyone shares my taste for 16-year-old Laphroiag – the dense, smoky, peaty single malt from the Wesern Isles.

    I like marmite too, but what I really like is that bitter version of marmalade that’s very hard to get over here. And homemade shortie (made with rice flower) – the commercial stuff is awful.

    Forget vegamite, though – as my young niece once said, “it tastes like vegetables mixed with poop”

    • My grandmother was Scottish, and my dad spent lots of summers in Scotland.

      I also like single-malt scotch, though will admit my palate isn’t developed enough to have a well-informed preference, as well as bitter marmalade.

      I lived for a short time in Australia, but never did try Vegemite. (It was back in my Marmite-hating days, so the idea of tasting a similar-enough product was anathema.)

    • Not everyone shares my taste for 16-year-old Laphroiag – the dense, smoky, peaty single malt from the Wesern Isles.

      I share your taste, but unfortunately not your budget.

  6. After traveling in the Yucatan I have a thing for the vast number of different moles, and anytime I see a restaurant that makes their own I have to try it.

    I also like Indonesian sambals.

    Being so damn Irish in heritage, I love to here good old school Irish music, a la the Chieftans or Solas.

    Also, I can’t sit still if there’s a fine samba playing.

  7. Civet Coffee.
    HaHa! I finally found something “acquired” enough to count!
    Also, Lebanon bologna and other smoky beefs…

  8. Yeast on toast? Never heard of it, never tried it. I use yeast for homebrewing. Y’know that you can actually buy Belgian Trappist yeast? Got a beast hovering above 10% ABV using that in the pantry fermenting right now.

  9. My wife moved to Canada from China when she was 7 and mostly maintains her preference for Chinese cuisine. I’ve been exposed to so many uncommon foods now (especially after our trip to her “old country” in October) it would be hard to name them.

    Two markedly weird items have grown on me quite a bit. One is red fermented tofu which is pungent and tart to the point of almost being fruity. You use it as flavoring in porridge or a spread on steamed buns. The other is Chao Gan, which is a stew of pork liver, intestine, lots of garlic, and thickened with corn starch. Oh, and its a breakfast food.

  10. It wouldn’t be the internets without a rabid, Vegemite-loving Aussie swinging by to advocate for the dark, sticky deliciousness that is the toast spread of choice in this household. It looks like toxic waste but it tastes like an intense cross between a vegetable stock cube and good feta cheese. Apparently we like it well enough for the company to have made more than a billion jars of the stuff since the 1920’s.

      • Forgive the out of date reply but I’ve only just come across your incredibly entertaining blog. Elliotoz forgot to mention that it also smells like toxic waste, but the very fact that it has its origins as a bi-product of the brewing industry should be enough to cement its credentials. Its reputation is unfortunately not helped by those who have tried to use it in similar quantities as one would use peanut butter but I will admit it’s an acquired taste – and smell – so much so Kraft have started marketing a less-intense version called “My First Vegemite”. Easier to stomach for novices not wanting to look like their meals come from Gerber might be “Vegemite Cheeseybite” (a version pre-blended with cream cheese and one of the most disastrous initial names in branding history – R.I.P “iSnack2.0”).

  11. > The correct answer is “sci-fi”


    I don’t really have a good example for the main question at the moment, though. Brain fart.

  12. If the internet has taught me anything, it’s taught me how very, very vanilla my tastes actually are.

    • My father told me the news, which felt meet and proper, as he was the one who introduced me to her books (and, frankly, all speculative fiction).

  13. “Warm” beer. I spent time in England and Australia and discovered that beer brewed to be served at or near room temperature is better. Many American microbrewers have figured this out.

Comments are closed.