“Alligator meat tastes like chicken, manta ray is a bit too fishy and escargots are quite an eye-opener,” declares Shantanu Ghosh as he reels off a list of strange foods he’s eaten around the world. As managing director, India product operations, of network security company, Symantec, Ghosh travels 10 days a month and ensures that his trips aren’t only about business. Trying out cuisines of countries he visits — no matter how bizarre — is always on his to-do list. The only hurdle? His sensitive nose, which made him turn away from eels in Japan. But frogs’ legs — “taste like chicken”— while snake and octopus were “absolutely delicious experiments.”
Ghosh’s adventures in food land are faithfully reported in his blog, which he promptly updates as soon as he returns from his frequent travels. Here you may catch glimpses of the tech savvy engineer who’s been in the business for over 20 years across 10-odd companies but you’re more likely to get a ring-side view of the foodie inside the geek. The posts focus on Ghosh’s food fascination — from recipes to serious dissertations on the difference between cuisines to, of course, new delicacies he’s tried out.
“My daughter is quite scandalised by some of the stuff I’ve eaten,” he laughs. Undaunted, he recounts his first taste of alligator meat in San Francisco. “There are farms where alligators are raised for their meat, much like poultry farms in India. The meat is then sold to restaurants specialising in exotic dishes. Incidentally, this meat is very red,” he says. In South Africa, on the other hand, zebra, antelope and wild boar are culled when numbers go up in the game reserves. “It’s survival of the fittest. Since the animals are part of the food chain, they would have been killed by a predator,” says Ghosh, who has eaten all three meats while on trips.
Ghosh hastens to add that he also enjoys “normal” food. And finding hidden gems is as exciting as eating exotic foods. He still recalls the “perfect” dimsums he discovered in Hong Kong. “Yum Cha tea houses are like Udupi restaurants. There are queues outside and, naturally, they don’t accept reservations.” But, he adds, they make the fluffiest ‘momos’ anywhere. He learnt about that all-American steak in 2006 and has had the best ones in Austin, Texas.
Ghosh’s travels have taken him all around the world — almost. Scandinavia, though, is yet to show up on his map, which means he’s yet to dip into an authentic smörgåsbord. “Mostly, I love to try the cuisine in the country itself,” he says. So far, he’s tried out Vietnamese, Peruvian, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese and, yes, even US cuisine, apart from a whole lot of others. Quote to that extent — “I’ve tried it but want to try the real stuff, or, I’ve stayed away from eating it in other countries because I want the real thing.”
Surprisingly, the adventurer in Ghosh takes a break when he’s back home. “I am much more conservative in India,” he says. “You can never be sure of the freshness of the dish if it’s ‘exotic’.”
So, can it be safely assumed that he’s eaten anything that runs, swims, slithers or crawls? “The first three, yes, the last, no. I’ve drawn the line at creepy-crawlies,” he says.