One of the most memorable anecdotes from my 1993 trip to Kinmen was lunch of our second day. Members of our party were the guests of the chief administrator of Lesser Kinmen, the smaller of the two inhabited islands of the Kinmen group. Even though it is only a five-minute ferry ride from Great Kinmen to its little sister, the smaller island rarely received visitors. The administrator was transparent in his joy at having anyone from Taipei seek his advice. The man graciously hosted us at a quaint seafood restaurant right in the harbor. As is the custom at most Chinese restaurants, our group of ten sat at a large round table with a lazy Susan in the center. Dishes came one at a time, always set directly before a designated guest of honor. Usually this special person is the oldest man or woman in the group, but sometimes when I was the only foreigner at the table, the distinction fell to me. Such was the case that afternoon. Etiquette is that I serve the new dish to the people on either side of me, serve myself, and then gently give the lazy Susan a small turn in either direction so the fresh dish comes to rest before a diner two chairs away.

I thought that I was handling my duties well, when midway through the meal, a dish arrived that looked exactly like a plate of boiled night crawlers. Our host immediately exclaimed, “Excellent! Sea worms. They are a local delicacy. Please, enjoy.”

I grabbed three sea worms with the serving chopsticks. The woman to my immediate left had not stopped staring at the newest offering, and the look in her eyes (either fear or disgust) told me not to serve her any worms. As I turned to the man on my right, he casually waved his hand under the table where only I could see it, letting me know that he didn’t want worms either. I had no choice but to put the worms on my own plate and then give the lazy Susan a turn.

As the lunch proceeded, I noticed that no one, not even our host, ever helped themselves to the worms. The only person to eat the ugly ropes of rubber was the uninformed Westerner. After thirty years, I still remember being relieved that the predominant taste was no taste at all. My Asian friends frequently feed me bizarre foods (e.g., ant eggs, baby octopi, whole frogs, sea cucumbers, durian-flavored popsicles) to see how I react, but this might be only time that a complete stranger (although unintentionally, I think) tricked me into eating “a local delicacy.”

Steven Simpson