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fish skeletonI once examined a meal on the road as a scientist would an alien life form: with extreme care, a sense of awe and absolutely no intention of consuming it.

The setting was Moscow, 1997. Outside, old women who’d lost their pensions hawked cigarettes amid the Soviet gray of sky and concrete. We were in a “three-star” hotel dining room in a dingy, slightly bug-ridden hotel. Was there a menu? No, just a cast-iron skillet filled with lumpy white plasma.

The first taste was reminiscent of potatoes. A gooey, glue-like consistency left the food sticking to the roof of my mouth. With each bite, my oxygen intake was further diminished. (Was this an espionage tool to asphyxiate foreign dignitaries during State dinners?) The beverage to wash it down was a steaming carbonated liquid with an unidentifiable berry-like fruit on the label. The berry seemed to be glowing. Birds, which we all know can eat things humans can’t, were swarming the berry bush.

Thirteen years later, the acid-aftertaste still clings to the back of my tongue.

After a few bites, I could no longer swallow. So I explored with my fork, scalpeling through the membranous top layer and delicately separating glob from chunk. The consistency was creamy in places, milky in others. After some careful rooting, I exhumed … a fish skeleton. The whole thing struck me as a morbid version of the Kinder egg sold at the nearby souvenir kiosks. But instead of a plastic toy inside a chocolate egg, I got a rotting fish skeleton inside a noxious blob of potato-matter.

This was in the early days of digital photography, so no one thought to use their 35 mm or disposables on a food shot. Hopefully the prose picture was enough.

I’ve vomited up mine, so now it’s your turn: What’s the worst meal you’ve ever had while traveling?

— written by Dan Askin

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3 Responses to “The Worst Meal I’ve Ever Had While Traveling”

  1. Pemberton says:

    In Doolin, Ireland, we went to a music shop/cafe that sold pizza and beer for lunch. We were starving. We ordered a pizza. A 20-something man stuck our frozen pizza in the oven, and while the pie was cooking, two of his friends came into the cafe to have a chat. They were wild and loud, cursing and sharing ribald tales in thick country accents. While the three locals swapped stories and slapped their knees, the pizza in the oven cooked and cooked. Finally, the man in charge took the pizza out, declared that it was burnt and couldn’t be served, and began to slice it up and give the well-cooked (but still edible) pieces to his friends. We sat and watched hungrily as they ate our pizza, and had to wait another 15 minutes before we could eat.

  2. SeaMarmot says:

    I recall an especially smelly Limburger I tried to eat in Frankfurt. My god that cheese stunk, but I was really trying to acclimate myself to the taste. Not sure why I was doing that, but it makes my stomach churn just to think about it.

  3. soliteyah says:

    Now that is a vile meal, LOL.

    It doesn’t really make for a good story, but the worst meal I’ve had in recent memory was a chicken salad wrap from a supermarket in Maine. How do you screw up chicken salad, I’d like to know?? But they managed — it was horrendously bland, gooped up with mayonnaise and topped with a few wilted pieces of iceberg lettuce. Ugh.

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