Ch© Salazar and Andrew Abbott consider themselves to be adventurers. Instead of training for the Boston marathon or mountain climbing in New Hampshire on the weekends, 23-year-old Dorchester native, Salazar, and 22-year-old transplant from Maryland, Abbott, Yelp their way to restaurants in Boston. Their Mt. Everest: blood sausage, tripe, heart and live squid.
Chronicling their adventures on their blog, the two are self-dubbed the Boston Gastronauts. And there is nothing they won’t try, at least once.
"We’re going to do durian, but there’s a lot of apprehension about durian," Salazar said, describing durian as a spiky Asian fruit that tastes like raw onions and feet, but smells sweet. After trying a durian milkshake, Abbott said he was not terribly apprehensive, but didn’t appear disappointed when Salazar explained it wasn’t in season yet.
Most of the gastronomical escapades Salazar and Abbott find themselves a part of grow from similar experiences of trying a particular food and wanting to go further. The group began after Salazar suggested they try a stuffed sandwich with sides like onion rings and mozzarella sticks and French fries inside the sandwich.
"You feel like dying after eating it," Abbott said. Salazar laughed agreeing that the sandwich was quite an experience. Devouring a stuffed sandwich peeked an interest in Salazar and Abbott to try other unusual foods.
"Ch© brought up Yelp," Abbott said. "It spun and spun and spun and we formed a blog about it."
The first post on the blog, created on March 8, delved into an encounter with frog legs. Since that first post, Salazar and Abbott have devoted one post a week to recreate and explain their gastronomical adventures. Salazar spends most of his posts recreating the history and culture behind the food, while Abbott describes the flavors, cost, and his personal opinion of the dishes.
"What I seem to be finding is that eating these foods is not just weird endlessly or seen as strange throughout time in American culture," Salazar said. "But it (finding the food strange) is a relatively recent phenomenon."
Both Salazar and Abbott experienced a draw towards strange food from a young age. Abbott’s father loved liver and onions, gizzards, and sardines straight from the can. His mother began cooking as a result of his father’s affinity to cuisine she was not fond of, creating a catering business. Abbott recalled a strange attraction to his father’s unusual food choices.
"10-year-old me was confounded by these things but wanting to try them anyway," Abbot said.
Salazar’s parents were also caterers. Salazar admits to being less adventurous as a young child, but finding a new interest in strange foods at 11 and 12 years old.
"We’d go to Asian butcher shops and there would be the tripe in the thing or chicken feet and it would be fascinating for when you when you’re 11, 12, 13 to kind of see these things," Salazar said. "I think that was the seed that got planted."
The seed of strange food interest spread beyond Salazar and Abbott since the blog’s inception. Salazar said they are getting requests from friends who want to join them on their gastronomical adventures, and the blog is being linked to other blogs. The two appeared uninterested to the response of their site, quickly shifting focus to the next food adrenaline rush. They are adventurers after all.
"We want to go on a city safari and snag a squirrel," Abbott said. Abbott’s uncle became a Big Brother in Boston, and, according to Abbott, the boy his uncle spent time with constantly spoke of city squirrel stew. Abbott and Salazar hope to recreate this urban legend and actually give squirrel meat a try.
In all of the hype and excitement, Salazar remains focused on finding the history behind the dishes they try and hope to try. "When I’m writing, my imaginary opposition to what makes this food strange is McDonald’s so it sort of becomes ethnic food, but like we were talking about before somebody’s ethnic food is someone else’s ethnicity," Salazar said.
Ethnicity brings the Boston Gastronauts to places like Somerville and Chinatown, eating blood sausage in a Polish restaurant and beef heart and tripe in a small Peruvian place in Union Square. Salazar and Abbott agree the Greater Boston area is a great place to ingest the unusual.
"In any big city there is just so much going on and so many different cultures intermingling," Abbott said. "I went on a cross-country trip with my friends and found that there are people living out there who wouldn’t have this opportunity to eat these foods."
Another plus of living in a big city for the gastronauts is a never-ending supply of restaurants with creations and recreations of the unusual food they strive to taste.
"Last week I wasn’t a big fan of everything we ate, but I’d be willing to try it again prepared differently," Abbott said.
The adventures have just begun for these two men. A trip to Central Square where a friend told Salazar about a restaurant that serves blood is on the agenda, and durian season is sure to arrive any day.
"We’re going to find a lot of things on this journey that is going to be a little shocking," Abbott said. "When I was searching for information on blood sausage I found a link to a place that had dog blood sausage. I just got the impression that this dog didn’t donate it willingly, and they didn’t give it a cookie afterword of anything."