My earliest slimy food memory goes back to when I was six, watching a diver wade ashore in the south of France bringing up a string bag filled with live sea urchins he’d harvested underwater nearby. He proceeded to dump them on a flat rock next to where I was sitting, unsheathed a big knife strapped to his leg and with a gloved hand lifted up one of the black urchins, still bristling, cut it open, scooped out the pulpy meat inside, took that orange blob off the blade with his thumb and popped it into his mouth with a smile. Noticing the kid on the rocks transfixed by all this, the fellow promptly repeated the process, extended his knife in my direction and offered me off the blade my first taste of fresh sea urchin. The salty, melts-in-your-mouth chewiness of its taste and texture left an indelible memory that decades later no order of uni at a sushi bar has ever matched.
This lack of squeamishness about foods many people consider slimy also dates back to having learned at an early age to fish off the dock of a home on the Long Island Sound where my family spent summers. Our neighbors, a Greek family who actually owned the dock but shared it with us, let a few elderly Italian men from town fish there. They were guys who in the past had done odd jobs for them. Picture, then, an 8-year-old boy being taught by a 70-year-old retired laborer how to pole up eels hooked overnight on lines left in the water, the poles having been jammed under the dock’s cleats the afternoon before. Next came my learning how to grab the eels, slippery as can be, and plop them into pails the men would take home at the end of the day to be cooked up.
None of that last bit went on in our kitchen, mind you. My mother found eels revolting. So it wasn’t until about ten years afterwards that I ate eel for the first time. Delish! Later on I learned eels are a delicacy in Europe and Asia. Clearly the fishermen on the dock were onto something good.