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Saturday, Jan. 22, 2005

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Taming the wild beet root in Australia


I have just come back from Australia and I'm covered with blood. But before I tell you about that, you're probably wondering why I chose Australia to spend the holidays. Well, Australia has a lot to offer. Inhabited by 11 of the most poisonous animals in the world, why wouldn't someone want to visit Australia?

But among the blue-ringed octopus, various venomous snakes, toxin squirting cane toads and life-threatening insects, the thing I learned to fear the most was the beet root. A beet root is one of those animallike vegetables with a tail, like turnips or radishes. The vegetable is the color beet red, a distinct color hovering somewhere between red and purple, like the color of red wine. However, the Australians would never put red wine and beet juice in the same hue. When I noticed the first stain on my shirt, I thought it was red wine. "Oh no," an Australian corrected me, "that's beet root juice. I can tell." An intimate understanding of the revered beet root was obvious.

Australians like beet root not because it seeks revenge by spraying juice all over you while you're eating it, but because of its unique taste. The sweet earthy flavor of the beet makes one think it has just been pulled from the garden moments ago. Screaming.

One does have to wonder why a vegetable would be so vengeful. The outstanding characteristics of the beet root are: cunning, slippery and drippy. It is hard to hide from this vegetable, since it is very much a part of the Australian way. It almost seemed like the old root was seeking me out, always appearing in sliced form in sandwiches, or whole like a large beet-red golf ball on my plate for the evening meal.

When it appears on the plate, the foreigner must realize it will be a good 10 minutes before he'll be eating the sweet little beet, because this cunning vegetable requires a premeal chase. With knife in one hand and fork in the other, the foreigner must chase the slippery vegetable around the plate a few laps, eventually capture it, then wrestle it into one position long enough to slice through it before it slides away and starts doing laps again.

Personally, I think beet root should be served on square plates so foreigners can easily corner the rogue vegetable. Or at the very least, it should be served with a samurai sword. I've always thought samurai swords would make great eating utensils. (They'd certainly come in handy in Japan when eating horse.) Only when the beet root is successfully halved can the foreigner claim victory over his opponent. But that's just the first bout.

Second bout. After you've captured the root, you must be careful it doesn't spray its juice on you, a form of vegetable self-defense manifested as revenge. Just watch the Australians and you'll learn how to do it. I learned in the interior of Australia at a small cafe in a rugged town more Western looking than a Hollywood movie set, where I watched ranchers wearing brimmed hats and flipflops eat corned beef sandwiches on focaccia, with beet root. The men hunkered over their plates while the beet root juice dripped from the sandwich like a leaky faucet, creating a puddle on each of the plates in front of them. Hanging your chin over your plate is the only way to tame the wily root.

After a long day of crocodile-wrestling in the outback, I was eating dinner when I noticed the blood stains all over my shirt. "Oh no," an Australian said, "that's not blood. That's beet root juice. I can tell."

Get "Amy's Guidebook to Japan: What the other guidebooks won't tell you" at www.mooooshop.com


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