Wait, what did I just eat? Food stories from Mormon missionaries

Published: Thursday, May 29 2014 3:21 p.m. MDT

"Tako" is the word for octopus in Japanese and a sister missionary soon learned that Japanese "tacos" were not like the American ones.

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With missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serving around the globe in numerous cultures, unique encounters with food become a prominent part of the missionary experience. Such moments make for great stories but can also help create an understanding of and appreciation for different cultures. We asked our readers to share some of their most memorable food experiences from their missions.

‘One tiny chicken foot’

I was a green missionary serving in a low-income district in Mexico City when my companion and I were invited for a lunch with one of the families of the ward that we were serving in.

We arrived at the humble apartment and took our seats at a dilapidated table that sat six — not enough to sit the missionaries, the parents and all the kids. A bowl of broth, which I assumed was part of the meal, was set in front of me.

When I looked in the bowl, there was something at the bottom that I scooped up with part of a corn tortilla. (Silverware was too expensive.) It was a chicken foot. Not a leg or drumstick, this was the bony foot — the only “meat” that this poor family could afford.

When six mismatched bowls were set on the table, I realized that this was the entire meal. I also noticed a few sets of hungry eyes that weren’t sitting at the table and weren’t given a bowl.

At that point, my pleas for God to bless this food and to bless this tiny home became very real.

One tiny chicken foot not only taught me what real sacrifice meant but also changed my view on gratitude forever.

— Tim Johnson, of Pleasant Grove; Mexico Mexico City North Mission, 1988-1989

‘Mission spaghetti’

I served my mission in Munich, Germany (now the Alpine German-Speaking Mission). I enjoyed many delicious German dishes — spaetzle (noodlelike dumpling dish), sauerkraut, kartoffelsalat (potato salad without mayonnaise) and wurst (many variations of sausage), as well as fresh-baked breads and desserts.

But the most memorable dish came very early on in my mission. My first assignment was in Erlangen, north of Nuremberg. My trainer, Elder Howell, a Draper native, was determined to speak German to me the entire time we were together. While his treatment eventually evoked a hearty “thank you” from me many months later on my mission, it initially proved disastrous, especially when it came to shopping and eating. Our first trip to the grocery store found me, the youngest of five (the others all sisters) and who never made a real meal, wondering what to buy and what the packaging said.

The result? I bought a package of spaghetti noodles and what I thought was spaghetti sauce. Turns out, it was tomato paste.

To make matters worse, our apartment did not have a proper stove but instead a single burner that would only warm up water for cooking rather than boiling it. So my first self-made meal on my mission was half-cooked spaghetti noodles with tomato paste.

Though that first effort was disgusting, I continued to perfect the art of what is now famously known to my children as “mission spaghetti,” a favorite Sunday-afternoon meal. Only now it includes fully cooked noodles, real spaghetti sauce (store-bought, of course), meat (a luxury skipped in my real mission spaghetti) and cheese.

— Scott Brown, of Phoenix

Japanese ‘tacos’

As a new missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Japan Okayama Mission, I had been in my assigned city of Hofu for less than 24 hours when I encountered my first difficult Japanese food experience.

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