Returned Mormon missionaries recall the most stomach-turning, barf-inducing meals they ate in the quest for converts

(Pat Bagley | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mormon missionaries often encounter unusual foods while serving their church.

There are few experiences that will make missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints drop to their knees.

Prayer is surely one. The sight or smell of roasted squirrel or boiled sheepskin is often another. And plop a pig heart or cow stomach on their plates and watch these proselytizers not only fall on all fours but also keel over on their sides, reeling, retching and puking their guts out — though, hopefully, not in front of their hosts.

These foods — considered delicacies in other cultures — are served where cooks are adept at preparing not only all types of animals but also every part of the creature, from livers to kidneys to brains.

These offerings can turn otherwise confident and eager Mormon elders and sisters into squeamish mounds of mush who gag, vomit or worse.

When eating in private homes, missionaries are told to be gracious, even if they encounter a food they don’t particularly like. They are, after all, representatives of their church, and how they act reflects on the faith. Besides, bad-mouthing a meal is no recipe for wooing potential converts.

Sometimes, though, no matter their good intentions, missionaries just can’t stomach the food.

Savvy proselytizers learn quickly to say “no thank you” or strategically place the offending food in a paper napkin, a plastic bag or even a backpack to make it appear as if they are cleaning their plates.

Former missionaries shared their interesting, funny and slightly disgusting dining experiences with The Salt Lake Tribune via Facebook. Their responses have been edited for space and clarity.

Squirreled away • I served in the Cincinnati, Ohio, mission. One investigator made squirrel for us. He prepared it by first boiling it and then skinning it. The problem with this procedure was that much of the hair ended up in the meat. The meat itself reminded me of liver; hairy, hairy liver. — Hales Swift, Naperville, Ill.

Rice, rice, baby • While in Scotland, some Kurdish refugees served me rice balls wrapped in boiled sheep’s skin. It was repulsive. Such a shame as they were the nicest people, and it was so generous of them to feed us as they had nothing. — Chris Mace, Huddersfield, United Kingdom

Have a heart • I felt like I won the lottery serving a mission in Italy, and I still dream about the food I had there. However, one time we were invited to dinner and the main dish was pig heart. I really tried to eat it so I wouldn’t offend our host. I even cut it into tiny pieces and tried mixing it with the other things on my plate in an attempt to choke it down, but at some point I realized it would be worse for me to vomit all over the table and told her I just couldn’t eat another bite. I felt so bad, but the chewy texture and the bland, gamy taste were just too much for me. — Lauren Evans Arrington, Denver

Fast food in Peru • The first night I was in Peru with my Peruvian companion, we ate dinner at a member’s tin shack. Dinner was cuy, or guinea pig. I tried to eat it fast, not knowing that in Peru eating fast meant you loved the food and wanted more. My stomach was doing hurdles an hour into it. I spent the rest of the night with a garbage can to my lips. — Wayne Fagg, a Provo native now living in Georgia

Can’t stomach this • I served my mission in the Concepción, Chile, area where guatita, or cow stomach (tripe), is common. It was boiled in a pot, and the smell was rancid, putrefying, and one I never want to smell again. It was like someone let out a big fart. When eating the stomach, the texture was rubbery and had a slightly fishy taste. It was like eating a rubbery, fishy eraser. But I ate it out of respect, because it was all some of the impoverished people had. — Michael Greg Young, North Ogden

No thanks, America • We went to an American imports store and bought a six-pack of Hires Root Beer. We were out of our minds with euphoria, even though it probably cost us $20. We were eager to share our excitement with our Japanese companions, who took a taste and declared that it tastes like medicine. They didn’t drink another drop. I later realized it’s the same reason I don’t like anything cherry flavor. All the children’s medicines of my youth were cherry flavored. — David Gregory Pihl, Salt Lake City

Something’s fishy • Fanesca is an Ecuadorian soup served for Easter. People treat the fish with lye (similar to lutefisk) and hang it outside to dry for months. They then reconstitute it into a cream soup. Imagine the fishiest fish to the 10th power. Thank goodness for bread. Each teaspoon of soup gagged down with a bite of bread. — Kim Bleiweiss, Farmington

Using your head • Romanian toba, or pig head cheese, was particularly stomach-turning. The pieces of liver and other unidentifiable organs distributed throughout the meat were simply inedible. My companion and I considered it divine intervention that, during the meal, our investigator’s home was visited by a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who kept her talking at the door long enough for us to stuff our napkin-lined pockets full of the dry, chalky, internal-organ-filled meat. — Walker Frahm, Salt Lake City

Animal remix • I ate pretty much everything offered in my mission (northeast France/southern Belgium) except for blood sausage (which was officially forbidden) and head cheese (“fromage de tête”), which I simply couldn’t bring myself to eat. There were just too many recognizable, unappetizing animal parts in the mix. Ick. — Lynn Matthews Anderson, Quinson, France

Doggone it • There was one bishop in my Korean mission who was infamous for feeding missionaries dog soup. The first meeting that I had with him, he immediately asked, “Sister, have you ever had dog soup? You sisters and the elders, we’ll all go have lunch and eat dog soup.” I had been trained from birth that eating anything served to me on my mission was my duty to God and my church and my family. But I could NOT eat dog. So I dredged up the most formal Korean I knew (gleaned from reading the Book of Mormon’s Korean translation) and basically said “If thou commandest me, O my bishop, I shall partake, but if I am given free choice, I would refrain.” The bishop laughed and informed me that I could have chicken ginseng soup instead. — RoseE Hadden, Moorhead, Minn.

Recycled bread • In Colombia, the bakers took all the old bread, added some spice and recooked it. The older missionaries took newbies out for this “yummy maduro." I am gagging as I remember it. — Liz Vail Ashworth, Salt Lake City

Tearful salad • The people who made the onion salad (in the Netherlands) were so incredibly nice, and they always made very good food for us. But that salad, I don’t know what kind of onions they were, or what was in the salad, but it stunk so bad. I thought maybe, after a few bites, they would say it was just a joke. — Karl Cannon, South Jordan

Beans for breakfast • You could smell Japanese natto — fermented beans — a block away. Nasty, and offered regularly (usually at breakfast). I learned to hate it with a fiery passion. — Curtis Ray, N.D.

Rubber soup • In Chile, sopa de mondongo is a soup made from diced tripe, slow-cooked with vegetables. Not only is it awful, but it also is like chewing rubber. You end up swallowing the pieces whole or secretly slipping them into your pocket. — David Cook, Rochester, N.Y.

Bloody bits • While I was in Spain, I was offered blood sausage more than once, and sometimes I had to eat it because it was all chopped up in whatever else we were eating (usually lentils). — Jessie Christensen, Orem

Backpack trick • Pickled herring, beet and mayonnaise salad is a common Russian dish. While serving in the Baltic States (Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania), I kept a small plastic bag in my backpack for when it was served. We’d ask our hosts to get us something like salt or a napkin from the kitchen, and we’d spoon it into our backpacks. The problem is, then they’d think we liked it and serve us more. — Laney Oswald Hawes, Fort Worth, Texas

American as raw chicken • I’m the most not-picky person you’ll ever meet, but, in Arizona, I had some awful meals. Undercooked chicken breast was served to me three times. It’s the only time I’ve ever turned down a meal. — Taylor Mefford, Peekskill, N.Y.

Bad in the Beehive • Orange Jell-O with bananas in it and then green Jell-O with fish in it. Yes. I served my mission in Utah. — Grant Staking, Fairfield, Calif.