Food is a wonderful identifier of cultural differences, where a dish that is considered ‘the norm’ in one country is considered ‘stomach-churning’ in another. If you’re traveling around the globe to exotic (and even not so exotic) locales, chances are you’re bound to come across some strange foods. So if you’re stepping out of your comfort zone as a BUCKiTDREAMER then we challenge you to also widen your horizons when it comes to your palate.
Quick cultural tip before we begin: More often than not, the foulest smelling, most fear-inducing foods also happen to be the country’s national delicacy, so don’t turn your nose up in front of the locals.
Here are our top 10 picks of some of the strangest foods from around the globe; we take our hat off to you if you’re brave enough to stomach them.
Balut (Duck Fetus Egg)
You’ve eaten eggs and you’ve eaten duck, but have you ever eaten a duck fetus egg? If you’re traveling through Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, Cambodia or Vietnam then don’t be surprised if you find street vendors selling these. While our Western tastes balk at any food item that’s served in fetus form, people from these countries happily eat these eggs with a pinch of salt, lemon juice or ground pepper. The Balut is considered to be a good source of protein and calcium, if you can get around the fact that you’re consuming a baby duck – beak, wings and all.
Surstömming (Rotten Fish)
If you’re in Sweden at the end of August then you’re just in time for the national delicacy, Surstömming, which is basically rotten fish. Opening a can of this has made many a person wretch. Even the Japanese consider it to be one of the worst food smells, and from a nation with their own weird and wonderful cuisine, that’s saying something. For this fact, it is recommended that a can of Surstömming is opened outside. Actually putting this stinky fish into your mouth can take nerves of steel. To eat the traditional way, you wrap it in a thin bread sandwich along with potatoes and onions. Apparently the sweetness of these offset the taste of the fish – we’re not convinced.
Fugu (Sliced Puffer Fish)
Speaking of the Japanese, beware of ordering Fugu from a restaurant menu. An unassuming sashimi or fish stew might just be the death of you, albeit unintentionally. Fugu is the Japanese word for ‘pufferfish’ which contains lethal amounts of tetrodotoxin. Fugu chefs must train for three or more years before they’re allowed to prepare dishes for restaurants, even then it can go horribly wrong. The smallest miscalculation can mean hospitalization for patrons or, worst case scenario, death. Just something to take into consideration. Fugu is in season during October to March.
Kopi Luwak (Weasel Poo Coffee)
OK, a civet isn’t strictly a weasel but it looks similar. In Indonesia, namely Sumatra, Java and Bali the civet’s faeces are brewed to make coffee; yes that’s right, coffee out of faeces – doesn’t really sound appetizing, does it? The civets ingest coffee cherries and that’s what comes out as their…er…poo. At US$700 per kilogram, it is the world’s most expensive coffee but according to The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) it doesn’t even taste good, and they would know. If you’re in Indonesia and you want to try a cup then ask for cà phê Chồn which loosely translated means ‘weasel coffee’.
Casu Marzu (Rotten Cheese)
This Sardinian delicacy takes cheese to a whole new level. We’ve probably all eaten cheese with a little bit of mold on it, but what about with live maggots jumping from it? Apparently the maggots are what gives the Pecorino cheese its unique and pungent flavor as they break down the fats and soften it. Then it’s spread on flatbread and chased down with a glass of strong red wine. Yummy. Apparently the aftertaste lasts for hours; just what you want if you’re out on a date, though it is considered an aphrodisiac. Consuming this local delight is even more interesting as the maggots can jump six inches into the air. Not surprisingly, some people like to clear the maggots from the cheese before they eat it.
Bird’s Nest Soup
This isn’t a soup made of twigs but out of the saliva of a bird. Before you go all squeamish, we might add that this is probably the most expensive bowl of soup you will ever consume. This is because of the demand and difficulty of production. Primarily harvested from coastal caves in North Sumatra, the nests are exported to markets in Hong Kong and mainland China. Once purchased, they are used as either a soup, the traditional method, or cooked with rice or added to desserts. Bird’s nest jelly is also popular.
If you have any kind of phobia about spiders then you may want to skip reading about this one, and traveling to Cambodia in general. Here tarantulas are commonly eaten grilled, fried or stuck on a stick and chewed. Usually deep-frying something and adding garlic tends to up the yumminess factor but the jury is still out on this one. It’s just the thought of all those legs…on the upside, they are full of protein and said to increase the beauty of anyone who eats them. Mmm hmm.
Hakarl (Rotten Shark)
You might expect a national dish to be something you’re not going to gag on, but if you’re in Iceland then you’re in for a rude awakening. Hakarl, aka rotten shark, is the country’s national dish and smells a lot like ammonia and fetid fish. Apparently the smell is a lot stronger than the taste, so first-time consumers are told to pinch their nose before they take a bite. Then it’s typically washed down with a shot of brennivín, the local spirit, which is a clear, unsweetened schnapps. Luckily for Icelanders they can eat this lovely fish year round as it’s stocked in supermarkets.
Escamoles (Ant Larvae Salad)
Is it a grain? Is it a pasta? No, it’s ant larvae salad. This ancient dish is a delicacy to Mexicans and dates back to the time of the Aztecs. Apparently the larvae of ants is actually good for you and tastes buttery and nutty. It is often called ‘insect caviar’ and they use it in omelets, tacos or simply on their own, cooked in butter or deep-fried.
Sannakji (Live Octopus)
While many dishes have the potential to choke you if they go down the wrong way, this is a dish that is literally considered a choking hazard. In South Korea, live octopus is cut up into pieces and served raw to restaurant diners with a little sesame oil. This is a delicacy that isn’t for the faint-hearted because the suckers can stick to the inside of your throat – not a pleasant experience. Several incidents of choking have been reported, and it is advised not to attempt it if you’ve had a bit to drink,as ingesting squirming tentacles requires you to be in full control of all your faculties.
Who knows what strange foods you might encounter on your BUCKiTDREAM travels? It might be one of these dishes or it might be something as equally weird and wonderful. Don’t be afraid to give it a go – it might end up being the best thing you’ve ever tasted. Then again, if it tastes as bad as it looks, at least you’ll have an interesting photo to share on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.