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With every border you cross and every new stamp on your passport, you would expect to see a different culture. Breaking news — expect to taste different food too! Trying country specific dishes is a great way to gain insight to the country’s culture, people, and traditions which will only enhance your experience. But be warned, not all foods you encounter along the way will be down-right amazing. Some of them will be unusual and bizarre. Some you may even consider gross. But if you can stomach it, it’s worth to try as many as you can. You will be surprised how many you will end up liking. If not anything, you’ll probably have a really cool story to tell all your friends back home.
So be adventurous, be fearless, and be open-minded. You’ll need all three in order to conquer some of the weirdest foods in the world. Read on and see if you’ve got the guts!
Prepare to be shocked, surprised, or even impressed. You’ll have to admit that you never thought some of these could exist. But they do! Would you dare take a bite?
1. Escamole, Mexico
Say what: es-ka-mo-leh
Delicately put, it’s insect caviar. Bluntly put, it’s fried ant larvae. Native to Central Mexico, Escamole (pictured above) is an ancient dish that was enjoyed as a delicacy by the Aztecs. Today, it makes for a fancy taco topping, a tasty omelette addition, and is even served alone with guacamole and tortillas for a make-your-own ant larvae burrito! Weird as they may sound, the eggs are in fact palatable. Usually pan-fried with butter and spices, these eggs have a crunchy texture, and a light, nutty flavor. Since, only the eggs of the velvety tree ants are used for escamoles, the harvest is difficult and limited to the period between February and April. No wonder, the dish is sought-after and expensive!
2. Cuy, Peru
Say what: kwee
Cuy, fried or roasted Guinea Pig, is a Peruvian delicacy usually eaten on special occasions. It can be very weird to see what many consider a pet, on a plate, but guinea pigs are actually native to the Andean region and have been feeding Peru’s population for the last 5,000 years. Cooked whole — head, teeth, ears, and all, expect cuy to be crispy on the outside and with very little meat. The taste is similar to dark chicken meat or duck and is considered the healthiest meat you can consume. It’s perfectly acceptable to eat this dish with your hands and it’s actually the best/easiest way to do it anyway. Just make sure you’ve got napkins nearby.
3. Fugu, Japan
Say what: foo-goo OR who-goo
Fugu or Blowfish is a Japanese delicacy, and one of the most dangerous foods in the world. Its intestines, liver, and ovaries are full of poison, 1,000 times deadlier than cyanide! When the deadly parts of the fish have been carefully extracted, the poisonous meal turns into a delicacy, costing as much as USD 200. Prepared by expert chefs who have undergone 2-3 years of specific training to get their license, the dish is sometimes served in raw, paper-thin slices, poached slightly in a hotpot of broth, prepared in a stew, or grilled with teriyaki sauce. It has a chewy texture and subtle taste when raw. When cooked, the flavor becomes more pronounced and the chewiness gives way to a silky, melt-in-your-mouth quality.
4. Bird’s Nest Soup, China/Malaysia
Say what: Just how it reads!
This bizarre food is made from exactly what its name implies — a bird’s nest, a swiftlet’s nest to be exact! As weird as it sounds, it’s considered a delicacy throughout much of Asia and is quite expensive. The price of one bowl of soup can set you back 30–100 USD. Found in mountain top caves in pitch-black, sky-high chambers in countries such as China and Malaysia’s Borneo, the nests are reached by ladders and must be carefully selected. The nests are thoroughly cleaned, leaving a hard, crusty shell that’s made completely from the bird’s saliva. The final product has a gelatinous texture and a light, savory taste, however it doesn’t have any smell and lacks a distinct flavor.
The experience: The mere mention of birds nest soup conjures up images of a really strange concoction. Most have never tried it and a large number of people don't even know someone that has. The Chinese first started using swallow nests for soup over 1500 years ago. For me it is something you should try once if you get the chance. With its high protein content it is even good for you in a small way. — by James Long from The World Travel Chef
5. Gaebul, South Korea
Say what: guy-bul
Referred to as the Penis Fish, Gaebul is actually a marine “worm” that’s been aptly nicknamed after its shape. Found in the mudflats on Korea’s south and south-west coasts, Gaebul is also collected in Japan, China, and Russia. After thorough rinsing, Gaebul is usually eaten raw and alive in Korea. It is sliced into small pieces and served while it’s still moving. Simply dip the pieces into the vinegar-y sauce and enjoy the mild and sweet flavor and its pleasantly chewy texture. Definitely a bizarre food, but so simple to prepare and eat!
The experience: Seen in fish markets around South Korea, a common first reaction to the Urechis unicinctus is to look… or maybe run the other way. It’s a dish that upon first glance I remember thinking, “who looked at this and thought, let’s try to eat it.” But someone did. Available year round, the fat innkeeper worm is usually eaten raw after being dipped in a salt and sesame oil sauce, my favorite, or a vinegar and gochujang sauce. It should be so fresh that it still wriggles on the plate after being chopped into bite size pieces. This isn’t generally the main platter on the table, but more of a side dish or something to chew on between sips of soju or beer. The chewy texture and slightly sweet taste are a welcome addition to any seafood lover's table. — by Hallie Bradley from The Soul of Seoul
These dishes are definitely out of the ordinary, but you might be surprised at how tasty they can be. Are you brave enough to try one or multiple?
1. A-ping, Cambodia
Say what: ah-ping
Test your courage in Cambodia and try A-ping (pictured above), a deep-fried tarantula. A dish developed during Pol Pot’s oppressive rule over Cambodia when people were forced to eat anything they could to survive, A-ping is now sealed as a staple food in the country’s gastronomy. At 12 cents a pop, these crunchy critters are a cheap snack and rich in protein. Some Khmer women even think that eating a tarantula will make them more beautiful. Start by pulling the legs off and enjoy the crunchiest part first. Then, take in the gooey body, initially nutty, garlicky and salty, followed by a bitter and pronounced aftertaste.
2. Sannakji, South Korea
Say what: sah-nahk-jee
A widely debated dish that is shrouded in controversies, Sannakji is one of the strangest foods you will try if you have a flair for the theatrics. Made from a young, live octopus, chopped into small pieces, the food arrives on your table still wriggling on the plate. Many say the octopus is still alive, others believe that the commotion is due to the neurons present in the tentacles. Either way, the dish is not for the faint of hearts — the strong suckers in the tentacles are a choking hazard, killing approximately six people each year. So, once you’ve dipped the piece in a sauce, chew hard and fast before swallowing. If you can get it down without choking on it or spitting it out, you’ve completed a Korean rite of passage. Good luck!
The experience: Raw octopus is absolutely delicious! I love cooked octopus, but octopus sashimi is even better. Octopuses used for sannakji are small, so the meat isn't as hard to chew as you'd think. In fact, I found it to be quite tender. It's naturally sweet and briny and served only with a soy-wasabi dipping sauce. If you can get past the moving tentacles, then I strongly urge you to try it. Just be sure to chew it very well because the tentacles still work and can latch themselves onto your throat. — by JB Macatulad from Will Fly for Food
3. Balut, Philippines
Say what: bah-loot
Locals consider Balut a powerful aphrodisiac, but for many of us eating a fertilized duck egg is perhaps the strangest thing we’d ever heard of. This “egg” is actually a duck fetus that has been allowed to develop up to 20 days, some even featuring eyes, feathers, and beaks! Hence, once peeled, avoid actually seeing the whole fetus which looks like a super-compressed duckling molded into a tiny ball. For something that sounds or looks horrible, the taste isn’t bad at all. Andrew Zimmern, a chef and television personality, described it as, “A hard-boiled egg times 17, with a little bit of roasted poultry flavor.” The yolk is creamy and smooth, the “meat” is tender, and the broth inside the shell is savory. It makes a nutritious snack and is often eaten during drinking sessions.
The experience: As anyone has visited the Philippines may know, Filipinos have a unique take on the hard-boiled egg. Their version, balut, is usually a fertilized duck egg — partially developed and often featuring tiny wings and feathers to up the cringe factor. Eating balut is an involved process, requiring you to crack the egg and open a small hole in the shell, after which you guzzle the juice inside. Then, finish peeling the egg and eat everything except for the rubberized nutrient pouch. When finished, it's customary to bounce the rubbery leftovers off the floor, preferably at your most squeamish friend.
While the appearance and texture of balut are off-putting to most, the taste is reminiscent of egg yolks, so anyone who enjoys a nice yolk will probably enjoy the taste of balut as well. I know I do! For those who just can't deal with the thought of eating a partially formed duckling, beer helps. — by Nathan Anderson from Open Road Before Me
4. Surstromming, Sweden
Say what: suhr-strom-ing
One might wonder, how something that smells so off-putting can be a delicacy but that is the beauty of this strange food. Surstromming is a fermented Baltic Sea herring, a Swedish specialty. The fish is gutted, doused in salt, and left in open containers to ferment for several months in temperatures between 15 – 20° C, lending it the (in)famous pungent, overpowering smell. Due to the strong odor, it is not allowed in enclosed spaces like apartment buildings. Hence, it is usually consumed outdoors during summer, normally on thin bread as part of sandwich which can include dill, cheese, potatoes, sour cream, and diced onions.
The experience: Surströmming is usually eaten on a sandwich with Swedish tunnbröd, potatoes, sour cream, tomatoes and onions. The smell is way too potent to have Surströmming on its own anyway — trust me, don’t try it plain! I’d suggest:
- Have a picnic OUTSIDE,
- Only breathe through your mouth,
- Don’t eat it if your stomach is easily upset (it stinks!),
- Start with only a little bit of fish on the sandwich,
- Try to have an open mind and just go for it! — by Mona from Chronic Wanderlust
5. Hákarl, Iceland
Say what: hau-karl
Iceland’s national dish, Hákarl is the answer to Sweden’s Surstromming. The fermented shark dish uses the Greenland shark or other sleeper shark varieties, which after being carefully gutted, cleaned and placed in a shallow hole in gravelly sand. The shark is covered with gravel, and stones are placed on top of the mound for 2 – 3 months, squeezing any liquid out from the body. Once out of the ground, it is cut into strips, and hung to dry for 4 to 5 months more. Served in cubed cuts, on a toothpick, Hákarl is chewy in texture and has a strong fishy taste, but its smell is what takes the cake. Hákarl has high ammonia levels and the smell is compared to cleaning products! This is one weird food that needs an iron stomach to keep down!
The following 5 unconventional foods may sound unappetizing; and for all the right reasons, but you have to try it to know different. So, before you go about labeling these food as disgusting, read on and find out what is true.
1. Shirako, Japan
Say what: shee-rah-koo
Simply put, Shirako (pictured above) is the sperm sacs of male cod fish. Think of it like caviar, except instead of the eggs from a female fish, it’s the eggs from a male. Not such a gross food when you think of it like that, is it? Soft in texture, Shirako is comparable to cream cheese, which is served either raw or cooked. If you’re trying it for the first time, we suggest Shirako tempura. Otherwise try it on top of sushi, or as a custard in a small teacup. Like caviar, it has a distinct fishy and salty taste, but is not too overpowering. If you didn’t know you were eating fish sperm, you’d probably even enjoy it! Overall, this is one “disgusting” food that’s perhaps not so gross after all.
2. Century Old Egg, China
Say what: Just what it is!
Also known as thousand-year-old egg and millennium egg, this ancient sounding food is not actually hundreds or thousands of years old. Chicken, quail, or duck eggs are all viable candidates for this Chinese delicacy. The egg is soaked in a solution of salt, clay, ash, and rice hulls for several weeks or months, turning the yellow yolk into a grey-green color and the white part turns a reddish, black, jelly-like texture. The odor is quite strong, but the taste is acceptable to many first-timers who dare to put this blacken egg in their mouth.
The experience: When I was in Thailand, taking a cooking class, we made a quick stop to Somphet Market to purchase ingredients for our dishes. The aisles were loaded with colorful fruits, vegetables and meats. But, what caught my eye was a pretty, pastel pink egg. It was a century egg, also known as a thousand-year-old egg. This delicacy is an Asian tradition in which an egg is preserved for several weeks or months using a process that combines, clay, ash, salt, quicklime and rice hulls.
I cracked one open and the inside boasted a moldy green color. That combined with the strong smell of ammonia did not make it an appealing dish, but I still wanted to give it a taste. Luckily it didn’t taste as bad as it looked or smelled — it was similar to a warm, old hard-boiled egg. — by Annette White from Bucket List Journey
3. Tuna Eye, Japan
Say what: Exactly how it is written!
You are basically eating an eye of a fish! It is a relatively new dish in Japan, that originated just a few decades ago. It’s thought that the eyes of a tuna fish contain a high amount of Omega 3 fatty acids. Because Omega 3 is good for the brain, the conception spread that eating a tuna eye would increase intelligence. The most common way to prepare a tuna eye is to boil it. It’s then seasoned with soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar. The eye itself resembles a hard-boiled eye in texture, and the taste is combination of this and an octopus.
The experience: Tuna eye may be intimidating: It's not often your food is staring back at you. It's jelly-like interior recalls egg whites, but the rubbery exterior is comparable to squid in both texture and flavor. Really the visual is worse than the taste, which isn't far out the ordinary. Even the eye muscles could be mistaken for steamed mussels. I probably wouldn't order it again but would accept the challenge if my reputation for eating strange foods was on the line. — by Kevin Revolinski from The Mad Traveler
4. Casu Marzu, Sardinia, Italy
Say what: cah-soo mar-tzoo
Dubbed ‘Maggot Cheese’ it’s easy to see how it made it to this list. Sheep’s milk cheese is made left to cure over a 3-week period, before the crust is cut away, attracting flies to come and lay their eggs in it. The eggs hatch into larvae that consume the cheese and their excretion go back onto the cheese, creating a distinct flavor. The cheese is edible as long as the maggots are alive, and the maggots are consumed along with it; just make sure it’s dead before swallowing! Smear the super-soft, spreadable cheese on flat bread. If the very pungent taste of Casu Marzu puts you off, try it with a glass of strong red wine.
The experience: Any food type which had been infested by flies and was crawling with larvae would normally be something you’d throw out immediately. Yet, throw out this cheese and you’re likely to find yourself being thrown off the island, such is the importance of casu marzu for Sardinians. It’s so deeply entrenched in their cultural heritage that, even though it’s forbidden, a very small handful of producers continue to make it.
Depending on how long the cheese has been aged, you’ll either be able to break it into chunks or you’ll have to spread it on bread. In any case, the smell is pungent. Close your eyes and savour the exquisite taste. It starts rich and tangy; it builds in complexity then finishes on a salty and slightly spicy note. Heaven! The crunch of a maggot between your molars brings you back down to earth again. I travel to Sardinia on a regular basis and whenever I’m confronted with casu marzu, I eat it and I enjoy it. That said, I don’t actively seek it out. If I’m relaxing at home, I’d probably have a slice of pecorino.... without the maggots! — by Emma Bentley from Emma Bentley Vino
5. Raw blood soup, Thailand
Say what: Just the way it is!
It’s not hard to guess what the main ingredient is here, but to be clear — it’s pig blood. Raw blood soup hails from northern Thailand and is locally known as Lou (pronounced like you). Mixed with different spices, the bloody soup isn’t as irony as you may expect it to be. In fact, it tastes like a creamy whole milk. However, accompany it with a shot of whiskey to kill any bacteria. Slurp at your own risk!
These foods are more intriguing than they are weird, but they certainly aren’t the “norm” when it comes to dining out. These interesting foods tend to be more appealing to the masses and although they are not common, they possess curious characteristics that make folks want to give it a shot. Would you?
1. Steak Tartare, France
Say what: tar-tehr
Steak tartare (pictured above) is the new, trendy cousin of sushi. Variations of this dish have been around for centuries, but it was the French who perfected it to what it is today. The main ingredient is raw, high-quality beef or horse meat, which is minced or cut very thinly and mixed with one raw egg, capers, onions, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. More or less like sushi, try steak tartare with rye bread. The way it’s prepared with spices and seasoning gives it a more brownish color than pink, making it seem a little less raw. Although eating raw meat seems risky, steak tartare is usually only prepared in high-end restaurants that take proper care in meat selection and preparation. You definitely want to try it!
2. Black Pudding, Great Britain
Say what: Exactly what it is!
Fancy a sausage stuffed with pig blood and pork fat? That’s exactly what you’ll get when you order Black Pudding in Great Britain. The practice of using blood in sausages dates back to the 15th century and the reason actually makes sense. The blood is used to ensure that no part of the animal goes to waste during slaughter. The recipe is pretty simple, too. The blood is boiled along with spices and a little pig fat. Oatmeal or barley is added to thicken the liquid. It’s then poured into a sausage casing where it dries and hardens, creating a sausage. The pudding can be boiled, baked, fried, grilled, or even eaten cold. It’s typically served in slices as part of a traditional breakfast. In Scotland, it’s normal to find black pudding served in fish and chip shops where it comes deep fried. Bet you never had a sausage like this before.
3. Khash, Armenia
Say what: hah-sh
This Armenian winter soup is not your typical way to warm up. However, during holidays, festivals, and other worthy occasions, locals reach for Khash. Made from cow’s feet, its smell is very strong, and the broth becomes very thick and gelatinous from hours on the stove. It is an out-of-the-ordinary dish, but one that is a must try! The meat around the hooves is tender and incredibly tasty, something that you’d have not known otherwise. When you do try it, eat it alongside flatbread, known as lavash!
4. Soup Number Five, Philippines
Say what: You cannot mess it up.
Another soup to make the list, this unique food is consumed for its believed powers of healing and an aphrodisiac. Made of bull’s testicles and penis, yes, you heard it right, some men believe that the bull’s strength and stamina is passed over to them. It’s said the name was chosen because restaurants did not want to get into detail about what is actually in the soup. Usually found at street stalls around the Philippines, you will have plenty of chances to try it. Just don’t mess up the name lest you end up getting a different soup altogether.
5. Haggis, Scotland
Say what: hag-gus
Haggis doesn’t have the most appetizing sounding ingredients, but once mixed and prepared, the taste is nothing to scoff at. The national dish of Scotland is a type of pudding composed of sheep’s liver, heart, and lungs mixed with minced beef, that is stuffed into the sheep’s stomach and boiled. Haggis has been around for hundreds of years and was known as a rural dish as it was inexpensive to make. Nowadays, it’s still consumed because of its savory taste and nutritious value. The taste is very similar to minced beef and if you didn’t know what you were eating, you’d certainly think there was nothing unusual about it.
The experience: Haggis. Quite often the word alone evokes a reaction; from those who love it, hate it, and those who fear it. Left over pieces of a sheep mixed with oatmeal and that mixture is spiced (not to be confused with spicy!) to leave you with what I can only describe as the richest, most luxurious mince. It has a softer texture than mince — nothing chewy — and a beautifully savoury flavour enhanced by the meat which is very fat-rich to give a buttery loveliness, punctuated by mild and peppery spices. My advice: don’t think about it. Get a fork loaded with equal parts haggis, mashed potatoes and turnips (champit tatties and neeps), topped with a creamy whisky sauce. You won’t look back. — by Sharon McCully from House of Herby
The world has clearly got a lot of weird, interesting, bizarre and down-right unappetizing foods. Each dish comes with its own story and is surrounded by interesting culture. What may seem like the weirdest food in the world to you can be someone’s breakfast they look forward to on a day of celebration. A perceived disgusting food can be someone else’s typical dinner or pre-party snack. It all depends on perspective, culture, and the norms that you grew up with. So, instead of turning up your nose at the next bizarre food someone offers you, dig in! What’s the worst that could happen?