The joys of travelling include the opportunity to try new things, particularly cuisine. From jamón in Spain and Yorkshire pudding in England to soup dumplings in China and peanut butter stew in Senegal, there is an explosion of taste waiting to dance across your palate. The places we find these diverse and delectable foods can be a street café, a marketplace or a fine dining restaurant – but wherever you go, you’re sure to try something you’ve never seen, heard of or tasted before.
If you’re feeling particularly bold during your travels, and have an incredibly strong stomach, there are dishes you can taste which you would never in your most delirious dreams have imagined existed, or were even capable of human consumption (and in some cases they’re not). So if you have a mad yearning for adventure in flavour and potential folly, read through these unusual oddities found in one or other corner of the globe.
1. Casu Marzu – Italy
Have you ever thrown back a glass of sour milk and felt your insides curdling? While this may be an unforeseen and unfortunate incident as a result of someone not putting the milk back in the fridge, in Sardinia people willingly consume another type of rotten dairy: casu marzu. A traditional sheep milk cheese, it is set outside as an invitation for flies to nestle inside and lay eggs. This unique form of fermentation is meant to enhance the flavour, while the leaping maggots make you a wary nibbler. If this sounds horrifically unappealing, then just suffocate the little critters or stick the cheese in the fridge to kill them off.
— Scatman Scoop (@MolaLutherKing) February 2, 2015
2. Escamole – Mexico
If fish eggs can be considered a delicacy, it should be perfectly all right for the Mexicans to treat escamole, also known as “insect caviar”, as haute cuisine. This particular dish is made up of ant larvae and pupae harvested from the roots of the Agave tequilana or mescal plant. The idea may be gruesome, but they’re said to taste slightly nutty and buttery, which actually sounds fairly palatable.
3. Witchetty Grub – Australia
Like escamole, witchetty grubs are said to have a nutty taste, when eaten raw. Even when they’re cooked, the flavour is nothing more offensive than the taste of chicken. On the other hand, others have claimed they taste like scrambled eggs. So if you’re bold enough to try this Australian bush food, which is nothing more than the larva of a moth, then expect the unexpected.
4. Haggis – Scotland
While some of these unusual foods are not necessarily easily or commonly available, such is not the case in Scotland. The renowned dish haggis – a sheep’s heart, liver and lungs minced and mixed with onions, spices and oatmeal and cooked inside the animal’s stomach – is served countrywide in hotels and pubs. It is a time-honoured tradition to serve it during the annual Burns Supper, which commemorates the Scottish poet Robert Burns, accompanied with a bottle of fine Scotch whisky. However, you can find it all year round, and it’s also available in supermarkets. There are even cooking schools in Scotland which include making haggis as part of their courses, such as the Edinburgh New Town Cookery School and The Cookery School in Glasgow.
5. Surstömming – Sweden
Feel like a Viking by indulging in a bite of fermented Baltic Sea herring, doused heavily in salt and washed down with beer or schnapps. Known as surstömming, it’s another culinary conundrum that’s available in tins at supermarkets. Apparently it’s an added bonus that while the tins sit on the shelves, the fish continues fermenting. Should you take it upon yourself to buy a couple of tins, be sure to rinse and wash your plates thoroughly afterwards, to prevent a lingering, long-lasting fishy smell. In fact, just eat it out the tin to avoid it ever coming in contact with your crockery, and eat it outside while you’re at it. Thankfully, it’s banned from many major airlines – because there’s nothing you need less on a long-haul flight than the pungent aroma of fish.
— Laura Zaar (@laura_zaar) August 21, 2014
6. Balut – Southeast Asia
The one that’s really difficult to stomach is balut, which is enjoyed in Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines. It’s a duck embryo that is boiled alive before it hatches, then eaten from the shell. Served with beer, it’s a common street food, and the ideal embryo is between 17 and 21 days old. Never has the phrase “the proof of the pudding is in the taste” been more fitting, because seeing the eye of the embryo peering up at you certainly won’t have you smacking your lips in delight.
7. Tarantulas – Cambodia
While you’re in Cambodia, why not try cuisine with a little crunch? In Skuon you can eat tarantulas seasoned with sugar and salt and fried in garlic, which makes it OK. Doesn’t it? To top it off, they have a gooey inside of brown sludge, a natural concoction of innards, eggs and excrement.
8. Sannakji – Korea
Another disturbing dish involving live animals is sannakji, the tentacles of baby octopi who are mutilated in front of you, before being served in sesame oil…and still wriggling. It’s raw and it’s dangerous, because the suckers on the tentacles can get stuck on your throat and choke you to death.
9. Fugu – Japan
Why play with fire when you can play with fish? The puffer fish is filled with just the right amount of tetrodotoxin it takes to kill you. This tongue-twisting – and heart-stopping – toxin is 1 200 times more deadly than cyanide. Called fugu in Japanese, the fish’s lethal potential means that only specially-trained chefs may prepare it, and even then it takes them two to three years of rigorous training before they put blade to belly. Because the taste is not much to speak of, chefs often leave a tiny amount of poison in the fish to cause a tingling sensation on diners’ tongues and lips.
10. Snake Wine – China
In China you have yet another chance to take the phrase “pick your poison” quite literally by knocking back a shot of snake wine. Many of the snakes used for this type of wine are venomous, and the wine is made by draining the fluids of a snake directly into alcohol. The other variety is a rice wine that has a snake immersed in its contents for many months. So go ahead: add some slither to your menu.