Now, if you’re an ardent traveller (which is probably why you’re here, after all), there are certain things you’ve probably come to learn about the world. Journeying across this great and glorious planet of ours is a life-changing, eye-opening experience, that’s for darn sure.
If you’ve rarely ventured outside your home country, you’re likely to fall straight out of the culture shock tree and hit every culture shock branch on the way down. Before landing in a huge puddle of culture shock. Lots of us are tempted to stay safe in their little local bubble, their rules and ways of doing things. Which is just fine, of course, but there are all kinds of enriching experiences out there. Some of which you never saw coming.
One of the biggest examples of these is cuisine. Of course, these days, we’re all embracing international foods more and more. Pizza, one of Italy's traditional foods that started life (as we know it today) in Naples, is now super popular all over the world. Chinese food, too, has become a real staple across the West and beyond.
That’s just the beginning of the wild ride that is world dining, though. As is usually the case with travel, if you really want to have an adventure, you’ve got to take a step off the beaten track.
From fearsome fugu to ‘Stink Heads’ and the most beautiful walnut you ever saw, buckle up for a journey through ten of the most gorgeous foods the world has to offer (and ten of the foulest).
20 BEAUTIFUL: I Don’t Know What A ‘Wind Crystal’ Is, But It Looks Fantastic
You know, I never thought that meringue could be beautiful. Speaking as a Brit, I mostly eat it in the form of the Eton Mess. For the unfamiliar, it’s a fruity, creamy, meringue-y dessert that looks likes someone’s backed over it seven times in a soccer mom’s SUV.
This little treat, on the other hand, is on an entirely different level. France calls this magnificent dish Les Cristaux de Vent (Wind Crystals). It’s super-light meringue, expertly crafted into sticks. Trust France to make a completely ordinary foodstuff utterly extraordinary. It’s what they do, after all. France's food is some of the most coveted in the world.
19 FOUL: Waste Not, Want Not (Shirako)
Needless to say, attitudes towards meat different wildly. Some of us refuse to eat it for ethical reasons, or religious ones, or simply because they don’t like the taste. All of which I’m completely on board with. That’s for nobody but the individual to decide, after all.
Many of us, meanwhile, take another route. Certain kinds of meat are the way to go. There’s a world of difference, for instance, between a world-famous restaurant’s finest steak and… well, Shirako.
What’s Shirako, you’re about to regret asking? I’ll tell you. Let's just say it comes from the more private areas of certain fish (cod, puffer and anglerfish). Shirako translates to ‘white children,’ according to Rough Guides, which is a little grim in and of itself.
18 BEAUTIFUL: Totally Heart-Warming (Heart of palm)
The heart of palm is quite an artsy and unusual foodstuff itself. It’s a vegetable harvested from the buds and cores of particular palm trees, such as the coconut tree. A lot of work goes into harvesting them, making them quite a delicacy.
As such, it’s about more than just the taste and ingredients themselves. Heart of palm deserves some suitably swanky presentation, too. At Alinea in Chicago, it’s literally put on a pedestal: five teeny pedestals, in fact, sporting five separate fillings including truffle-pumpernickel puree. It all culminates in a dish that makes me feel as though my bank account grew several extra zeroes just looking at it.
17 FOUL: I WANT FUGU!
Fans of The Simpsons will remember the episode “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish.” This classic from season two sees Homer thinking that his number is up, after eating improperly-prepared blowfish at a sushi bar dubbed The Happy Sumo.
As the show explains, the delicacy dubbed fugu must be prepared by specially trained and highly experienced chefs, as it can contain a lethal toxin. I don’t tend to like eating so much as fish fingers, so you can just imagine how much of a nope this is for me. Still, it’s highly prized among locals and extreme eaters around the world.
16 BEAUTIFUL: There’s Nothing That Beautiful In My Yard, That’s For Darn Sure (Edible Bubbles)
Personally, when it comes to that ‘five a day’ recommendation we hear so much about, I struggle a little. I’m just not a fan of vegetables. They tend to be quite bland for me, sweetcorn aside. Fruit, on the other hand, I can’t get enough of. Sugar-wise, that’s not a good thing at all, but just look at this next dish. Could you say no to that? You could not.
The next stop on our culinary world tour is Spain, the home of Michelin two-starred restaurant Mugaritz. Their Red Fruits From The Garden dessert is made from edible bubbles of red berries and beetroot.
15 FOUL: A Little Fatty For My Liking
The great meat debate continues with this one. How picky are you with the way steaks are prepared? There’s a whole range of styles, from rare to well done, to try and ensure that everybody’s happy. Then there’s the whole issue with fat, and just how it should be dealt with.
Over in Ukraine, there’s certainly no being fussy about gristle. Salo, indeed, is a meal of just the fat. As Rough Guides reports, “usually it’s made into slabs, smoked and left in a cool cellar for a year before being eaten sliced thinly with rye bread.” That sounds like an acquired taste to me.
14 BEAUTIFUL: It’s A Cherry Tomato Tart, Jim, But Not As We Know It
If the world of fine cuisine has taught us anything, it’s that you should never underestimate the humblest of ingredients. Take the tomato, for instance, friend of fries, pasta sauces and all kinds of other dishes besides. There’s just no stopping it. it’s like the culinary little black dress that goes with just about everything.
The trick is in taking these popular ingredients and doing something creative with them. San Francisco’s Coi restaurant has perfected this art, offering this intriguing inverted cherry tomato tart. Pesto, tomato puree and an olive shell, which makes for so much more than the sum of its parts.
13 FOUL: Well, Of Course It Was Going To Appear Somewhere Here
Ah, yes. Here we go, friends. A Scottish delicacy, making its inevitable appearance. You just can’t have a rundown of unusual foods from across the globe without featuring haggis. You just can’t.
For the uninitiated, haggis is a sort of savoury pudding. It’s (traditionally) a combination of a sheep’s lungs, heart and liver, minced with spices, onion and stock. It tended to be encased in the stomach of the animal for cooking and serving, but commercially-available haggis doesn’t really go that route anymore. I guess you could call it a similar offering to black pudding. Heck, it saves on wastage.
12 BEAUTIFUL: Now That’s What I Call Cake! (raindrop cake)
Cake is another one of those super simple staples that leaves endless room for innovation. For a birthday, say, there are thousands of different ways you can theme them for the lucky recipient. From an Avengers cake, to a more risqué one for a bachelorette party, to an elaborate one for a wedding, there’s no end of things you can do.
I’ve seen a whole variety of different cakey creations in my time, but none that’s captivated me quite like this. You’re looking at what’s called a raindrop cake, an artsy combination of mineral water and aguar, a jelly-like substance derived from seaweed.
As MSN/Love Food reports, it doesn’t have any taste naturally, so is often served with kuromitsu syrup and soybean flour.
11 FOUL: A Century Or So Past Its Use-By Date (Pidan)
When I was younger, I was a huge fan of eggs. Boiled eggs, eggs on toast, scrambled eggs… that’s what it was all about. Sadly, like all those high school friends you dropped like Snoop Dogg when it’s hot, I’ve completely lost touch with my egg-loving side.
I have the occasional omelette, but that’s about as far as it goes. This latest delicacy isn’t going to do very much to tempt me back, either.
Over in China, eggs are covered in ash and clay for months, before being served as Pidan (also known as Century Egg). It looks… well, unappetising to put it nicely, but it’s also considered the height of fine dining.
10 BEAUTIFUL: Cookie Cookie Cookie
I’m not ashamed to admit that I have one heckola of a sweet tooth. I can’t remember where all of this started, but there it is. It’s probably with me for life now. I’m one of those people who would happily power through the rest of a fancy three-course meal, to get to and savour the dessert.
As such, you’d better believe that I’ve never met a cookie I didn’t like. From simple chocolate chip to most ostentatious varieties, I’m down for anything. These ones are the work of Californian Holly Fox, custom sugar cookies that are pure works of art.
9 FOUL: Something Seems A Little Fishy To Me (Hákarl)
Our next stop is Iceland, where the people have developed a curious way of preparing their seafood. I’m probably not the man for this job, as I’ve never been a fan of seafood of even the most conventional sort, but here it is regardless. Ladies and gentlemen, feast your eyes on the traditional treat that is Hákarl.
What are we dealing with here? It’s shark (basking or Greenland), buried underground for a period so the toxic fluids drain away. It’s then hung to dry before finally being ready to eat.
According to Hostel World, Anthony Bourdain once called Hákarl “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible-tasting thing” he’d ever tried.
8 BEAUTIFUL: A Little Cheesy (Parmigiano Reggiano)
So, where do you stand on cheese? Myself, I’m not very adventurous with the stuff at all. I can appreciate a fairly tame cheddar, for instance, but the more pungent blue ones are definitely beyond me. I’m more of a string cheese sort of person than a gourmet in that regard.
Over in Italy, though, they do things the right way. This dish comes courtesy of Osteria Francescana, in Modena. As The World’s 50 Best reports, it’s been named the world’s greatest restaurant on multiple occasions, so it’s no surprise that the fare is going to be a little on the posh side. This is a plate of Parmigiano Reggiano, and a little piece of art it is too.
7 FOUL: Time For A Bushtucker Trial (witchetty grubs)
If you’ve ever seen England's version of reality series I’m A Celebrity: Get Me Out Of Here!, you’ll probably recognise this next offering. On the show, a number of celebrities are sent to live together in a camp in Australia, where they are given survival-themed challenges to complete to earn more and better food.
These tasks are known as Bushtucker Trials, the most notorious of which being the eating trials. Here, the contestants are given a series of traditional Aussie bush dishes. One of them, of course, is the witchetty grub.
When lightly cooked, they’re supposed to taste a little like roast chicken. Given the option, I’d certainly take the chicken.
6 BEAUTIFUL: Now These Are Desserts, Right Here (Milse)
When it comes to countries that are world renowned for their cuisine, the usual contenders spring to mind. France, say, with its reputation for spawning some of the greatest chefs on the planet.
On the flipside, there are other countries that are not known for their culinary expertise. It’s fair to say that New Zealand would be one of them. Nevertheless, nobody told the artisans at Milse, a much-loved dessert bar. They offer cakes and pastries that are nothing less than sumptuous. Just look at all the artistry that has gone into this plate. Eat it? You’d almost want to take a selfie with it.
5 FOUL: (Not) France’s Finest Export (escargot)
Speaking of France’s glowing reputation with regards to food, it’s important to remember that you can’t please everyone. They may have Michelin stars out the wazzoo, but ultimately, food is a very personal thing.
Scotland have their often-notorious haggis and France have their escargot. As you no doubt know, snails are a huge delicacy in France, and gained some real traction with gourmands around the world. As I say, though, this is a culinary adventure that some may not be willing to take part in. It’s certainly an unconventional dish. Still, they can be served in a variety of different ways, so perhaps you can find the escargot that works for you.
4 BEAUITIFUL: As Pretty As A… Walnut
Over the course of this rundown, we’ve certainly been privy to a lot of food-related revelations. Who knew that cheese could look so glamourous? All you need is the finest restaurant in the world, apparently, and you can make any kind of dish look wonderful. How about that cherry tomato tart, too?
If you thought that was impressive, you’ll have to feast your eyes on this next dish. Walnuts, of all things, looking absolutely beautiful. This is walnut in the shell with walnut puree, walnut oil and snow peas. If you want to try it out for yourself, you’ll have to visit the restaurant Attica in Melbourne, Australia.
3 FOUL: As Delicious As They (Don’t) Sound? (Stink Heads)
If you’re an experienced traveller, it’s likely that you’ve experienced that feeling while abroad. You know, the one where you’re in a restaurant and you’re almost sure what you’ve ordered, but you’re a little trepidatious about the whole thing.
When we’re sampling new and exotic food, it would be helpful if we were given a clearer idea of what we’re getting ourselves into. Fortunately, in Alaska, we are. We know exactly what we’re getting with ‘Stink Heads,’ as they’ve come to be known. Fish is a large staple of the Alaskan diet, of course, and these are fermented salmon heads.
2 BEAUTIFUL: At That Moment, I Became A Fan Of Coconut (Tim Raue)
I’ve always seen coconut as a bit of an acquired taste. It’s both familiar and exotic at the same time, and I’ve never been quite sure what to make of it. As much as I enjoy dark chocolate, Bounty bars have never quite been my thing.
As is sometimes the case, though, it’s all in the presentation. This gorgeous plate is a combination of coconut, purslane and miso, created by chef Tim Raue at his namesake restaurant in Berlin. If you’re like me and your experience with the coconut is limited to Bounty bars, you’ll discover something truly amazing if you go a little further upmarket.
1 FOUL: Would You Like Some Tarantula With That?
Now, I don’t personally suffer from the super common fear of spiders. I mean, I’m not a fan of the things, for sure (I’ve seen Arachnophobia, after all), but I’m happy to let them scoot on by. Or save them when they waywardly wander into my shower.
You’d better believe that tarantulas would be a step beyond for me, though. That’s a life I am most certainly not about. As for eating them, that goes about 1,000 times over. Nevertheless, over in Cambodia, deep-fried tarantula is a super popular snack. As for the taste, it’s supposedly very similar to crab. I’m going to go ahead and take Rough Guides’ word for that.
References: Food And Wine, Love Food, MSN, Vogue, Rough Guides, Hostel World, Culinary Schools.org.