It’s funny how much our lives can change. As a child, I’d get travel sick just taking the twenty-minute journey to grandma’s place. It was so bad that any journey that wasn’t in walking distance became a huge heckola of a chore. Trips to the British coast for a vacation were like that scene from Saving Private Ryan.
As an adult, though, I’ve gotten over all of that. Whether it was all psychological or whether I’ve actually grown out of it, I have zero clue, but I’m not really fussy either. I can happily enjoy a cruise in some relatively-choppy stretches of ocean, now, and that’s all that really matters.
It was tough, desperately wanting to travel and experience the world but struggling horribly trying to do it. Now I’m free of all of that, though, and I’m steadily working my way through my travel bucket list with my wife-to-be.
I’ve always been super interesting in different cultural traditions, the similar and super-different ways that people around the world live their lives. It’s a joy to jump in there and experience it for yourself. One thing I am a little squeamish with, however, is food. I’m not very adventurous with that, yet, and when I’m traveling, I’ll often scurry over to the nearest McDonald’s rather than try the local delicacy.
The thing is, it can be so tough to separate how things taste from how things look. You miss out on some delicious eats when you think that way, though. So, from crispy tarantula to Indonesian stinkbugs and Australian vegemite, let’s open our minds and take a look at some peculiar global foods that actually taste pretty darn good.
That’s right, friends. We’re not pulling any punches with this one. Let’s hop straight into things with a treat that’s super popular over in Cambodia: crispy tarantula.
Now, I’ve never been a fan of spiders. I’m not afraid of the little guys, granted, but there’s something about the way that they move and their slightly excessive leg and eyeball counts that I just can’t condone.
Tarantulas specifically, on the other hand? If I ever met one of those, you’d better believe that my heart’s leaping right out of my mouth and leaving a grim horror movie splatter mark on the wall opposite. If you can get over its awful hairy appearance, though, cooked tarantula tastes similar to meats like chicken and crab, according to CNN Travel.
Typically, when butchers prepare meat, there are certain parts of the animal that just don’t end up on our supermarket shelves. Specific steaks, say, correspond to specific cuts. That’s just the way things work.
What of organs and other less appetising parts? They’re a central component of Scotland’s beloved haggis, that’s what. This savoury treat consists of a sheep’s lung, liver and heart, minced with spices, salt and oatmeal. Sometimes, it’s cooked in the animal’s stomach, though this is often substituted with a different casing today.
It’s not the most mouth-watering thing to think about, but the combination is quite tasty and hearty. As is vegetarian haggis, which is also widely available in the country.
Meanwhile, over in the southeast Asian country of Laos, our soup is waiting. It’s quite a ways to go from Scotland, but I think we can all agree that this is quite a heckola of a soup.
Locally known as Gaeng Kai Mot Daeng, this delectable mixture consists of white ant eggs and baby ants. Rough Guides reports that the juvenile ants add a sourness to the concoction that makes it more flavoursome. So, that’s nice. Overall, they describe the dish as “quite tasty… sharp and delicate, and a little like shrimp.”
There you go then, shrimp fans, if you ever fancy branching out a little.
While we’re over in Asia, let’s cross to China for another culinary masterpiece. This one’s a delicacy in the truest sense of the word, one of the most expensive animal products consumed by humans (according to Boots n’ All).
What’s so special about birds nest soup? Well, they’re swifts’ nests, a bird that makes its home mostly from saliva. This gives it a uniquely chewy, rubbery texture. I’m feeling hungry already.
More than that, though, swifts have a brief nesting season, and said nests can only be harvested three times a year. It’s difficult, treacherous work to climb to reach them, too. For these reasons, a bowl of this soup will cost anything up to $100, and they’re very expensive to import.
You know how it usually is at the movie theater. You buy yourself a big bag of popcorn, having sold a kidney on the black market to be able to afford it. You find your seat, the movie starts, you dig in, and realise that this stuff actually tastes far blander than it should. You want toffee popcorn, not ‘sweet’. What in heckola is sweet, anyway? That’s not a flavour.
If you want a little more taste to your corn kernels, you’re going to want to head to Mexico. The locals love themselves some huitlacoche (meaning ‘sleeping excrement,’ which isn’t the most promising of names), which is the dark and grim-looking corn smut fungus. It’s got a nice, earthy flavour to it, apparently.
A lot of the foods in this rundown are definitely local specialties. Somehow, crispy tarantulas haven’t caught on where I live, here in London. Funny that.
With that said, though, some more unusual foods do travel, and start to become widely available around the world. Tripe has certainly managed that.
What we’re dealing with here is the stomach lining of certain animals, generally that of cattle. It might look like something you’d see bobbing around deep in the ocean (think a blobfish without the face), but again, it’s important to try not to get hung up on how food looks. Regional variants on the dish (Bosnian bumbar, for instance) are enjoyed all over the world.
Being British myself, I often enjoy a traditional English breakfast. The general rule here is just fry it and throw it in there (everything you’ve heard about English cooking is true), and they tend to include sausages, eggs, mushrooms, toast, hash browns and other such calorie-tastic treats.
Another popular English breakfast ingredient is black pudding. A sausage that is typically made from beef suet and oats or barley, the tasty little extra ingredient is pork blood. This doesn’t really do much for the flavour of the thing, and sausages are hardly known for their wholesome and healthy contents, but this is a step too far for me, personally.
For the Inuit people, as you’ve probably guessed, a seafood-heavy diet tends to be the way forward. The Inuit live in Canada, Alaska and Greenland, where the ocean provides a rich bounty of food.
It’s also super darn cold in the region. Said marine life has adapted to its habitat, with thick layers of insulating blubber to keep the Arctic cold at bay. Put these two things together, and what do you get? Muktuk, that’s what you get.
This traditional Inuit treat consists of frozen whale blubber and skin. According to The Globe And Mail, it’s an excellent source of vitamins.
Now, generally speaking, Italy has quite a reputation on the global food scene. The home of much-beloved foods like pasta and pizza, Italian cuisine is a popular choice all around the world.
If you want to take your love of Italian food to the ultimate level, you’ll have to try some casu marzu. This delicacy is a wheel of parmesan cheese, left to rot (and for cheese flies to lay eggs in; that part’s crucial). The larvae in the cheese break down the fats, according to Metro, resulting in a softer (and super gross-looking) cheese.
If you’re one of those the stronger and smellier the better people, this is the ultimate expression of that cheese philosophy.
As I say, I’m totally prepared to admit that I’ve lead a very sheltered life, food-wise. I’ve travelled to various countries and tried all sorts of activities, but unusual local delicacies? I’ve never been brave enough for that.
It’s a cultural thing, of course. Down in Southern Africa, mopane worms (the larvae of the emperor moth) are just a standard protein-rich snack, like a handful of peanuts or something. According to Crunchy Critters, “nutritionally, they contain upwards of five times the amount of iron than beef and according to the Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) are also a great source of potassium, calcium, zinc and copper.”
That’s right, friends. Many of us remember that iconic episode of The Simpsons, “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish,” where Homer is fed an improperly-prepared plate of fugu and thinks that he’s going to meet a grim end.
One thing the snarky show accurately explained was the great danger inherent in eating fugu (or pufferfish). The meat is much beloved, but the fish’s potent tetrodotoxin means that only the most experienced and meticulously-trained chefs are allowed to prepare it. This fact is actually subject to Japanese law, as the slightest mistake can leave the meat tainted.
Culinary thrillseekers the world over, therefore, love to travel to Japan and try it for themselves.
Needless to say, not all sushi is quite as thrilling an experience as fugu. There’s a whole wide world of sushi out there, and something for most tastes to enjoy.
Personally, though, I’ve never been a fan. Seafood just doesn’t do it for me, I guess. Caviar may be one of the most sophisticated foods of the planet, but it isn’t for me. Again, it’s more the presentation, the concept itself, than the taste.
Take sea urchin roe, for instance. This is the egg mass of the sea urchin, which can be served both raw and as a cooked ingredient. It’s great, I’m told.
Let me take a quick moment to pat myself on the back for that pun.
There we go. Now that’s over with, we’re going to hop on a plane back to Mexico for another delightful little slice of ant-based cuisine.
Escamole is a traditional dish that features the larvae of ants, usually found in the roots of the agave plant. It’s not going to be the prettiest thing you’ve ever had served to you at a restaurant, true enough, but press on, friends. List25 reports that escamole tastes like “slightly nutty butter,” which doesn’t sound bad at all.
Besides, the dish is such a delicacy that it’s sometimes referred to as insect caviar.
As I’ve probably firmly established by now, insects feature prominently in the cuisine of many cultures around the globe. They’re known as an excellent source of protein, and for tasting rather good to boot, if you can overcome the whole ick factor.
None of this was lost on the people of Indonesia, that’s for darn certain. Stinkbugs are a particular favourite, and they’re far more appetising than the name would suggest. List25 reports that they’re said to taste “like bitter sunflower seeds without the salt.”
As someone who eats quite a lot of sunflower seeds, I can safely say that I’m interested.
As is the case with the Inuit people, the region of Scandinavia has a traditional, fish- and seafood-heavy diet. Not to mention a habit of being a little out there when it comes to preparing such. One of the many unconventional dishes that result from these ideals is lutefisk.
Lutefisk is made from dried and salted whitefish, which is soaked for several days. The process renders the fish jelly-like, and so caustic that it requires almost a week’s worth of additional soaking before it can be cooked and eaten.
A very popular dish, and one that can be easily adapted to traditional and personal preferences (because it tastes quite mild as-is).
That’s right, friends. This South Korean delicacy is sometimes known as the you-know-which-organ fish, for reasons that are… well, look at it. Now that we’ve addressed that unpleasantness, here’s what you need to know.
Gaebul is a marine worm found on the mudflats of the south coast of Korea, Bookmundi reports. It’s a little unsubstantial for a full meal, and tends to be served as more of a side dish. It’s typically eaten raw, with an assortment of sauces and other condiments. If you’re a little squeamish about this one, why not think of it as more of a sausage?
Now, see, here’s the thing. Through the course of this rundown, we’ve seen some wild, wacky and downright disturbing dishes. That’s just because we’re not used to them, though. Just think of the contestants on I’m A Celebrity: Get Me Out Of Here, attempting the eating challenge and dry-heaving throughout.
Those who have always eaten bushtucker, meanwhile, would wonder why they’re making such a fuss about their dinner, yet they’d balk at the idea of a cheeseburger.
Which brings us to Peru’s famous cuy. Why, yes, since you asked, that is cooked guinea pig, which has been a traditional meal in the country for thousands of years.
Here in Britain, there’s one super-controversial topic we debate more than any other. Marmite: is it the ambrosial spread of the gods or is it a vile, questionable-looking concoction that should never have been invented?
We’ll never settle that explosive issue, but never mind that now. The important thing is that Australia have their own take on this questionable-looking spread, and they want to be darn sure the rest of the world knows it. There, it’s called vegemite, and it’s made with brewer’s yeast. As for its taste, Smarter Travel probably explains it best: “It’s salty and tangy, with an indescribably unique flavor.”
That’s right. We’re crossing back over into bug territory again with this one.
Maybe you’re not a fan of stinkbugs. Maybe you prefer your soup sans ant eggs. Both of these are completely valid life decisions, and I totally support that. With this being the case, though, am I right in assuming that you’d also prefer to give Jing Leed a miss?
Well, yes, since you asked, Jing Leed is cooked grasshopper. Pretty darn big ones too, at that, fresh from Thailand. Hostel World reports that they taste a little like popcorn, just with a little juice that sprays out when you bite into it.
As we know, there are some gourmets who will accept nothing but the very best. You won’t see these people in the line for the McDonald’s drive-thru, or have a sneaky Domino’s delivered. If it’s not imported, organic, super-expensive and rare (all four at once, naturally), they do not want to know.
Coffee from a machine? Oh, holy heckles no. Only kopi luwak will do for these people. This Indonesian coffee is the priciest and rarest in the world. Interestingly, it comes from the #2 of an Indonesian feline species known as the luwak.
“The Luwak eats only the ripest coffee cherries but its stomach can’t digest beans inside them, so they come out whole,” Boots ‘n All reports. “The coffee that results from this process is said to be like no other, and the stomach acids and enzymes that perform the fermentation of the beans give the coffee a special aroma.”
Resources: Rough Guides, BootsnAll, Hostel World, Metro, Daily Mail, List25, Bookmundi, Smarter Travel, CNN Travel.