Our world is a wonderful and magical place. The same can be said for the different dishes upon which we stumble during travels. As a duo, we’ve encountered our fair share of strange eats from around the world. Here are a few exotic dishes that have left a lasting impression on both our memories and our stomachs.
The Philippines are home to a plethora of mouth-watering dishes. But one unique street food caught our eye: Balut. This delicacy is ubiquitous around the islands and can be found from many street vendors.
While the Balut might appear to be a typical hard-boiled egg, it actually is a duck egg, complete with partially formed fetus inside. The 17-day-old egg is boiled and then served warm. To eat it, typically one chips off a top of the shell, drinks the broth within, and then removes the rest of the shell.
The egg is best when you add a sprinkling of salt, garlic, and vinegar before you devour it, feathers and all. While it’s possible to eat the entire egg, some parts may be intolerably chewy.
Viewfinder Tip: In the Philippines, if you’re craving something sweet, order Maruya, cheap and delicious banana fritters.
While kimchi may be the star of most Korean meals, Korean cuisine comprises a smorgasbord (pardon the pun) of other unique dishes to be explored. Take, for example, beondegi. This popular snack is typically served by street vendors or as a free appetizer in restaurants. Eaten warm, the dish has a very earthy taste and is quite the way to start a meal. Oh, did we mention that it’s actually the larvae of silk worms?
If you’re in the mood for something even more adventuresome, try a plate of sannakji. Literally translated as “live octopus,” this dish is one that doesn’t go down without a fight. To prepare the dish, chefs chop up a small octopus, sprinkle it in sesame oil, and serve it with the tentacles still squirming. The tentacles tend to cling to the cheeks and throats of diners, causing quite the choking hazard. To avoid death by sannakji, be sure to generously coat your tentacle in a healthy dose of sesame seed oil.
A nice warm plate of silk worm larvae
A traditional source of protein, cuy (commonly known to us as the cute guinea pig) can be found as a main dish in many Andean countries. Cuy typically is served roasted or fried whole, with side dishes of corn or rice. Westerners might be more accustomed to seeing guinea pigs behind the glass of cages, but in the Andes, these small rodents have been revered as a main food source for centuries. In fact, a Cusco cathedral holds a replica painting of Leonardo DaVinci’s Last Supper with a plate of cuy on the table.
The mere mention of Icelandic hákarl has my nostrils stinging with the smell of ammonia. Plainly put, hákarl is fermented shark flesh. Yup, I said it: SHARK FLESH. This common (and potent) Icelandic snack is made from the flesh of Greenland sharks. The shark meat is actually poisonous when fresh, due to its high content of urea and trimethylamine oxide. After being gutted and cleaned, the bodies of the sharks are laid in a shallow hole dug in the sand. Stones are placed on top of the shark to press out any fluids, and the meat ferments for anywhere from six to 12 weeks. Once cured, the meat is cut into strips and hung up to dry. Soon after, the meat is cubed and served as is.
On one of our recent visits to Iceland, our local guide, Inga from Tiny Iceland, eagerly watched as we tried our first bites. To be honest, the smell was too much for me; the only way to finish my chunk of shark flesh was to plug my nose and chew as if my life depended on it. We were told that the dish gets better the more of it you eat. I’m not sure if I could stomach it again.
Escamoles is a Central Mexican dish made from ant pupae that have been harvested from the roots of agave plants. These light colored eggs almost resemble pine nuts or corn kernels, and typically are pan-fried and served with guacamole and tortillas. Often referred to as “insect caviar” for its high price, the dish is said to taste nutty and buttery, with a cottage cheese-like texture.
China is no stranger to unique eats; while street food in this country is reputed to be delicious, many dishes aren’t for the faint of heart. If you find yourself in China or Hong Kong, be sure check out the numerous stalls of skewered meats and vegetables. We recommend a helping of crispy chicken feet for the novices. Those with a more adventurous side might want to try scorpion kabobs or seahorse on a stick.
What are some foods that have pushed you outside your comfort zone?