25th May 2012 8:10am | By Leigh Livingstone
Travelling can leave you with an insatiable appetite but would you ever be hungry enough to try these gastronomic oddities?
Grabbing a bite to eat can take on a whole new meaning when you are making your way through different countries around the world.
Every culture has their own take on mealtime and immersing yourself in the culture of another country is a must-do for any travel bug worth their salt. It isn’t always enough to spend your time rushing on a plane to the next cookie-cutter tourist stop while snapping pictures of your food for that overloaded Facebook album. If you really want to experience what another culture has to offer, then you should live like a local, travel like a local and most importantly, eat like a local.
If you are feeling lazy it’s easy to grab a Big Mac in most places these days but where is the adventure in that? In some corners of the world what comes out of the golden arches is considered to be weird.
It boggles the mind, but right across the next border there is a culture whose run-of-the-mill delicacies would make you cringe.
We aren’t talking about eating your weight in pasta in Italy, or chowing down on a bucket load of croissants in Paris, you need to stretch the imagination a little bit here folks.
You may have already heard about eating guinea pigs in Peru or witchetty grubs in the Outback but you probably didn’t know that bird nest soup is actually considered the caviar of the east and is full of aphrodisiac properties? Try getting your loved one in the mood with that delectable delicacy. How about turning the stomach-churning cockroach into a roadside snack? If you’re brave enough for those main meals, then there is maggot-filled cheese from Sardinia for your cheese course.
They don’t exactly conjure images of gastronomical delight but the saying “don’t knock it til you’ve tried it” rings true in this case.
Before you go searching for French fries, step out of your comfort zone and try one of these weird foods from around the world.
They may not all be your cup of tea but at least you can say you got a taste of real culture.
This dish can be found anywhere in Thailand, the same as their live counterparts can be found everywhere you don’t want to see them. These scurrying little buggers have survived since the age of the dinosaurs, so the Thai locals have decided they must be good for something. Eating. Deep fried cockroaches are considered a common snack by roadside vendors and food venues alike. Before you get squeamish, think about it this way, deep fried cockroaches are a cheap and easy munch for backpackers on a budget. Dotted all over the busy city of Bangkok, tourists can find street kitchens that sell a crunchy assortment of all things insect. It is not only crispy cockroaches on offer but also scorpions, water beetles and grasshoppers. Be adventurous and try them all – think of it as the lesser known meat platter of Asia.
The next time you find a spider in your hostel room, give a thought to the tiny town of Skuon, 75 kilometres north of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. This market town along the highway is overrun with tarantulas, so many that they were forced to eat them in times when food was scarce. These days, the people of Skuon breed the creepy crawlies to sell to tourists as a fried local delicacy. Widely known as the Edible Spider, these eight-legged freaks can grow to be as large as a human sized palm. To prepare the snack, spiders are tossed in garlic, MSG, sugar and salt and then fried until the legs are completely stiff. Travellers describe the taste as bland, a cross between chicken and cod. The best bit of meat comes from the head and body but be wary of the abdomen full of brown paste which includes, organs, sometimes eggs and definitely excrement. Tasty treat.
Cuy chactado is a dish that is most popular in the Andes region of Peru. It may shock some people to find out that the succulent meat is actually guinea pig, but one country’s pet is another’s meal ticket. The indigenous women in the Peruvian Andes will raise large numbers of guinea pigs specifically for food. It’s hard to imagine guinea pigs yielding much meat but they can grow surprisingly big when left to run around in the fresh mountain air and stuff themselves for long enough. It may seem barbaric if you’ve ever had a pet guinea pig but it’s particularly tough for the poor creatures in the Peruvian town of Churin. Each year, Churin holds a festival where guinea pigs are dressed in elaborate costumes to compete before becoming the main meal. Nothing weird about that, right? It gives a whole new meaning to dinner entertainment.
This is one that many of us have tried, especially if you come from Blighty, but just because it’s found in England, doesn’t make it any less weird. In case you didn’t know where the co-star of you breakfast fry-up comes from, black pudding is made from boiled pigs blood. That little round black disc on your plate, that looks like a burnt slice of sausage left on the barbie too long, is actually a mixture of oatmeal and pork blood. Some people eat it uncooked but most of the time it is served grilled or boiled. It is particularly popular in the northwest area of Lancashire, the town of Ramsbottom is even the home of the World Black Pudding Throwing Championships. The really weird part is the magical properties it takes on when combined with a full English breakfast of beans, egg, hash browns and tomatoes – it turns into the ultimate hangover cure.
This is one of the more out-there foods of Asia. Balut is a dish made from a fertilised duck embryo that is boiled and eaten from the shell. Generally the Filipino people enjoy this stomach turning delicacy seasoned with salt, chilli, garlic and vinegar. It is becoming an increasingly popular appetiser dish in restaurants all over the Philipines but is still most commonly found from a street vendor stall. Give it a try if you can ignore the duckling’s eye staring at you while you sip the flavoursome broth and then peel the egg to eat the yolk and young chick. Strangely the white is the bit that shouldn’t be eaten because it can be tough and untasty. As the dish becomes widespread cooks are experimenting with more complicated recipes, which includes baking the balut into a pastry. You’ll never look at your Cornish pasty quite the same way. So that’s balut in a nutshell – pun intended.
Forget a dessert of strawberries and chocolate if you are in the mood for some loving, bird nest soup is the way to go. If you’re trying to picture how choking down twigs and leaves could possibly be romantic, you are on the wrong track. This delicacy is made from the nest of the swift, a small bird similar to a swallow, which primarily uses protein-rich saliva to build its nest. Feeling warm and fuzzy yet? The swift nests are harvested from the sea cliffs of Borneo, and collecting them is a dangerous endeavour which is why the dried nests themselves can get a bit pricey. The soup, is a popular Chinese dish, which is said to have aphrodisiac properties and can be found all over the country. A popular place to try some for yourself is the bustling Donghuámén Night Market in Beijing, where local chefs will call out and entice the passing masses to try their creative fare.
Casu marzu or more commonly, maggot cheese is a tricky one to eat. Live insect larvae are deliberately introduced to a sheep milk cheese and begin breaking down the fats inside. This leaves a very soft cheese with some liquid that is best digested in Sardinia, Italy, where the cheese is traditional. If you can get past the maggots in your food idea, then you still need to be careful that you don’t accidentally digest one as they can live in a human host. Digestive juices don’t affect the maggots, so they survive by feeding off food in the intestines. Charming. On the other hand the maggots also need to stay alive because eating the cheese after they have died, can be dangerous to the health. If you can manage to negotiate this minefield and get the cheese onto your plate, cover your face, the larvae can launch themselves 15 centimetres into the air when disturbed. Mighty Maggot!
Dry and dusty Malawi in southeastern Africa could give the Australian outback a run for its money when it comes to the annoying fly population. Unlike the inhabitants of our great brown land, the good people of Malawi have found a clever way to get revenge on the nuisances – by eating them! With such an abundance of the winged black devils, there is no shortage of ingredients, in fact there is only one. The flies are caught in a net, mashed and squashed together to form a patty and then cooked on whatever sun-soaked metal surface is handy. Still hungry? Why not try a twist and grab the fly burger, just add tomatoes, onion and wrap in a banana leaf. The simpleness of these dishes means that wherever you are in Malawi, you can find someone that knows how to make them. It’s like having your own personal chef on the road.
The next time you go walkabout in Northern Australia or trek into Arnhem Land, you might want to try this local cuisine. The witchetty grub is a type of large white wood-eating moth larvae that used to be a staple diet of Indigenous Australians. It can be eaten raw or lightly cooked in ashes and is said to be full of protein. It looks a little bit like a creature from a bad horror flick but if you can get past looks, the taste will surprise you. When cooked, the outside is crispy and the inside looks like cooked egg but tastes a little bit like almonds. The grubs get their name from the witchetty bush they feed from and you should be prepared to work for your meal, since witchetty grubs can be found 60 centimetres below the ground. Do some digging for your dinner.
When an intrepid traveller visits Spain, it’s only natural to check out a bull fight. The nation is famous for the exciting atmosphere of seeing a charismatic matador overcome the mighty beast in an arena of cheering spectators, but then what happens? The simple answer is the bull not only loses his life but also his, ahem, balls. Bull’s testicles or Criadillas as it is known locally involves coating these parts in seasoned breadcrumbs and deep frying. The testicles of Spanish fighting bulls are prized for this dish because they are thought to confer bravery and masculinity. I guess the term, you are what you eat, applies here. The texture has been described as a bit like a spicy hot dog and you can try this dish in Seville, in the south of Spain, which is home to the oldest bullfighting arena and is still the most popular place to see an event in the flesh.
In the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador, South America, lives the little lemon ant. This miniature mouthful is easy to spot in the rainforest, since this type of ant kills all surrounding plants, except the ones they need to live in. You will find the colony in a large clearing with a single species of plant in the middle, which has been dubbed the Devil’s Garden. The locals dab fingerfuls from the trees that they live in and encourage tourists to taste. Don’t be concerned that your guide is playing a prank on you, eating the lemon ant is a travelling rite of passage, however it is as laborious as eating poppyseeds one at a time to really get the taste. These tiny tangy insects won’t fill you up but they are definitely worth a try, the trick is to chomp on them before they try and bite your tongue. Ants aren’t dangerous to digest but avoid eating a colony just to be sure.