Feeling gastronomically adventurous? Try these foods out when you travel…
#1 – Puffin Heart
This is a delicacy in Iceland – traditionally, you slice it out of the bird and eat it raw as soon as you’ve wrung the puffin’s neck. If you can look a puffin in the eye and snap its neck, you’ll be rewarded with a nibble that apparently tastes “like a fishier version of duck”. Yum.
Still, it’s not the worst meal you could be offered in Iceland. That would be…
#2 – Fermented Shark
This is also a dish in Greenland – island folk make the most of all available resources, don’t they? Hakarl is a dead shark buried in sand for a few months to, er… “ferment” – also known as “rot”.
Then it’s hung up and dried. Then they offer it to unsuspecting visitors as a prized local delicacy, while everyone tries not to wet themselves laughing…
#3 – Ant Larvae
The Mexican version of “What’s the weirdest thing we can feed tourists?” is escamoles – crisp, butter-fried ant larvae gathered from nests in the roots of agave and maguey plants. It’s said to have a pleasant, nutty taste, and some consider it “insect caviar”.
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#4 – Ox Blood
The Maasai people of East Africa reveres their cattle much too much to kill them on a regular basis: beef is eaten only rarely, generally after ritual slaughter on religious or ceremonial occasions.
But the Maasai still get a lot of protein from cattle, in the form of milk mixed with blood. The blood is harvested from a small incision in a vein on a cow’s neck, which is then sealed with mud to heal. The blood is then mixed with milk, forming clotted curds. Drink up!
#5 – Fugu
Anyone familiar with sashimi wouldn’t be impressed if they were served fugu unknowingly in Japan – it’s just raw fish. Raw fish with a delicate and subtle flavour, sure, but still. Pass the dipping sauce…
Tell them beforehand that they’re eating one of the most poisonous fish in the world, however, and the whole experience takes on an extra frisson. Fugu is finely sliced sashimi made from pufferfish – after a chef has spent years training to clean the fish properly, removing almost all trace of the fish’s internal organs, which are packed with lethal nerve toxins.
We say “almost all trace”, because the skill the chef takes so long to acquire is leaving just enough minute traces of poison in the meal to give diners a refreshing tingle in the lips and extremities. If the tingle turns you blue and you collapse, paralysed and dying, the chef screwed up.
#6 – Prairie Oysters
Not that Americans can point any fingers at other countries’ food quirks – not when Montana holds an annual Testicle Festival, at which folks chow down on deep-fried bulls’ gonads. And while we’re calling out the Western trend of calling out everyone else’s food as weird, let’s talk about…
#7 – Head Cheese
In Europe, they take a sheep, cow or pig head, skin it and remove the organs, and the remainder is boiled until the flesh is fall-off-the-bone tender. All the meat is sliced off the skull, then chopped up into slivers and added to the cooking liquid. Because of all the collagen released from the head, it congeals into a coarse meat pate in gelatin, which is sliced and served with salads.
Sound a bit rough? Wait till you learn about brawn, which is much the same thing, but using the animal’s brain…