I’ve eaten a lot of strange vegetables, insects, fermented foods, sea creatures and animal odd bits in the past decade, but these 10 items from all over the globe made it to the top of the list.
Article original published on travelchannel.com.
Enset in Ethiopia
Enset is one of the two species of vinifera in a special part of the false banana family. Its also the name of the bread made with the pounded root ball of the same plant (although properly it’s called kocho). The bread is made with a fermented paste of the root ball that’s buried underground for months to gets its groove on. It’s treasured in Ethiopia as a super food. It’s an acquired taste to say the least.
Hakarl in Iceland
Really, the worst tasting foods are the fermented spoiled ones, like Hakarl. Made from the Greenlandic shark, the meat is poisonous when fresh, so in order to eat it, Icelanders let it spoil in the ground for months and then out in the elements for a few more to dry. It’s a revolting dish to many first timers; eating it without gagging is what separates the men from the boys. While the smell of the putrefied shark itself could make the faint-hearted ill, the taste is ultimately sweet, nutty and faintly fishy…if you like ammoniated wax.
Fermented skate in Korea
Both adored and despised in South Korea, fermented skate, or hongeo, has the distinct odor of hospital floor cleaner mixed with glue solvent. Mostly served ‘raw,’ the pungent fish is seeing a resurgence in popularity. Be prepared to smell like an outhouse after leaving a restaurant that serves the delicacy, it’s the price you pay. Worth it though.
Coral worms in Samoa
Palolo are tiny little worms that live in the coral reefs in Samoa deep off the coast in the trenches of the Pacific. They come out of the coral every few years when the atmospheric conditions are right, and the locals scoop them off the surface and eat it plain, sautéed or as a spread on bread. It tastes like liver fermented in salt water, but that doesn’t do the bright blue color very much justice.
Horse Rib & Rectum Sausage in Kazakhstan
People in Kazakhstan eat every conceivable part of the horse, from the fat cap under mane to the rectum. They don’t waste any part of the animal. One of the best things I tried at Almaty’s Green Bazaar was kazi, a horse sausage made from whole pieces of rib meat seasoned with garlic and salt, torn from the bone and stuffed into natural casing from the horses lowermost end. It’s then dried to cure, and smoked, resulting in a beautiful mix of meat and melt-in-your-mouth fat. Strange for some I guess, but delicious and very normal in Central Asia.
Giant Sea Squirt in Santiago, Chile
Found off the coast of Chile, giant sea squirts, called piure, are the size of basketballs. They’re sliced open with a serrated sword to reveal the little throbbing corpuscles that live inside the spongy, rocklike carapace. They taste of pure iodine dipped in fish oil, but with a squirt of lemon they are transformed into deliciousness. Culinary alchemy at its finest.
Sea Cucumber in Alaska
The waters off of Sitka, Alaska are ripe with exotic sea creatures like octopus, sea cucumbers and abalone. Sea cucumber, when cooked correctly, is extraordinary. All it needs is a few minutes in a wok, with a little soy sauce seasoning. The squishy creatures taste like lettuce-y sea vegetables with a bit of crunch, but a mostly yielding buttery texture. The trick is splitting them open, scraping the innards out, and then using a spatula to peel the ‘meat’ off the rock hard exoskeleton.
Tarantulas in Cambodia
We are pre-conditioned in this country to think of tarantulas as scary and poisonous, belonging on Halloween decorations, not dinner plates. But they taste great, reminding me of sweet and delicate crabs when they’re fresh. After digging them out of the ground, the tarantulas need to be defanged, washed and then scorched to remove the hair. In Cambodia, they’re deep fried, then wok sautéed with sugar, salt, chilies and garlic. And they are superb when they’re treated like lobster or crab, taken from their lair to the dinner table as quickly as possible.
Giraffe Beetles in Madagascar
Try these bugs blindfolded and you’d never know you were eating a beetle that looks like a Dr. Seuss creature. Sautéed in a bit of salty water and butter, they are tender morsels that taste like shrimp. This is the kind of bizarre food that would stop you in your tracks if it’s placed in your hand. And they only live in this one place in the world.
Coconut Tree Grubs in Iquitos
In the heart of the Amazon jungle in Peru, locals harvest coconut tree grubs and sell them in the market skewered and charred over an open flame. These protein-rich grubs taste like crisp rolls of charred chicken skin if they are cooked properly. If not, they taste like pus bags filled with rotted digested wood.
Photographs courtesy of Travel Channel.