Are you ready to challenge your palate with some of the world’s strangest food? Different meals from around the globe can be absolutely fascinating to those of us who consider our country’s dishes as safe and normal, but delve a little deeper and you’ll see every place has at least a few strange food choices. From Vegemite in Australia to haggis in Scotland, blood soup in Poland to snails in France – the world’s taste buds have developed quite differently over time. Much of it is down to produce availability, culture and tradition and more importantly – survival. While we are always one to appreciate the world’s differences, there are some dishes which even we struggle to get on-board with. In light of this, we have rounded up our top ten strangest food from around the globe.
Have you ever eaten something downright weird while travelling? Let us know in the comments below!
Fried Spider – Cambodia
Not for the faint-hearted, giant fried tarantulas can be found all over Cambodia, as well as throughout the rest of Southeast Asia. It’s also common in restaurants to see the live spiders crawling around before getting prepared to end up on your plate! Chowing down on spiders can be traced back to the town of Skoun, which had such an arachnid infestation that the locals starting eating them when they were left in famine. Many people think that spiders are still a staple food for families around Cambodia, but others say that they only really started appearing in markets and restaurants after the tourism boom as a novelty for travellers. Whatever the reason, Cambodia is now known for these fried eight legged creatures and if you visit this gem of Southeast Asia you will be hard pressed to avoid seeing them in markets all over the country.
Fermented Shark – Iceland
Fermented shark, known locally as Hákarl, is a stomach-churning delicacy from Iceland and Greenland. The meat is first buried under the sand for a few months until the fermentation process is well and truly underway and the meat is essentially rotten, before being hung up to cure for a few months more. It contains a large amount of ammonia and therefore has an overbearing smell similar to many cleaning products – which is why first-timers are advised to pinch their nose for the first bite! The fermentation of meat can be traced back to the Viking age where locals had to get creative when it came to preserving food to ensure they had enough to last the winter. Today, it’s still sold in restaurants and supermarkets all over Iceland and regularly makes it onto the country’s strange food list. Don’t panic though, Iceland also has a huge variety of organically green-house grown fruits and vegetables.
Balut – The Philippines & Southeast Asia
Do we need to say much more than this is a developing bird embryo? Originating from the Philippines and commonly sold in street markets, the egg is incubated for a period of two to three weeks before being boiled or steamed. The contents are then eaten with salt, chili and vinegar. The bird, normally a duck, can be recognisable but the bones are normally still soft enough to eat easily, and you’re meant to break a little hole in the top to suck the liquid out before crunching down the rest. It’s believed that balut has a high protein content, and has rich nutritional value considering how small the meal is. Even so, we think we’ll give this one a miss.
Chapulines – Mexico
Chapulines are toasted grasshoppers that are commonly eaten in Mexico – specifically Oaxaca where you can find them everywhere. They are either eaten as a snack, which is popular at various sporting events, or used as a filling for other dishes. Chapulines are not farmed and are still caught in the wild, which means they are only collected from their hatching period in early May until late summer. Normally tossed with garlic, lime juice and salt, this creates a sour-spicy-salty finish to the insects. They can be traced back to around the 16th century when locals would eat them as a main protein source. Unlike other edible insects, chapulines are normally inexpensive and thus available to most people.
Suri Grubs – Peru
These stubby, wriggly little grubs are commonly known as an Amazonian delicacy and can be found crawling around in buckets in the markets of Iquitos, Peru. They are the larvae of the South American palm weevil, a type of beetle relatively large in size. It’s possible to eat Suri Grubs alive, but the texture and wriggly-ness of them don’t create a nice experience and so they are normally stuck on a grill to cook. They are thought to be consumed by many indigenous populations who see them as an important source of protein, and are now also common with travellers eager to sample some unusual Peruvian grub.
Fugu – Japan
If you sit down to fugu, otherwise known as puffer-fish, then you need to carefully consider the possibility of death as a result of your meal. This Japanese delicacy is so poisonous due to its high levels of tetrodotoxin that chefs need to be highly trained in the fishes preparation to remove the toxins and avoid contamination. The dish is normally sliced into sashimi and while very expensive, has become a popular dish in Japanese cuisine.
Guinea Pig – Peru
Cuy, as it’s known in Peru, is a common dish where the whole guinea pig, head intact, is roasted and then served with accompaniments such as chips and salad. While the thought of roasting a whole guinea pig might seem unheard of in the West, where we are much more likely going to be playing with our fluffy friends on the living room floor, it’s very much a common food in South America. People say it tastes a little like roasted duck, only sticker, fattier, and quite a bit greasier!
Bird Nest Soup – China
Bird nest soup is not only a delicacy in China, but it’s also one of the most expensive animal products consumed by humans, with prices starting at around $3000 for a kilogram of the nest. This is due to the difficult process of obtaining it and the extensive process of cleaning the nest ready for human consumption. The nests are normally built at extreme heights, for example up hard to reach mountain caves, so extracting them can be very dangerous. After the manual cleaning process which removes all the feathers, dirt and other foreign objects, what is left is mostly hardened saliva. Tasty!
Bull Penis & Testicle Soup – Bolivia
Known for its otherworldly landscapes such as the glistening Salt Flats or pink-hued Laguna Colorada National Park, Bolivia is also known as having some strange and fascinating food choices. One of these delicacies is bull penis and testicle soup, which is made with…well you know. Known locally as caldo de cardan, the dish is considered both an aphrodisiac and a hangover cure. Due to a bull’s sheer size and strength, locals believe the soup is high in nutritional value and energy. If you dare to try this, then you’ll be happy to hear the soup doesn’t only contain the genitals of a bull – it’s packed with pieces of other meats, rice, eggs, potatoes and chopped onions, as well as spices and herbs.
Scorpions – Thailand
Just a walk down Khaosan Road in Bangkok will open your eyes to the sheer amount of insects on a stick that you can find in Thailand – scorpions being one of them. Much like crickets, grasshoppers and other bugs, they are considered rich in protein for their small size and so have historically been a popular food source for locals. These days however, they are more of a tourist ruse than a national delicacy. Scorpions are one of the more terrifying insects that you can find in Southeast Asia – you need to make sure the vendor has removed the sting from the tail before you chow down!