We’ve come a long way in our relationship with food. Food can now hold a cultural importance, invoke memories, make our mouths water, and even get us out of our comfort zone. Sometimes, really out of it. By that we mean braving the cuisine that is, let’s use the word: “different”.
Regardless of your intent with the world’s culinary outcasts, it’s important to still be respectful (but you knew that). After all, “don’t knock it ’till you try it”, right? With that spiel done, here are the most out-there dishes from 10 of our favourite foodie countries.
Fried tarantulas in Cambodia
Arachnophobes be warned; fried tarantula is a regional delicacy in Cambodia. First bred in a hole then fried in oil with some spices, you’ll find the legs crunchy, the head and body a little bland, and the abdomen a surprising flavour due to the organs, excrements, and digested herbs. Find fried tarantulas in Skuon (aka “Spiderville”), or at a handful of restaurants in Phnom Penh.
Guinea pig in Peru
As you might’ve guessed, these furry rodents are not childhood pets in Peru. Guinea pig or “cuy” has been an Andean staple meat since pre-colonial times. Cooked whole (teeth, hair, the whole bit) and sprinkled with some garlic and salt, cuy has a pleasant “gamy chicken” taste. It’s also encouraged to eat it with your hands. Find cuy across Peru, including Lima and Cusco.
Brain fritters in Italy
Don’t worry, this isn’t some Dawn of the Dead phenomenon; zombies don’t exist (that we know of). Italian-style cervella (brain) fritters are small pieces of cow brain that are breaded in breadcrumbs or flour then fried. And let’s be honest, fried food is tastier food — even if it is brains. You’ll find frittelle di cervello in Rome if you’re up for it.
Live shrimp in Thailand
Shrimp is a normal and delicious thing to eat. But Thailand decided to kick up shrimp-eating a few notches. Dancing shrimp or “goong ten” is a traditional dish in Northeast Thailand which is, well, a plate of live shrimp. Can’t get much fresher than that! If you’re brave enough, try goong ten in Bangkok during your Thai food expedition.
Baby eel in Northern Spain
Ok, eating baby anything is always two-sided, but this traditional Basque dish has been around for centuries. These baby eels or “angulas” are actually a few years old and are now an expensive delicacy. Luckily, you can still try the mock version, “gulas” in Northern Spain, including San Sebastián, and it has nearly an identical taste and spaghetti-like appearance.
Creepy crawlies in China
China may be the most free-spirited and experimental with their eating habits, but one city stood out to us for notoriously shocking eats: Beijing. Donghuamen Night Market is chock-full of creepy crawlies to try: fried scorpions, silkworm cocoons, centipedes, locusts, sea horses, and pretty much anything else that crawls, flies, or swims. Bon appétit.
Ant Larvae in Mexico
Dishes with ant larvae, also known as “escamoles”, have been around since the Aztecs. Usually pan-fried in butter, they can be served alone, in omelettes, with tortillas and guacamole, or however you prefer your “insect caviar”. The taste is often described as nutty and buttery. Try escamoles in central Mexico, including Mexico City.
Lamb Head in Morocco
Lamb meat is included in a lot of Moroccan dishes, and not to get left out of the fun: lamb heads. Usually boiled in a large pot then cut into smaller pieces, everything is served but the eyeballs (yes, more brains). Although daunting, the final plate looks and tastes just like your normal, everyday lamb meat. Find it at one of the many stalls at Jemaa el Fna in Marrakech.
Cod sperm in Japan
Cod sperm sacs, er milt, also known as “shirako” is a popular dish in Japan. It can be served raw, steamed, pan-fried, or deep-fried and is said to have a subtly sweet flavour and a creamy, custard-like consistency. Shirako can be found throughout Japan, including street vendors and restaurants in Tokyo.
Cuttlefish ink risotto in Croatia
Black cuttlefish risotto is commonly eaten in the Dalmatia region of Croatia. And yes, its appearance is a lot more intimidating than its taste. Really, the cuttlefish ink just gives the risotto more of a salty and briny flavour. If this seems up your alley, Split is a great place to give it a try.
Test your tastebuds (within limits) on an Intrepid real food adventure.