Every culture has its own culinary traditions, including some strange and bizarre foods that are considered gourmet delicacies and even sacred. If you have a sense of adventure, here are 10 specialties that (believe it or not) are enjoyed by cultures throughout the world. This is only a small selection of the many unique and creative dishes that are considered haute cuisine in other countries.
This is considered an Asian treat. A balut is a fertilized chicken or duck egg with an almost-developed embryo inside. It is boiled and eaten straight from the shell. Gastronomes usually wash a balut down with a beer. Some U.S. markets in heavily Asian neighborhoods carry unboiled balut eggs, should you wish to try this delicacy. Beware of small feathers.
Deep Fried Spiders
This is a Cambodian snack that became popular in the 1970s when a desperate population began eating the spiders out of necessity. Now, the spiders, a relative of the tarantula family, are salted, sugared, treated with MSG and garlic before cooking. Natives say they taste like a cross between chicken and cod.
This Norwegian specialty takes codfish and soaks it in a lye (yes, lye) and water concoction for several days, rendering it toxic. It is then put back into a water bath to neutralize the toxic substance. (Note: if you soak it in the lye mixture too long, the fish will turn to soap.) The finished delicacy has a texture between jello and mashed potatoes and is served on special occasions.
Hákarl is the name of an Icelandic delicacy that is ”putrefied” or “rotten” shark. “Curing” the shark involves a rather complicated process that includes burying the fish in a gravel hole for several weeks to several months, and is then hanging it out to dry. The finished product, they say, has a smell of ammonia. Click here to see a video of hákarl sampling.
This seafood delicacy is popular in Japan and is also called blowfish or pufferfish. If is one of the most controversial and deadly fish known to man, containing large amounts of tetrodotoxin, a paralyzing agent that is 1,200 times more deadly than cyanide. Prepared by untrained chefs, fugu can paralyze and kill you. Eating fugu is like a game of Russian roulette, since many diners have died after consuming the fish.
A Scottish delicacy, haggis is the heart, lungs and liver of a sheep that has been cooked with other ingredients into a savory stew. One minor detail: it is cooked in the animal’s stomach. It is also not available in the U.S. because U.S.D.A. regulations prohibit selling and/or using sheep lungs.
Casu Marzu is an Italian delicacy that literally translates into “rotten cheese.” However, the cheese is more than rotten. It is also loaded with maggots, or the live larvae of the “cheese fly.” Part of the cheese making process involves leaving the cheese outside, uncovered, which allows the cheese flies to lay eggs inside. Believe it or not, this is a highly sought-after food in Sardinia. Want to find out more? Check out this video of Casu Marzu.
Sannakji is live baby octopus, which may sound innocuous enough. However, the baby octopus is served live on your plate, cut up into pieces with a sprinkling of sesame oil. When you get the dish, the pieces will be squirming and you will be expected to eat it. Native Koreans caution that you must chew the sannakji carefully, since the little suction cups can stick to your innards. Check this video to see how to consume these little critters.
This is an Asian and Taiwanese specialty that is extremely aromatic. Tofu is marinated in brine for several months, soaking up all the flavors of meat, vegetables and fermented milk that make up the brining liquid. It is described as having an odor of rotting garbage, and stinky tofu aficionados say the worse it smells, the better the flavor.
And finally, from the good, old USA …
Rocky Mountain Oysters
Although this may sound like a type of seafood, this American and Canadian delicacy is none other than buffalo testicles, although you can get this “cowboy caviar” in different varieties (lamb, pork, goat, even turkey). They can be boiled, fried or barbecued. Interested in learning more? Check out this video of a Montana Testicle Festival.
They say that one of the pleasures of traveling to new places is sampling the local cuisine. Frankly, I think I would be hard pressed to try some of these international delicacies, now that I know how they are made and what they contain.