Savoring local food is part of the thrill of traveling and discovering a new country, even if sometimes we can find ourselves in front of dishes that can definitely surprise us – and not always in a positive way … If you want to be prepared for any eventuality, here are the 10 strangest foods you can find around the world.
1. Casu Marzu, Sardinia
Let’s start with the local gastronomy: if you think that Italy is immune to strange foods, you’ve never been to Sardinia. Casu marzu, literally rotten cheese, is the creamy and spicy pecorino cheese on which the dairy fly has deposited its eggs: these will turn into larvae, which will eat the cheese. It is not for nothing that it is also known as cheese with worms. Its marketing is prohibited, so you will find it only on special occasions in direct contact with the manufacturer.
Casu Marzu Sardo (Luca Grieco via Flickr)
2. Balut, Philippines
Balut is a typical specialty of the Philippines and some other Southeast Asian countries. It is a fertilized and boiled duck or hen egg when the embryo is almost completely formed in the shell. Traditionally it is consumed directly from the shell, with salt and vinegar. This is a street food that you will not be hard pressed to encounter during a trip to the Philippines, Laos or Vietnam: be careful not to mistake it for a boiled egg!
3. Huitlacoche, Mexico
One of the typical dishes of the rich Mexican cuisine is the huitlacoche, a delicious culinary heritage of the pre-Hispanic era. You are about to taste a parasitic corn fungus, which grows among the grains of the cobs. It is an ingredient that you will easily find as a topping for quesadillas and tacos: its natural white-gray color turns to black during cooking. If in many countries of the world this mushroom is treated as a plague to be eradicated because it is harmful to corn, in Mexico its production is encouraged and it is considered the “Mexican truffle”.
Quesadilla by Huitlacoche (Kirk K via Flickr)
4. Fugu, Japan
If Japanese cuisine is now globally recognized for sushi and sashimi, only by traveling to the Land of the Rising Sun will you be able to face the challenge of trying fugu, the puffer fish. The characteristic of this dish is that some of the organs of the puffer fish contain tetrodoxin, a poisonous substance that can only be eradicated after careful preparation, in order to avoid contamination of the meat. Considering the risk of fatal intoxication, fugu can only be prepared by chefs who have obtained a special license and passed an exam that certifies their ability to prepare it.
5. Hákarl, Iceland
And speaking of poisonous fish, in Iceland you can taste hakarl, the rotten shark: since its fresh meat is toxic, it is necessary to let it dry and ferment to be able to consume it. The rot eliminates the toxicity, and you can eat the shark without problems … if you can not be discouraged by its strong and disgusting smell! Rotten shark meat can be found in all Icelandic supermarkets, so you have no excuse to avoid it.
Hákarl during the drying process (Chris Wronski via Flickr)
6. Sannakji, Korea
Among the typical dishes of Korean cuisine there is sannakji, a delicacy based on nakji, a quality of small octopus. The peculiarity of this dish is the fact that the octopus is served still alive, cut into small pieces. Sannakji is fully included in the list of strange foods for the suckers on the tentacles, still active when they are served: the sensation of the suckers that stick to the mouth and throat when swallowed, makes undoubtedly original (and even dangerous) the tasting of this dish. Better to chew well before taking the bite down!
7. Fried spiders, Cambodia
If you are in Skoun, on a tour of Thailand and Cambodia, you might come across one of the traditional snacks of the area, fried spiders. Spiders are raised in holes in the ground or caught in forests, then breaded in salt and sugar, fried in oil and flavored with garlic. These are not small spiders, but Asian tarantulas whose dimensions can reach those of the palm of a hand. The brave people who have tried them claim that the culinary experience is very similar to tasting fried shrimp … seeing is believing.
Fried Tarantulas (Matthew Stevens via Flickr)
8. Hundred-year-old eggs, China
Chinese delicacy, the hundred year old egg is nothing more than a duck or quail egg preserved in clay, lime, salt and ash for several weeks, sometimes months. You will recognize it for its almost “prehistoric” appearance, as if it were a fossil egg: opening it you will see that the yolk has taken on a dark gray color tending to green while the white has become a gelatinous gray. The flavor is salty, and it is served as a cold dish, along with appetizers and side dishes. Consider it as a gastronomic experience during your trip to China!
9. Moth larvae, Australia
One of the staple dishes of the Australian Aboriginal menus are the moth larvae that grow in the Australian desert. A great source of protein for Aborigines, moth larvae are making their way into some unique city restaurants serving traditional Aboriginal dishes, along with ants, spiders and locusts. The flavor seems to be a cross between chicken and shrimp and, experts say, they are tastier if cooked on the barbecue and eaten hot …
Moth Larvae (Swee Oon via Flickr)
10. Black Ivory coffee, Thailand
We conclude the top ten of the strange foods to be enjoyed in the world with a particular drink. Coffee lovers, be alert: we are talking about the coffee called black ivory, a very rare specialty of Thailand. This drink is in fact obtained from coffee beans ingested by elephants and then recovered from their excrements. The process of digestion of the beans by the elephants breaks down the proteins of the coffee making the final drink less bitter than the classic coffee. Considering that 33 kg of beans are required to produce 1 kg of coffee, black ivory is sold at the stellar price of $ 50 per cup and can only be found in some luxury establishments. The good thing is that part of the proceeds from the sale is destined for the protection of elephants.