With every border you cross and every new stamp on your passport, you would expect to see a different culture.
Trying country-specific dishes is a great way to gain insight into the country’s culture, people, and traditions which will only enhance your experience. But be warned, not all foods you encounter along the way will be down-right amazing. Some of them will be unusual and bizarre. Some you may even consider gross. But if you can stomach it, it’s worth to try as many as you can. You will be surprised how many you will end up liking. If not anything, you’ll probably have a really cool story to tell all your friends back home.
So be adventurous, be fearless, and be open-minded. You’ll need all three in order to conquer some of the weirdest foods in the world. Read on and see if you’ve got the guts!
Hong Kong is littered with snake soup shops. While most of them are harmless, one of their delicacies is not- the Cobra Soup. The deadly reptile first has its fangs removed as soon as it’s brought in. The first bit is the bile sack, which is served raw for good health. It’s known to cure diseases and boost energy.
The rest of the snake is dismembered so quickly that the snake continues to wriggle, often with its heart still beating for a while, even with the head, brain and skin removed. The locals call it Chi, or life force. The meat is quickly shredded, boiled, and incorporated into the liquid component of the soup. Eat it before it eats you!
Chaprah- Red Ant Chutney
This surprisingly tasty and crunchy side dish is found in our very own Chhattisgarh! India is known for its sweet, savory, and spicy chutneys, but this one’s clearly got the bite (pun intended)! The main ingredient? Red ants and their eggs, dried and crushed with spices and salt.
The formic acid in the ants is said to be of medicinal value. The local Dhuruvatribe calls it quite an adventure because eating it will feel like setting your tongue on fire. Suddenly the Bhut Jolokia seems quite tame!
Casu Marzu- Maggot Cheese
Found in Sardinia; cheese made with sheep milk and infested with live maggots. The EU banned this but it can still be found on the black market. The cheese is first made and the crust removed, to invite flies to lay eggs. It’s then left for months for the eggs to hatch and turn into larvae. The excreta of the larvae is what gives the cheese its flavour.
Why is it dangerous? The cheese is usually eaten with the maggots alive; dead maggots indicate that the cheese has gone bad. Now, maggots can jump pretty high when threatened, so diners need to watch their eyes!
Not only must you watch out for jumping maggots, you also must chew them properly before ingesting, because if they enter the body alive, but they could also make holes in the intestine! Oh well, the wine that’s paired with it might make the pain disappear!
Almost anything at Guolizhuang
Most of the dishes at this Beijing restaurant are made from animal genitalia. Even though they’re given inviting names, they’re just ox, sheep, goat and even yak penises, cut into various shapes. Because of their uncommon offerings, the restaurant’s waiters must explain each dish’s properties. For e.g., women may eat the penises but not the testicles, as they are believed to disturb the natural hormonal balance and make their voice manly!
Expensive dishes include yak penis, called the Dragon in the Flame of Desire, pitched at $220, and the Penis Platter. Want to go premium? If you hold the platinum, gold, or silver membership, you can eat the Tiger penis (seriously) for 1500$, although you must place the order months in advance!
Made in Japan, these are just like your regular chocolate chip cookies. Except, instead of chocolates, the biscuits are stuffed with wasps! These wasps are hunted by professionals, dried, and incorporated into the cracker mixture. The type of wasp that is stuffed into the cookies is said to taste like a raisin, only slightly acidic.
While it seems like quite a challenge for your tongue, it may just be an acquired taste!
Weirdest Food By Travellers
Weirdest “eatable” creepy crawlers Snake and Scorpion in Siem Reap If you ask my daughters what their favourite food in South East Asia was, they will both reply BBQ snake. We have eaten a BBQ snake and Scorpion during our family holiday in Cambodia. According to my daughters, the grilled snake was a delicacy and tasted better than chicken. In my opinion, it felt rather like a leather shoe full of small bones, but they like it so much that when we were exploring Siem Reap every night we were visiting Pub street and buying snake snacks. It cost only $1, so it was a small price for kids entertainment. One night we decided to try Scorpion as well, unfortunately, the moment I bit the Scorpion I realized that the place I bite is a place where scorpion poos and that was enough not even to want to bite it again.
Mopane worms in Zimbabwe The weirdest foods I’ve ever tried were Mopane worms in Zimbabwe. They are called worms but are in fact caterpillars of the emperor moth, which are native to Southern Africa. Mopane worms are traditionally eaten mainly by people in the rural areas of Zimbabwe, Botswana, and a small part of South Africa for whom it’s an important source of protein. It’s not something you will find on the menu of a restaurant or on the shelves in supermarkets in larger cities. Mopane worms are handpicked straight from the Mopane trees after which they are dried and sold at local markets. I’ve eaten the Mopane worm on various occasions; the taste is not bad at all. It has the flavour and texture of a very well cooked steak. It’s just a bit weird to eat because of the way it looks, and not really for the flavour. It’s not something I will look for on local markets to cook for myself; however, I would eat it again if it’s served to me, out of respect for the local culture.
Chapulines – Grasshoppers in Mexico Adventurous eaters in Mexico shouldn’t miss trying chapulines or grasshoppers. This traditional indigenous snack is most widely consumed in Oaxaca. It’s also popular in Mexico City and surrounding areas. The insects are roasted on a comal, or traditional griddle. They are then seasoned with chile, lime, garlic, and salt. You can find the most common during Mexico’s rainy season. Chapulines are packed with protein and crunchy. The flavor is like spicy dried shrimp. The small ones are quite tasty! They can be eaten separately as a crispy beer snack or as a filling for tacos or tlayudas, or Mexican flatbreads. In Mexico City, a great place to try chapulines is the massive La Merced market. There, you can also try other iconic delicacies like tongue and tripe tacos, gusanos (worms), and flying ants.
Fried Tarantula from Cambodia A few years ago, I kicked off a two-month-long backpacking trip around Southeast Asia with an Intrepid Travel group tour through Cambodia. During one of our long drives between cities, we pulled over to a large roadside market. The market sold standard road trip snacks like sodas, chips, and sweets, as well as a few more unique items–fried grasshoppers and tarantulas.
After some encouragement from our guide, our group purchased a few tarantulas to see for ourselves why they’re so popular. I grabbed one of the legs and took a nibble–it was crunchy and had a barbeque flavor, so it tasted much like a potato chip. If I didn’t know what I was eating, I would never have guessed it was a spider. (I wasn’t brave enough to try the abdomen, though, which squirts out creamy liquid when you bite into it!) Overall, I’m glad I tried it, but I definitely wouldn’t eat it again.
Cuy – Guinea Pig
In South America, there is perhaps no food to try, which is more taboo than a guinea pig. Also known as cuy, this fluffy rodent has been on menus as far back as 5,000BC! I first tried guinea pig in the popular ex-pat town of Cuenca in Ecuador; however, it is a popular delicacy in Peru as well.
Although many morally disagree with eating guinea pig, there are arguments which say, as a carbon-friendly beef alternative, it is far less damaging for the environment.
On our way to the stunning Moroccan Sahara desert, we stopped in Fez. After spending the day in the Medina and souks, we sampled a dromedary burger. Dromedaries are a type of camel with one hump, sometimes called the Arabian camel as they are found in North Africa and the Middle East. Dromedary milk is sold widely, there are often stalls at the side of the road but the milk is not pasteurized or sterilized and can upset the stomachs of those used to more sanitized milk. Dromedary meat is used in Moroccan cooking on special occasions, slow-baked over low heat in traditional tajines with vegetables. The meat can be tough and gamey if it comes from older dromedaries and trying to negotiate and buy the right cut for a tajine can be challenging! The dromedary burger, however, is made from ground meat from around the hump (a fatty lump, not actually filled with water) which also cooks well as steak. Dromedary meat tastes like beefy veal, quite juicy and flavorsome; in Morocco, they add spices to the burger meat giving it a delicious and unmistakable Moroccan flavour. I’m not sure it will catch on in the burger chains, but you have to try dromedary if you’re ever in Morocco!
Paaya from Pakistan
Paaya or paya means legs in Hindustani and, well, this is exactly what it is. It’s a heavy soup that consists of anything related to legs – may it be from goat, beef, buffalo, or sheep. We tasted this dish in Pakistan because we love trying new food. Back then we didn’t know what was in it actually and just gave it a try. Result? We loved it.
After that, we did some research and found out that it was actually mostly the Muslim cooks of Lahore and Hyderabad who adapted the Central Asian dish to their cuisine. Today, you’ll mostly find the same type of paaya in Pakistan: It is often based on a soup created by onions and garlic and mixed with lots of curry-based spices. Then the cook adds meat and bones of anything but pork and chicken and lets it cook for several hours. To be honest, having a look at paaya will give those who are not into the meat the chills, but trust us, this really is a good stew that may even remind you of the dishes your granny used to cook.
For those traveling to India: You can also find Paaye in Indian restaurants mostly under the name “khurode “, which comes from the word hoof.
Contributed by Clemens from Travellers Archive
South Africa is a top destination, especially for families, because there’s so much to see and do there. It’s also a huge destination for foodies and offers very high-quality food in some amazing restaurants, although we prefer to have a more leisurely family-friendly picnic on a wine estate.
If you’re looking for something a little more exotic, then we recommend heading to Oudtshoorn. Oudtshoorn is in the Klein Karoo, a desert region in the Western Cape, and is a great place to stop if you’re driving the famous Garden Route. It is well known for its ostrich and crocodile farms and is, of course, a great place to try crocodile.
Zozo and “skinless” crocodile in Hanoi
When I saw a crocodile on the menu of the bed & breakfast I was staying at, I had to try it. I chose a crocodile carpaccio dish that was served in thin slices. It tasted a little like chicken. Actually, it had a bit of a fishy chicken flavour. I’d say it was an acquired taste but everyone’s tastes are different and how can you pass up the opportunity to eat something so extraordinary that you may not get to try again?
There aren’t too many places in the world that serve high-end zebra shish kebabs, but Joe’s Beer House, on the outskirts of Windhoek, Namibia is one of them. The restaurant is a wonderful find – a hybrid German/African barbeque outdoor eatery with a tiki bar vibe. Aside from being an amazing venue, the highlight of the restaurant is the incredible menu, offering all sorts of weird and wonderful animals – many of which you’re likely to see on a safari game drive. After much deliberation, and wanting to try something I was unlikely to see on a menu again, I ordered the zebra kebab. It came with a salad and rice, and looked much like a lamb kebab, with five or six large chunks of dark meat. The taste was extremely potent, and a little tougher than I’m used to, and although I soldiered on for a while I wasn’t able to finish my quirky African feast – no matter how much Windhoek larger I tried to wash it down with. I’m glad I tried it, but zebra is definitely not a dish I’ll be ordering again!
Sea Dog – lizard on a stick
Wangfujing Street in Beijing used to come alive at night, with market stalls lining the streets selling all sorts of weird and wonderful delicacies for tourists to try. These days, “snack street” as it’s otherwise known, is only open during the day. But you can still sample grasshoppers, crickets, and other fried creepy crawlies.
This “Sea Dog” as the locals called it, was around $5 a piece. It was hard and crunchy, and mostly bone from what I can tell. To this day I have never figured out exactly what it was. They called it a sea dog, but it really does look more like a lizard than anything else? What do you think it is?
Tripe in Florence
Eating Tripe in Florence is not just a tourist experience but a sought-after treat of sorts for Florentines. Either you love it or hate it.
Tripe is the stomach lining of an animal, typically a cow. Tripe is also known in Florence as ‘Lampredetto’.
The tripe itself is made from various parts of a cow stomach, Lampredotto, however, is made from the final part of the cattle stomach, the ‘abomasum’.
It’s street food in Florence Italy, and is known as student food (originally peasant food) given its low price and that it’s filling when wrapped in a chunky sandwich.
Tripe is eaten in various countries around the world, but Lampredotto is a local specialty for Florence.
Lampredotto is the fourth and final stomach of a cow. It is usually slow-cooked with tomato, onion, parsley, and celery until it has the texture of tender roast beef.
It’s usually served on a crunchy bun, but it’s normally soaked first the broth and with spicy or green sauce.
The texture is somewhat like stewed calamari but not as rubbery, and the taste is quite neutral, but when combined with other ingredients in a sandwich is absolutely amazing!
You can find it at street level in touristy places and is an ideal filler lunch if you’re on the go. So if you’re heading to Florence, skip brunch and head out for a Lampredotto for lunch to keep you going for the afternoon!
Brain Curry in Pakistan
Brain curry (known as maghaz) is certainly the weirdest food I’ve ever tried in all of my travels! I sampled this gooey-chewy dish in Pakistan at Phajja Siri Paye, one of the best places to visit in Lahore for traditional meaty eats.
The brain pieces were swathed in a curry mixture, which made the taste not so different from a regular curry meal.
Haggis a traditional Scottish dish made from sheep offal – heart, liver and lungs minced with oats, salt, and spices and traditionally cooked in sheep’s stomach.
Traditionally it was done by Scott to use all the perishable offal quickly inside the animal’s stomach after hunt. later Scott prepare haggis from sheep offals. now haggis sold in supermarket is already pre-cooked. there is as well vegan version of haggis.
What does haggis it taste like? it actually tastes better than i expected, even though I hate offals. The crumble texture of the dish is very interesting. Haggis is usually served with mashed potato or turnip. it can be as well used as stuffing or fried for breakfast.
if you visit Scotland eating haggis is a must.
Sour swallow (Laos)
Whilst many Laos food is unusual, the strangest I’ve encountered so far is sour swallows, or nok ann toong, in the Lao language. A seasonal delicacy, the sour swallow is a specialty of the little-visited Xieng Khouang Province in northern Laos.
During the months of August and September each year, flocks of migratory swallows travel long distances from Russia to Laos in order to avoid the freezing winter temperatures. The tiny birds, once caught, are placed in huge jars and left to pickle and ferment. Once ready, the fermented birds are fried and eaten whole as a snack with sticky rice.
This local delicacy is usually only found in the latter part of the year at the fresh markets in Phonsavan, the capital of Xieng Khouang Province, and neighboring areas. After much persuasion I tried sour swallow and let’s just say if the taste doesn’t put you off, the texture will! These little birds are not only highly pungent and overpoweringly sour – you’ll also need a strong stomach to power your way through all the little crunchy bits of bone and beak!
Pie, Mash and Liquor – London’s Original Street Food
London’s Original Street Food was “pie, mash and liquor” and was based on the available produce around at the time. Back in the 18th century, the River Thames, running through England’s capital city, had a plentiful supply of eels, and potatoes were cheap and easily available. Pie men used to sell eel pies from carts on the street, moving to small premises when money became available. Some of these original pie shops are still around in London’s East End and you can try the modern-day version of this dish.
Today’s pie, mash, and liquor in London uses minced beef or vegetables in their pies – not eels. The mashed potato is still the same though and the liquor recipe– which used to be made from the water that the eels were cooked in, is now a closely guarded secret, with the main ingredient of chopped green parsley and additional secret family ingredients.
The correct way to eat pie, mash, and liquor is to cover your pie with liquor, and then sprinkle lots and lots of salt and vinegar on it. The best place to try pie mash and liquor is at the oldest remaining pie and mash shop – Manzes at 87 Tower Bridge Road, Bermondsey.
The salt and especially the vinegar do add to it, as the taste is somewhat bland, but judging by the number of locals lining up when we visited, it’s still very, very popular in London’s East End!
The weirdest food I’ve tried during my travels is Sichuan Hotpot, one of the best foods in Chengdu. The hotpot itself is not so strange – a big vat of oil, chilies, and stock mixed together and placed on a hob in the center of your table. The strangest part is all the meats you’ll get to cook yourself at the table.
You can order the small and large intestines, three different parts of the stomach, and chicken feet. I have to say the chicken feet have no meat on them so were not my favorite. The intestines were very grisly and rubbery. The stomach was actually quite tasty!
Don’t forget to try the pig’s brain. Getting it into the hotpot with just chopsticks is hard enough, but watching it float around for 20 minutes while it cooks was just another level of strange. I didn’t have the guts (no pun intended!) to try the brain myself, but my boyfriend described it as mushy and full of flavour. Last up to try is Stinky Tofu! The smell on this is just as weird as its taste. I have to recommend trying it though, as it’s a big deal in Sichuan.
Overall, Sichuan Hotpot is one of my favorite meals I’ve tried throughout the world. You can also have the option of ordering some ‘normal’ meats and tofu but where’s the fun in that!
Contributed by Hanna from Hanna’s Happy Adventures
Weird eggs dishes in the world
Balut – the hard-boiled duck fetus
In the weird dishes discussion, balut from the Philippines must surely take a medal. The contents of this hard-boiled eggshell is not an egg, it’s a fertilized (usually duck) egg – which has been incubated for two or three weeks, and then boiled. It means when you break the shell, besides some white which you may be expecting, you get feathers, a beak and a mixture of flesh and some dribbling slime.
That discovery was the moment I knew I couldn’t fool my stomach. It’s not an egg anymore if something stares at you. Probably that’s why balut is mostly eaten at night when you cannot see what you are eating, or as a bite when you are drinking. I tried it this way at night on the beach in Coron, while having a drink with my Filipino friends. My friends dared me to try it and I did bite it, it felt salty, and then I felt the feather and texture before the previous content of my earlier supper met the balut in the (previously) fresh air.
But lots of Filipinos find that balut has aphrodisiac properties. It apparently stiffens your knees too. That’s probably the reason why you can buy balut almost anywhere around Manila. Taste-wise it wasn’t horrible, but the impact of mind and stomach on the matter of unborn chick was impossible for me.
I remember how I once innocently picked up a black century egg from the shelf in a Malaysian supermarket when we were visiting Kuala Lumpur with kids.
“Great, it’s a black-shelled egg – let’s buy it and try it,” I said to the girls. I don’t know what my expectation was, but the taste of this egg was revolting. The “white” was dark brown and translucent, and the yolk was dark green. The whole egg strongly smelt of ammonia.
So what is a century egg and how is made?
Preserved egg, or a hundred-year-old egg as it is also known, is a duck, chicken, or quail egg that has been packed in a mixture of clay, salt, lime, ash, and rice husk. There it stays for several weeks or even months. That was the traditional way of preparing century eggs. Currently, the process is accelerated by adding link oxide or zinc oxide.
Eggs are eaten as a side dish on their own. My own recommendation is to avoid them altogether. After just one bite of mine, I developed a big headache. In case I haven’t persuaded you yet, maybe you should know that in Laos and Thailand, the common name for the century egg translates as “horse urine egg”.