You’re on vacation, and you want to immerse yourself in the culture. Yes, you can go see the sights. But if you really want to understand the people, what better way than to try some of the local food?
You may find yourself getting taken in by the bustling street stalls and happy local servers. But beware, those bubbling pots and sizzling pans could contain some pretty strange stuff. Here are some of the weirdest foods that you might be served as you’re wandering the streets.
So it’s a hard-boiled egg. What’s weird about that?
Think again because lurking beneath the innocent-looking shell is a tiny duck fetus that’s been boiled alive. Nice. To make it, fertilized duck eggs are incubated for up to 20 days and then cooked to create this gruesome delight.
Eating the balut is an involved process. Crack it open, and you’ll see a tasty broth. It’s here where sensible people stop while the fearless go full throttle for that embryotic goodness.
Take a trip to the Philippines, and you can casually devour this delicacy with a beer. But let’s be honest. It’s going to take more than that to wash this fowl dish down.
Ah, the great English seaside—sand, sea, ice cream . . . and small edible snails. Those crazy Brits remove the excess sand and salt and boil their tiny snails of the sea before serving them with salt and vinegar.
Not only do they look slimy, but it’s tricky to get these slippery little things out of their shells and definitely far too much effort for the squidgy blob with which you’re rewarded. Many see seafood like winkles, whelks, and cockles as key to the sustainability of the seas, but we’d rather go veggie.
You’ll mainly get them on the West Coast of England. If you find yourself there, do the sensible thing and ask them to give you fish and chips with your salt and vinegar instead.
8 Mice Wine
Having a nice glass of wine is a much better idea . . . if it has baby mice in it. Then again, what’s wrong with a nice Merlot? Why is stealing mice from their parents and fermenting them in rice wine a better idea? Are we just throwing in all things that rhyme together? Let’s put some lice, dice, and an ancient sacrifice in there while we’re at it.
Anyway, the baby mice are left there for around a year. Then it’s “probably safe” to drink this “health tonic.” The Chinese believe that it can help with asthma, although it apparently tastes like gasoline. We’ll stick with the Merlot, thanks.
How about a little cheese snack with that wine? You can keep your Parmesan and your Pepper Jack. We want a rare cheese, one that is made using the larvae of flies and is infested with live maggots. Actually, no, we don’t.
But the good people of Sardinia are all over casu marzu, a cheese that takes well-aged to the extreme. The Sardinians take a traditional pecorino and have some local flies lay their eggs in it. The larvae munch through the cheese and then excrete it back into the cheese, apparently making for a unique, soft texture.
It looks horrendous and tastes worse. As arguably the world’s most dangerous cheese, casu marzu is actually illegal and banned by the European Union. So you might have to practice your Italian if you’re crazy enough to want to track it down on the black market.
Everyone loves a barbeque, and the Filipinos are no different. Visit Manila, and the streets will be filled with the smell of grilled meats. But what’s on those skewers?
Possibly isaw, which is chicken or pork intestines. But don’t worry. They are cleaned inside and out multiple times, so it’s not like you’re eating an animal’s fecal matter . . . or are you?
Apparently, they are chewy and soft and best consumed piping hot off the grill and smothered in chili sauce—to avoid the acrid aftertaste.
5 Tuna Eyeballs
A good food mantra is: “If it appeared on the dinner table in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, don’t eat it.”
But the Japanese appear to have ignored that advice. Enter tuna eyeballs. Gross.
It’s hard to avoid them. Their gaze follows you from stalls and markets, daring you to give them a try. Normally boiled and seasoned with soy sauce and rice wine, they apparently taste like a cross between a hard-boiled egg and squid. Mmm, tasty.
They are packed with omega-3. So if you can get past the fact that you’re eating the chewy, rubbery eyeball of a tuna, your intelligence will soar. It may be a good thing that the Japanese are making the most of every tuna as overfishing is putting these animals at risk of extinction.
Andouillette is probably the stinkiest sausage you’ll ever meet. It’s made from pig intestines and smells like it’s been up close and personal with pig excrement on a regular basis. The pig intestines are chopped, crammed into a sausage casing, fried up, and often covered in cream and mustard sauce.
But no amount of sauce can mask the aroma and the taste of pigs’ butts. So if you’ve had too many glasses of vin rouge (“red wine”) at a French market, beware the innocent-looking sausage. You could get more than you bargained for.
Talking of stinky, the Icelandic national dish of cured, rotten shark is putrid in the extreme. Made from the Greenland shark, hakarl is poisonous when eaten raw and fairly rank when eaten cured. It’s been fermented in Iceland for centuries and is even mentioned in the Icelandic sagas.
The tissues of the Greenland shark contain large amounts of ammonia-rich urea, a compound also found in that well-known delicacy called urine. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the horror is multiplied by curing the shark and then letting it decompose for a couple of months before hacking off chunks of pungent, decaying, rubbery flesh.
Some who have eaten hakarl say that it’s the most rancid food on Earth. We’ll take their word for it.
2 Rocky Mountain Oysters
All oysters are strange, but Rocky Mountain oysters are especially weird because they aren’t oysters at all. They are cattle, pig, or sheep testicles that are peeled and coated in flour and then deep-fried for your “pleasure.”
You’re most likely to encounter them in the West where early ranchers needed access to cheap food and basically deep-fried anything they could find. The oyster fry continues to be a common ritual despite animal rights groups opposing the animal castration.
Rocky Mountain oysters are often served with hot sauce.
1 Mopane Worms
Finally, we’re heading to a market in Zimbabwe where you’ll see the locals carrying cups of their favorite snack—the mopane worm. They are big, brightly colored beasts that have been collected from trees and had their guts forced out. Then they are fried.
Mopane worms are a form of caterpillar that apparently tastes like chicken. We’ll be the judge of that. Well, actually, we probably won’t.