Whenever I write about some strange thing that comes out of Babci’s garden or kitchen, I always get a few folks who respond with “I want to try some.”
Lately, I’ve been talking about more benign things like Gooseberry Pie, Currant Jelly and Sauerkraut. I know I have a few foodies that read my blog, so I’m very curious about what strange things people have eaten.
But here’s a little bit of the back story. Before kids were in the picture, my husband and I had a rule to leave the country at least once a year. In addition to traveling for pleasure, we also both have traveled to Europe and the Far East for work as well. We both have had to add extra pages in our passport. Being frugal, we always would research places where the dollar exchange rate was very strong. This usually meant developing countries, like Thailand. We saved in other areas so we could spend on vacations.
Speaking of Thailand, that was my first strange food story. We had this plan to get through the first leg and then eat at Norita airport in Japan. Well, that was a big mistake. The part of the airport that we were confined to, we only had access to a little newstand, so our only options were hello kitty bubble gum and fish flavored potato chips. After over 24 hours in various planes and airports and having eaten little more than a double batch of oatmeal raisin cookies, our first stop was the hotel restaurant. My buddy Fred orders Beef and Broccoli. My husband and I ordered Chicken Dishes. Fred takes a bite and says, “This is neither Beef, nor Broccoli.” My husband calls him a knucklehead and explains that he’s actually seen chickens pecking around town, but has seen nothing that looks even remotely close to a cow. We went to visit a college friend who lives in Bangkok and when we told him about the strange foods we saw, he stated: “The only thing with legs that we do not eat is furniture.” He then took us to a festival and encouraged us to try the stir fried beetles and maggots. We declined and asked him to try some instead. He was like “I don’t eat that stuff, that’s laborer food.”
Now, I’m not exactly sure what types of meats I’ve eaten in the far east, but some were clearly identifiable (fetal pig) and others were clearly not anything I tried before (fish stomach), so I asked what the heck it was so here’s my list:
Thailand had the most amazing fruit. We lived off of it there. Most of the meat was cooked in open air carts and a lot of it was just hanging in the air with flies all over it, so we didn’t experiment much with the meat. Our friend’s dad took us to a very nice restaurant and I ate a lot of traditional food. I have no idea what the meats were, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I ate dog or cat because some were not at all a familiar flavor.
- Custard Apple
- Some weird thing that tasted like a cross between a pineapple, onion and garlic. It was gross and smelled really bad. I don’t remember what it was called. It was the color and size of a pineapple but had layers like an onion.
- Lamb – Okay, I don’t like mutton so that was exotic for me.
- Wallaby – that’s like a small kangaroo. It was delicious and it tasted like steak.
- Butterfish – We did a fishing charter and gave our fish to a retired local. He had us over for dinner and prepared it. He needs a story of his own. He was growing things in bathtubs and had all kinds of wild fruit in his yard.
- Breadfruit – Dessert at butter fish guy’s house.
Most of our weird eating was done at the Carnivore Restaurant in Kenya. This was our honeymoon, and part of it was done climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. We actually told our guides we were vegetarian when they stopped at the side of the road and pulled some dead meat off a hook in the blazing summer. Many people got sick on that trip. Anyway, at the carnivore we felt safe because the meat was farm raised and I assume fairly fresh.
- Zebra (in fact that might be a zebra leg that dude is holding). Zebra was the tastiest thing of the night by the way.
- Biltong – this is jerky made from the Kudu and Springbock which are types of deer. This was the best jerky ever.
- Pigeon – it really does taste like chicken
- Tripe – Yuck, I hate tripe. I was always forced to try some because it’s a kind of delicacy, but it’s gross.
- Cow Brain – it was made like a potato salad – yup, didn’t like that either.
- Pig’s Feet Jello – It is a clear jello with bits of pig’s feet floating in it. It’s served with vinegar and black pepper. Okay I have been known to eat this and be okay with it. I have never craved it though.
- Pickled Herring – I like it and always have some when I’m in Poland. There is no comparison to the stuff you find in the US. Fresh herring is yummy.
Other Parts of Europe
- Carpaccio – thinly sliced raw meat on a plate – It’s tender and you’d like it if you like your steaks rare. (Netherlands)
- Haggis and Blood Sausage – I stayed at a B+B in Scotland and the chatty inn-keeper told me about how the highlanders used to bleed the sheep and cows to mix with their oatmeal for extra protein and these foods were invented. I tried it. I recall them being dry and kind of bland. (Scotland)
- Pickled or Fried Eel – The big snake kind. Didn’t like it. Too oily. (Netherlands)
With the exception of Thailand, most of our Asia travels have been through work. I ate a lot of things there and I have no idea what was ordered for me on most days. I always asked for a side of steamed greens (kind of like spinach) in case the food was iffy. I generally liked what I ate even though I didn’t know what it was. Here are the things I could identify:
- Fetal Pig – roasted whole and stuck on a plate, head and all. It was one of the most delicious things I ate. (China)
- Fish Stomach Soup – Strange Flavor…not really fishy. Wouldn’t have it again. (China)
- Kimchee – spicy fermented cabbage – gross, didn’t like it. (Korea)
- Eel, Octopus, and other Fishlike things – I generally didn’t like Korean Food. They love their oily fish. (Korea)
- Mooncake - This is like a fig cake with a hard boiled egg yolk in the middle. It’s a traditional food eaten during the moon festival in China. They are very sweet, which is unusual because I didn’t see the Chinese eating many desserts like we do.
In Asia, I specifically avoided the exotic endangered species meals. I didn’t eat shark fin soup, or birds nest soup or any of that stuff. My most favorite food was the fresh dumplings. Yum.
- Wild Mushrooms – many varieties either picked by us or bought in the store
- Wild Fiddle Head Ferns – both bought or picked
- A live goldfish (okay, I admit I was at a frat party and it was a dare)
- Liver and Other Sweat breads – not my thing
I don’t recall ever eating frog legs, turtle soup or escargot. I’m sure if I thought about it some more, I’d have a few others to add.
I’ll end with some safety tips. If you’re in a very exotic overseas location and want to experiment, it’s best to try a touristy place either in a hotel or something well known. Yes, the Carnivore was touristy and overpriced, but we didn’t get sick after eating there. Generally we eat very little street food or meat when we travel. Fruit is great, as are COOKED vegetables and rice. There is no way of telling how long that hunk of meat has been hanging out on that hook and in many tropical countries it has got to be rancid and maggot filled from the heat and flies. Only drink bottled drinks. Don’t use ice. Bottled Beer is usually very safe and tasty. Always pack Imodium.
Now it’s your turn. What strange food have you tried? Are there any that aren’t on my list?