One of the best ways to experience a new culture is through it’s food, which in most places means it’s street food. The snacks that people grab at lunch or a sports game or while relaxing with friends can say a lot about a country.
Barbecued meat, sandwiches and fried sweet goods are ubiquitous the world over – but what about when you come across a snack and your first response is ‘OH MY GOD! Do people really eat that?’
As well travelled souls here at GoneTravelling here are some of the weirdest snacks we’ve come across.
Peru and Ecuador
Cuy (aka Guinea Pig)
Did you have a Guinea Pig as a pet when you were young? Well brace yourselves, the lovely people of South America love a Guinea Pig – normally fried or grilled. Cuy at it’s called is normally served as a street food snack but can be bought in cafes too. The taste is somewhere between game and chicken and is actually quite nice once you get past what it actually is… Best eaten with your bare hands by the side of the road.
Goong Ten (aka Dancing Shrimp)
Thailand is no stranger to odd street food – you’ll likely see fried mealworms and maggots in spicy salt (which are actually very tasty and nutritious!) in most big towns and cities. But when you spot a guy with a basket of small live prawns which he covers in a mixture of lime, chilli and onions and then EATS you might think ‘This is a bit much’. However Goong Ten is quite a taste explosion and is definitely one for the brave street food explorer!
A-Ping (aka Deep fried Tarantulas)
In a town called Skuon next to Tonle-Sap lake in Cambodia, the local delicacy is deep fried tarantulas. The taste is nothing to write home about but the texture is what gets you… Crunchy, chewy, squishy. It’s not exactly going to set the world alight and it probably won’t be seen at a mall near you soon. One to tick off the list and move on.
Pretty much everything
There’s a saying that the Chinese will eat everything on 4 legs except a table and chairs. In fact the amount of legs doesn’t matter, the Chinese will eat EVERYTHING. Pick a town and wander around the local market and you will spy fried scorpions, whole battered crab, sea horses, grilled rat, duck heads in soup – even dog and cat… If you’re an adventurous eater simply head to China and prepare to be challenged.
Sannakji (aka Living Octopus)
Anyone who’s seen the film ‘Oldboy’ (the original by Park Chan-Wook) will know about this dish. Pieces of Octopus – or a whole Octopus – are served still alive and twitching with a dip of sesame oil. Not one for the squeamish.
Iceland and Norway
Hakarl (aka Fermented Shark Meat)
Surrounded by sea you’d think Iceland would have some great fish dishes. Well, Hakarl might just disappoint you. It smells pretty pungent (like rotting fish) and tastes like… Wait for it… Rotting fish… Seconds anyone?
Escamoles (aka Insect Caviar)
The eggs and pupae of ants harvested from cactus roots normally fried in spices and served as a quick eat with salsa and guacamole. It sounds quite disgusting but actually tastes reasonably palatable – nutty and buttery.
Live Cobra Heart
Vietnam like China has a lot of weird food on the streets – you will likely spot a dog meat stand for instance. But nothing quite has the ‘WTF?!’ factor of eating a live cobra heart extracted from the snake often right in front of you and then swallowed in one. Not really a taste sensation, not really anything except a bit cruel and disgusting.
Across Southern Africa you will likely come across many more un-usual cuts of meat. In South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique you can go weeks without eating the same animal twice. Kudu, Springbok, Crocodile, Warthog, Impala, Zebra… If you can see it walking around on a safari trip you can probably find a local restaurant who cooks it. Granted these don’t necessarily come under the ‘weirdest’ heading promised but for sheer selection the region is hard to beat.
The bits of a sheep that don’t get eaten such as lungs, offal and gizzards are minced and stuffed into a casing made from it’s own stomach lining. Sounds pretty disgusting, actually tastes pretty good.
Fugu (aka Poisonous Pufferfish Sushi)
Perhaps the most infamous dish on this list, fugu needs to be prepared by a trained chef such is the skill required to prepare it. Several people a year die from consuming fugu but it’s still sought after and considered a delicacy in Japan. But is it worth dicing with death for a piece of sushi? Of course that’s a question of taste but fugu is generally described as a subtle flavour. Perhaps just stick to the tuna sashimi.
Fried Brain Sandwich
In the farming heartlands of Missouri and Indiana you can still get the appetising sounding fried brain sandwich. Cow or pig brains are deep fried and served with fries. That’s some good eating!
USA and Canada
Rocky Mountain or Prairie Oysters (aka Fried Bulls Testicles)
Available across the Americas wherever bulls are raised and castrated, the ‘oysters’ are deep fried calves testicles served in a Kentucky Fried style – with a tasty spicy batter and fries. Finger lickin’ good!
Needless to say there are probably many more bizarre foods around the world not covered here. If you come across anything weirder then feel free to let us know in the comments below!