The world of food
Food is a reflection of a people group and its land. Through the dishes, we can sum up the cultural, geographical, and historical origins of the people who invented them. What is deemed “weird” food in one culture may be normal in another. For example, snails (escargots) for the French, sea cucumbers for the Chinese and fried cod tongues for the Norwegians.
“Food can provide a valuable window through which to explore and understand cultural contexts” wrote Benoit Monin and Lauren M. Szczurek in their article titled Food and Culture published by Stamford University.
The writers highlighted five relevant points about food:
- Food is ubiquitous
- Food highlights the interplay between culture and nature
- The study of food casts light on the reciprocal influences between cultures and the geographical and ecological contexts in which they developed and evolved
- Humans are omnivores and exploration and variety-seeking is encouraged and rewarded
- Food cultures are characterized by strong parental involvement for many years
What is the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten abroad?
Trippy member Breanna Wilson from Los Angeles posted the above question, writing:
I’m always looking for weird foods when I travel – from iguana and ostrich tartar to crickets and ants, I’d like to think I’ve tried it all, but I haven’t!
So, what else is out there?
What things did you try while traveling that you’d never try at home?! Would you eat it again?
1. Witchetty Grubs in the Australian Outback
My travels around the world have given me the opportunities to see and try many ‘weird’ foods. On most of my trips, I wasn’t looking for weird foods per se. In fact, this weird food came looking for me.
Case in point: on a bush tucker tour in the Australian Outback (near Alice Springs) in the late 80s, our tour group was served roasted witchetty grubs with billy tea. Witchetty grubs are the small white larvae of the ghost moth found in the desert of the Australian Outback. It was something out of my comfort zone, but for centuries witchetty grubs have been a source of protein for Australian Aborigines. (Note: I think witchetty grub tasting is no longer available in bush tucker tours.)
2. Sea worms in Western Samoa
Trippy member Jared Cruce ate sea worms. He described his experience:
Sea Worms harvested on a full moon in WesternSamoa. Served spread on white bread toast! The worms are flourescent blue and spread like a paste similar to Marmite!
These sea worms are known locally as palolo. They can be eaten raw or cooked; sautéed, boiled, fried or baked with coconut milk and onions.
3. Fermented mare’s milk (airag) in Mongolia
While staying at a ger camp in the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar, we visited a nomadic family in a ger. It is customary to bring gifts when visiting a nomadic family in Mongolia. So we were dropped off at a tiny store in the middle of nowhere to pick up a loaf of bread, a bottle of cooking oil and a bag of cookies as gifts.
In Mongolia, everyone, even strangers, who visit a home are customarily served with tea and fresh airag, if available. Sure enough, the host had his wife served us their prized freshly brewed mare’s milk.
Fermented mare’s milk or airag is an important alcoholic drink for Mongolians. Milking and airag making season is from mid-June to late September. We were lucky, the tour guide said because we visited at the right time to taste the authentic homemade fermented mare’s milk.
4. Boodog in Ulaanbaatar Mongolia
Boodog is a type of Mongolian barbecue where hot stones are placed inside the carcass of a young goat. In Ulaanbaatar I tried the snout, tongue, cheek, and other lamb parts served in a lamb’s skull.
5. Raw goat liver in Lebanon
Radhina Almeida Coutinho from Dubai ate:
Raw goat liver in Lebanon – it tastes exactly like what it is and I was not a fan. It is however, considered a local delicacy and often eaten with a cube of raw goat fat.
Known as kasbeh nayeh, raw goat liver is cut into cubes and seasoned with salt and pepper right before serving. It is served on pita bread to absorb the excess liquid. The pita bread is not meant to be eaten.
6. Snow frog in Taiwan
Trippy member Radhina ate another weird food, this time in Taiwan. She wrote:
Snow frog – it’s the fat from the ovaries of a frog that is about to hibernate and a delicacy in East Asia. It is sometimes more clearly identified as frog oviduct. I ate it unknowingly in Taiwan and it was pretty strange – looked and tasted like sweet gelatin. I’m not sure if I would have eaten it if I had known what it was at the time!
This gelatinous dessert is also called hasma (fallopian tubes of the Asiatic grass frog) and is often served in sugar water with lotus seeds, fruits, and nuts.
7. Cuy (guinea pig) in Ecuador and Peru
When we stayed for a month in Banos de Cuenca, a small village 20 minutes by car from Cuenca (Ecuador), every Sunday we witnessed women setting up temporary stalls with their wood burning grills. They stood in front of their storefronts grilling cuy to sell. Cuy was sold in the makeshift open market in front of the local church too.
Cuy is a traditional Andean delicacy. It’s not an everyday food. It is served to important guests and on special Sundays and during celebrations. Each grilled cuy in Banos de Cuenca was sold between $15-$19, depending on the size. That’s very expensive considering the average monthly salary in Ecuador is around $450 per month.
In Ecuador, I ate a small cuy ($12) in a market in Gualaceo, a town about an hour drive from Cuenca. The tour guide said it is one of the best and cheapest places to eat cuy in Ecuador.
There are plenty of opportunities to eat cuy in Cuenca. The best place in Cuenca is at Tres Estrellas Restaurant, an upscale restaurant on Calle Larga.
8. Puffin meat in Reykjavik, Iceland
Puffin meat is expensive and is only served in a few restaurants in Reykjavik. I had it at Sjávargrillið Seafood Grill on Skólavörðustígur 14 Reykjavik. It was the second dish of a four-course meal. Along with the minuscule amount of smoked puffin meat served were tiny pieces of European shag, and marinated minke whale served with blueberries, fennel, red onions and hazelnut.
9. Fermented shark meat in Reykjavik, Iceland
Café Loki, located across the street from Hallgrímskirkja church is the place I ate traditional Icelandic food including the fermented shark served in tiny cubes.
10. Fried cod tongue in Oslo, Norway
To Trippy member Flemming Christensen from Oslo Norway, fried cod tongue is a local cuisine, but to many of us it is a bizarre food. Cod season, also known as Skrei season, happens every year from January to April in Norway. It is the best time for eating fried cod tongue.
11. Starfish and scorpions on sticks in Beijing
Steve Faber from San Rafael California said:
In Beijing in the evenings there are pop-up food wagons on a street whose name escapes me. At one of those carts I enjoyed starfish on a stick, consisting of a full arm and portion of the central body of a sea star. Crunchy on the outside, creamy, and slightly pungent on the inside.
The food wagons are located at Wangfujing Beijing. I saw seahorses and scorpions on sticks.
12. Haggis in Scotland
Jacey and Scott Mahaffy from Fort Collins wrote:
While it is completely normal for the Scots, we did try Haggis in Edinburgh.
Haggis is a Scottish traditional dish consisting of sheep stomach, lamb heart, and lung, lamb trimmings, oatmeal, onions, and seasoning.
13. Balut egg (egg embryo) in Vietnam
Jennifer Nguyen from Hoi An Vietnam wrote that the locals enjoy eating balut eggs. This Vietnamese delicacy is half-hatched duck eggs incubated for around 15-20 days. Inside each egg is a baby duck fetus. Visit this link for a photo.
14. Roasted ants (hormigas culonas) in Colombia
Trippy member Rasto Elgr from Edmonton ate roasted ants in Colombia:
Giant roasted ants (Hormigas Culonas Santandereanas) in Bucaramanga, Colombia. They are harvested during rainy season and then soaked in salty water and roasted. Delicious!
15. Sea cucumber in China
Black sea cucumbers – we went to China and they brought out a bowl of black soup with sea cucumbers floating in it. I gave it a try, and it was slimy and black – what more can I say – didn’t taste any better than it looked, but is considered a delicacy there.
Have you eaten any weird foods during your travels? We would love to hear from you. Join the conversation and let us know what you have tried. To contribute:
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See you there!
Article by Claudia Looi