Friday, 24 May 2013

Guest Post: The Most Unusual Delicacies From Around The World

Some time ago, as has happened before, I was approached by someone offering to write a guest post for my blog (you can read all guest posts by clicking on the label "Guest Posts" at the top of the page). We agreed on a food-related subject, and here is Marcela De Vivo's guest post:

The Most Unusual Delicacies From Around The World

If you’re going to go totally native while on location, diving into exotic food specialties is the perfect way; however, for people who think living on the edge means ordering a steak extra rare, heads up! Local delicacies can be highly subjective, but if you’re game for the world’s most exotic, here are some platters you might want to try.

Image Courtesy of Chris Huh/Wikimedia Commons

Scorpion (China)

Perhaps the most frightening item on this list—which is saying something—fried scorpion is a well-known favorite in China.  While no amount of convincing may sway the faint of heart, this arachnid's potent poison loses all its power in the cooking process. Not surprisingly, the deadly stingers are reported to taste like lobster or other shellfish.

Fugu (Japan)

You don’t actually have to travel to Japan to enjoy its famed fugu, or puffer fish; however, you do need to find a restaurant with a generous insurance policy. If the delicious fugu’s skin and innards are not removed properly, you’ll be nibbling on the poison tetrodotoxin, a powerfully fatal substance with no antidote. If you’re feeling lucky enough, fugu is often compared to being an even tastier version of yellowtail.

Birds Nest Soup (China)

On the one hand, the name of this dish is a case of truth in advertising: it really is made of the nest of swifts. Although the name suggests a nest of twigs and leaves, swifts’ nests are actually composed almost entirely of hardened saliva, which takes on a jelly-like consistency when soaked in broth. A true rarity, due to how difficult it is to reach swift’s lairs, a bowl of bird’s nest soup can fetch up to $100.

Alligator (Florida)

You don’t have to leave the continental U.S. to get a taste of the wild kingdom. Florida is host to many summer vacation hot spots, tourists and fried alligator. That’s right. With many flocking to the beachside accommodations and close-to-shore restaurants, such as Destin condo rentals, tourists and locals alike enjoy this tasty reptile as a plate or a sausage. Think of it this way:  he’d probably eat you, too. Bayou Bill’s Crab House is famous for serving your choice of blackened or sauteed ‘gator.

Image Courtesy of Chris 73/Wikimedia Commons

Hakarl (Iceland)

The only thing more intimidating than the look and smell of this peculiar Icelandic shark dish is its even more bizarre fermentation process (In fact, we’ll keep that part a secret). Some say this ammonia-smelling seafood is an acquired taste, while others (including celeb chef Anthony Bourdain) say it’s “the worst thing they have ever tasted in their lives.”  Why not let your own jaws be the judge?

Casu Marzu (Sardinia)

By now, some less adventurous readers may be ready to give up eating meat for a while, so we conclude with a famed cheese from Sardinia. Though this cheese is not strictly vegetarian, as it’s a fermented pecorino writhing with live maggots.

Supposedly, when the larvae digest the cheese fats, a fermentation process happens that makes casa marzu (literally, “rotten cheese”) taste like nothing else on earth.  Since it’s been banned for sanitary reasons in other parts around the world, you will probably never have the chance to take on the heavyweight champion of oddball delights, but we thought you’d like to know it exists.

Most of these dishes aren’t for everyone, but remember each of them is a prize in its native land. The next time you casually say, “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse”, be careful what you wish for.

Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer from California who loves traveling around the world to not only learn about different cultures, but the cuisine as well. Her writing covers a range of industries, including travel and alternative medicine. 

- - - End of guest post - - -

Well, that was interesting, wasn't it! I had known before about some of the dishes mentioned here, and while I don't think there is a huge difference between eating scorpion and eating any kind of crab (the difference is just in our minds - dead animal is dead animal, after all), I sure am never going to try it, for the simple reason that it holds absolutely no appeal for me (and I am not fond of crabs and lobster in the first place). Also, I see food writhing with live maggots fit either for the bin or for a Klingon table (am I the only one thinking of Klingons when reading about Casu Marzu?).
What worries me a bit is the bird's nest soup. Doesn't picking their nests endanger the species? I have not done any research on it, mind you.

Generally speaking, I do accept that different folks eat different things all over the world - I don't even have to go that far to find huge differences! Take RJ and myself, for example; he loves calamari, while I can't even look at the stuff without feeling nauseous, let alone smell it. My parents are fond of liver; just imagining the smell makes me gag. I can never get enough of cheese, while there are plenty of people who detest it.

Do you have any type of food that is a bit "particular" but you love it nonetheless?


  1. Wow, I definitely didn't get hungry reading this post! I do love lots of food others might now such as liver and calamari and any kind of seafood - even raw oysters and I grew up eating kidneys, heart and even beef tongue. However, some of these foods I think you need to grow up with to find them "normal." I have eaten alligator and found the taste very neutral. I would probably also taste snake if I ever came across it, but maggots - I don't think so...

    Happy weekend!! Hugs, Silke

    1. A happy weekend to you, too, Silke!
      I definitely wasn't getting hungry reading it, either :-)
      If someone offered me a piece of nicely grilled snake, I might give it a try, but I would not ask for it, I am not actually curious to find out what it tastes like.

  2. Louisiana has alligator, too -- and crawfish, and other such things, all of which can be eaten even during Lent!

  3. I'm not eager for exotic dishes, but I have eaten alligator at Snookhaven in Venice, Florida. And what is "perculiar"? I love liver and onions, but none of my children do, At All....Is this generational? (But I would only eat organic liver, nowadays...)

    An interesting guest post! Has the writer sampled all these things?

    1. Good question, Kristi! Hopefully, Marcela will come back to look at comments and will answer your question.
      Where did you find "perculiar"? I've searched the post and couldn't see it anywhere. I did check for typos before I published it, but of course there can always be some that slipped past me - sometimes I go back to an old post of mine for something specific, and stumble across an error, and immediately correct it.

    2. This was my error when awake in the middle of the night misreading "particular" as "peculiar". So sorry!

  4. After an overexposure to British "school dinners" as a child , almost anything mildly different seemed dazzlingly exotic , and I'd still leave insects and reptiles to others and enjoy tamer delights .
    Mind you , I do love Callos a la MadrileƱa which contains extras like a pig's ear along with the tripe , cloves and chickpeas .

    1. In Germany, until quite recently all schools were mostly only in the morning, with few schools even having a canteen or dining area for their students, so I was never exposed to school dinners - but I imagine them similar to hospital food.
      Chickpeas, yes please! Pig's ear and tripe I'll gladly leave to others :-)

  5. I have a sneaky liking for raw pastry. It's left over from childhood...

    1. On the very rare occasions when I bake, I always scrape the last bits of raw pastry out of the mixing bowl with a tea spoon and eat it. That's left over from childhood, too, when my sister and I used to "help" our Mum in the kitchen and fought over who gets to scrape out the bowl.

  6. Oh yes, I've read about fugu! It needs a special chef to prepare it properly. We have bird's nest soup here, it is kinda sweet and slimy. I think I'd rather have shepherd's pie :D

    1. Hello there, and welcome to my blog! Yes, it would be shepherd's pie for me anytime, too :-)

  7. What fun. I liked the comment about being so hungry that one could eat a horse. Frankly I don't see any difference between eating a horse and any other animal. Although I do eat meat I spent a lot of my life preferring not to and being a non-meat-eater. However when in France some years ago I ate horse (simply labelled 'viande') and it was perfectly acceptable if slightly coarser than, say, beef.

    On the subject of cheese (which I absolutely love) we brought one back from Berlin on one occasion and, despite being wrapped and sealed many times it still stank the car out. It tasted excellent though!

    1. Like you, I don't think there is a difference between eating horse or any other animal.
      This week's issue of the ZEIT mentions a recommendation by WHO (or some other big organization like them) that people should eat more insects. It makes a lot more sense ecologically and is, apparently, a lot healthier for humans to eat protein-high, calory-low insects than the meats most of us eat nowadays.

  8. You are so right...I should have off the red watch. You see, it shows I have no sense of style:)

    That fugu fish is frightening, my husband told me it is so requested in Japan, I don't know how they can it, the cooks must be real experts.

    In Sicily people go snail hunting, I used to do that when I was a child too, but I don't like to eat snails. I remember my mother used to cook calf's brain a lot, it's a delicacy here in Sicily, it was quite good actually but I wouldn't eat it now.

    1. My Sicilian husband loved la trippa, but I never tried it, I must admit...

      In Germany, people used to eat calf's brain, too, but I guess it has gone a bit out of fashion, especially during the years when the Mad Cow disease was all over the news ;-)