Travellers with an adventurous appetite and a strong stomach can seek out these nine weird and wonderful delicacies from around the world
Guinea pig: Peru
Most commonly viewed as cuddly pets in many parts of the world, guinea pigs are actually a barbeque favourite in Peru. Cuy (a dish of guinea pig) is so entrenched in the Peruvian culture that a painting in the Cusco Cathedral shows Christ and his disciples feasting on guinea pigs and a national holiday (second Friday of October) is dedicated to the animal.
This delicacy is commonly prepared in two ways: baked or spit-roasted (cuy al horno) and deep-fried in spices (cuy chactado). The creature is usually served with head and legs attached, along with salad and potatoes. When it comes to the taste, a cooked guinea pig can be compared to a rabbit, and the meat is gamier than chicken.
Before you go, check out the Peru travel guide.
Century eggs: China
Also known as pidan, century eggs are eggs preserved in a blend of strong black tea, plenty of salt, lime and freshly charred wood ashes for several months (not 100 years, disappointedly). As a result of this lengthy process, the yolk transforms into a dark green substance while the white becomes translucent jelly.
It is thought that this popular snack dates from the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644). Today, this traditional fare is served as an appetiser and accompanied by pickled ginger, or for breakfast with thin rice porridge. Alternatively, you can keep things simple and just peel and cut the egg into wedges.
Sometimes, salt can crystallise and form patterns on the egg surface like snowflakes on the branches of a pine tree – when this happens, the eggs are called songhua dan (pine-patterned egg).
Before you go, check out the China travel guide.
Anyone who has arachnophobia should look away now, as sautéed spiders are a regional delicacy in Cambodia. The town of Skuon in particular, is the centre of the country’s tarantula trade with many street vendors selling this popular snack to locals and tourists.
Reaching to about the size of a human hand, these edible tarantulas are known as a-ping in Khmer. The female tarantulas (with eggs in their abdomens) command a higher price than the male counterpart. They are usually deep-fried, so the exterior is crispy but the inside is soft and gooey, providing a fine textural contrast.
Before you go, check out the Cambodia travel guide.
You are not likely to find this Swedish dish next to the meatballs in IKEA.
Surströmming, translating to ‘sour herring’ in English, is salted and fermented Baltic Sea herring caught in spring. Smaller in size than the Atlantic herring, the fish is covered with salt and left to ferment for months, resulting in an overpoweringly strong smell and acidic-like flavour.
You can buy surströmming in a tin – open it, wash and gut the fish, before wrapping it in a type of sweet flatbread (tunnbröd) with diced onion and slices of almond potatoes (a variety of small potatoes). Because the smell is powerful, most people enjoy this delicacy al fresco.
If you are looking to enjoy surströmming like a true local, visit the town of Alfta (286km or 178 miles north of Stockholm) and attend the surströmming festival at the end of every August.
Before you go, check out the Sweden travel guide.
Durians: Southeast Asia
Durians, known as the king of fruits throughout Southeast Asia, are large, yellow-green tropical fruit with spiky shells. Inside, the yellowish flesh is sweet and creamy.
You will smell a durian many feet away before seeing one – with some describing the strong odour like dirty socks, blue cheese or rotten onions. Because the smell is repulsive to some, durians are usually banned from hotels throughout Southeast Asia, as well as public transport in Singapore. In the past few years, genetically-modified durians with a less pungent odour are being exported from Thailand to Singapore, China, Europe and the USA – but critics insist that they do not taste the same, leading to some durian enthusiasts seeking out authentic and properly stinky durians from Malaysia.
Durian is a seasonal fruit and the main season runs from late May to early August. If you are in Singapore or Malaysia during this period, it is common to see locals gathering around durian sellers and enjoying the fruit right there and then. The atmosphere is always fun and bustling. Meanwhile, bemused foreigners often reach for creative similes. The late TV chef Anthony Bourdain once described durian consumption: “afterwards your breath will smell like you’ve been French-kissing your dead grandmother.”
Best pack a toothbrush and some toothpaste with you then.
One man’s rarefied delicacy can be another man’s ticket to an intimate affair with the bathroom, but seldom do exotic foodstuffs send diners to the morgue. In Japan, things are different.
Fugu is Japanese pufferfish, or blowfish, an expensive delicacy that can only be prepared by highly trained and licensed chefs. This is because the organs of blowfish contain lethal amounts of tetrodotoxin, and eating just a trace of it will cause numbness around the mouth, followed by paralysis and death by respiratory failure – and the worst part is the victim will remain conscious throughout, facing death but unable to do anything about it.
Since ancient times, fugu has been eaten across the country, and today you will find that it is commonly served raw as sashimi, lightly poached in a broth (shabu-shabu), or briefly grilled with teriyaki sauce.
Before you go, use our Japan travel guide to plan your trip.
Popularly sold as street food in the Philippines, balut is a hard-boiled duck egg containing a fertilised, partially developed duck fetus. Depending on preference, the length of incubation before the egg is cooked can vary between 14 and 21 days. This means you can often see the formation of body parts like eyes and beaks, leading to critics questioning the ethics of eating balut.
If you can handle the contention, eating a balut involves breaking and removing a part of the shell, and making a small opening. Salt is often added, before sipping the juices and eating the yolk and parts of the developing chick – the more developed the egg, the crunchier the texture. The white part of the egg is normally abandoned, as it is tough and tasteless.
Before you go, check out the Philippines travel guide.
Rocky Mountain Oysters: USA
If you are after a ball-busting suggestion, then a dish made with bull testicles will probably fit the bill nicely. In states like Montana, Idaho and Texas where cattle ranching is prevalent, bull testicles are cut, peeled, breaded and deep-fried, often served as an appetiser with a cocktail dipping sauce.
The taste can be gamey. And if this is your first time trying it, make sure you reach for a crispy one, as you may not like to taste the tissues inside of the ball.
Kumis: Central Asia
If you have indulged in many of the foods mentioned above and now looking to join a detox program, then make a trip to Russia or Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) and join the locals in drinking Kumis five times a day.
Kumis is a mildly alcoholic fermented horse milk which is said to cure many ailments from cleansing of the kidneys to improving the gastrointestinal tract.
In Central Asia, kumis is prepared by fermenting unpasteurised mare’s milk over a couple of days, during which stirring occurs from time to time. In Russia, you can buy bottled kumis, though critics claim that the quality and taste from a bottle cannot match the ones that are prepared by nomadic tribes.
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