Have you ever watched an episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and thought to yourself, “Never will I ever eat that disgusting [email protected]#*”? Plenty of times, probably. Andrew Zimmern explores locales and foods far so exotic, it would make you think just how safe, ordinary, and on the verge of being boring your culinary repertoire is. There is much good in eating exotic fanfare from time to time. It opens your mind to the big, big world around you and educates you on other people’s lifestyle, culture, and history. For most cultures, the history behind exotic food does not start with “Let’s get wild and eat the grossest thing we can find”; it rather often starts with the basic need to survive, with making use of what is made readily available by Mother Nature. Veering out of the ordinary to try exotic food broadens your culinary experience and allows you to discover new tastes and gustatory sensations. The excitement of it all gives you an adrenaline high, which is good for your mind, too. Don’t cower the next time you see Andrew put something strange in his mouth; take his cue, instead!
Balut is basically boiled duck embryo. It has four components- warm broth, soft egg yolk, chewy egg white, and the pièce de résistance, the baby duck. Balut may sound too exotic to outsiders, but it is actually a common, well-loved street delicacy in the Philippines. At around 6 to 8 in the evening, it is not unusual to hear a vendor affectionately yodeling “baluuuuut” as he peddles the egg with salt and spiced vinegar. Locals claim it is best paired with beer, but it is common knowledge that everything is indeed better with beer. Balut can also be found in other South East Asian countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.
Fugu, or more commonly known as puffer fish, is known in mainstream TV as the food (one of many, FYI) that nearly killed Homer Simpson. When not prepared properly, puffer fish is an extremely dangerous fish to eat, containing a high dose of textrodotoxin that can kill a person within hours of ingesting it. Leave it to the Japanese to make an impeccable preparation though. Just look at these perfect slivers of fugu sushi.
3. Bat Paste Soup
Eating bat paste soup is probably a hard idea to sell, considering bats are stinky, hairy, and eerie creatures, but bats are considered a luxurious delicacy in Asian countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Bat paste soup is prepared by boiling the animal in milk then mashing it into a gooey paste and then seasoning with herbs and spices.
4. Tuna Eyeballs
Tuna eyeballs are a favorite of people with sophisticated tongues in Japan and China. Known for its gelatinous texture and tasty parts, eating tuna eyeballs makes for an extraordinary gustatory experience. It can be served simply boiled and seasoned while some chefs stew these odd things for extra flavor.
5. Wasp Cracker
What could have been cracking inside the brain of the person who invented the wasp cracker? “Hey, we ran out of chocolate chips but I found a can of wasps in the pantry”? Wasp crackers are a big hit in Japan, where the insects are farmed specifically for human consumption. Japanese claim that they’re actually delicious (raisin-y with a hint of bitterness and acidity) and nutritious as wasps are packed with protein.
6. Fried Insects
It appears that South East Asians love their fried insects – spiders, crickets, scorpions, centipedes, worms – name it! Fried insects are cooked in hot oil with garlic and spices and then seasoned with salt and pepper. These exotic, crunchy things are regarded as aphrodisiac, high in protein and other nutrients.
Hakarl, or fermented Greenlandic shark, is one of those food items that were discovered out of necessity. Found in the icy countries of Iceland and Finland, Greenlandic shark is highly toxic when eaten fresh, but locals have found a way to make it both edible and tasty – by burying it in the ground for months and then hanging in the air to dry. If you get past the foul, putrefied smell, you’ll be rewarded with a sweet, nutty flavor and a fun way to deal with the extreme cold.
8. Horse Rib and Rectum Sausage
While eating something with “rectum” in its name doesn’t sound like a welcoming idea, Kazakhstan locals claim that horse rib and rectum sausage are made of 100% delicious, melt-in-your-mouth fatty goodness. It is cured pieces of horse rib meat, seasoned with salt and spices, and then stuffed in, yup, you guessed it right.
9. Giant Sea Squirt
What you’re seeing is not an image of a tumor, but rather of a giant sea squirt, a sought-after luxury in Chile. Giant sea squirt is eaten by breaking the “sculpture” in half and drizzling lemon juice on the wriggling creatures inside. It has a distinct briny taste and a slippery sensation, akin to oysters and other shellfish.
10. Cod Fish Sperm
Like most food in Japan, cod fish sperm is often eaten raw with a drizzle of lemon and a little soy sauce. The modest refers to it as “cod milt” but for people who like things straightforward and blunt, it is a piece of pure melt-in-your-mouth buttery heaven.
11. Wood Worm
Wood worm is an exotic food that can be eaten on the tropical shores of Palawan, Philippines. Known locally as tamilok, it is sourced from old mangrove trees. To eat tamilok is one of the items on the must-do list of every traveler visiting Palawan. It is prepared by washing in water and ridding the insides of chewed up wood. It is then served with spiced vinegar and more often than not, a cold bottle of beer.
Kocho is a traditional flatbread from Ethiopia. Flatbread may not sound too strange but the way that Ethiopians prepare it is truly amazing. Fermentation is the key to a delicious kocho. Kocho is made from Enset pulp that has been buried underground and covered with leaves for a couple of months to as long as a couple of years. Like most things fermented, the longer it is fermented, the more delicious it gets. Once ripe for harvesting, it is turned into a dough and baked on a griddle or for better flavor, wrapped in leaves and baked in an oven pit.
Hongeo, or fermented skate, is an expensive treat in Korea. Skate is a type of fish with no bladder or kidneys to produce urine. To excrete waste, it produces uric acid which seeps out of its skin. If that’s not enough to turn your nose away from it, it is fermented until it reeks of ammonia, giving it a distinct aroma that is highly similar to a bathroom cleaner. It is definitely an acquired taste, but for fans, there’s nothing else on earth quite like it.
Palolo is a species of coral worms that can be found in the waters of the South Pacific Ocean. Samoan fishermen are known to simply scoop the worms out of the water and eat them fresh. They can also be eaten sauteed in butter and spread on toast, much like a bright blue-green pate.
Salo is a Ukrainian treat, which, to put it simply, is actually pig fat. It can be prepared many ways – raw, boiled, smoked or fried. The Russians, however, have devised the perfect way to eat it – rubbed with garlic, served on bread, and with a healthy side of vodka.