Trying local specialties is one of the exciting aspects of travel, but sometimes what the locals consider as food isn’t something we would normally assume is edible. It may sound bizarre to the rest of the world, but some of these strange cuisines are favourites among the local tongue.
When we talk about bizarre food, Japan will most certainly come to mind. We may already be familiar with tuna eaten raw or seared, but what about tuna eyeballs? Markets in Japan pluck out the fishes’ eyes and sell them cheaply, which the locals enjoy best simply steamed or boiled, and served with soy sauce and garlic. Some say these eyeballs taste like squid! Another unique Japanese food is shirako, but unlike the cheaper tuna eyeballs, this one is a delicacy sold in restaurants and more expensive supermarkets. Shirako are the sperm sacs of fish; it looks like gooey miniature brains and has a soft, creamy texture, like pudding.
Korea is famous as the origin place of sannakji, or what we recognise as wriggling octopus tentacles. As soon as the young octopus is killed, its legs are chopped and served in sesame oil and seed, even as it continues to wriggle on your plate. Talk about daunting food!
You may have heard of people eating insects, which is a particularly well-loved street food in Thailand. It’s easy to spot street vendors selling fried crickets, grasshoppers, scorpions and all sorts of worms. Cambodia, meanwhile, boasts deep-fried tarantulas as their bizarre snack; these were made popular when starving people under the Khmer Rouge regime started eating them.
On a quite similar note of strange animals, Laos is known to make one of the world’s most unusual soup out of white ants. Yes, ants. Ant eggs, embryos and a sprinkle of baby ants make up this supposedly delicious soup that tastes, as some have claimed, like shrimp.
Balut comes from the Philippines and is a developing bird or duck embryo that’s boiled alive. After seasoned with salt, vinegar and chilli, it’s supposed to be eaten straight out of the shell by tapping a hole in the top, slurping the liquid and the rest of the insides.
Italy has its fair share of bizarre food as well with their casu marzu, also known as rotten maggot cheese. The cheese is made up of sheep’s milk and live insect larvae, hatching and nesting inside. Speaking of dairy, Mongolia has a special kind of beer called airag made from fermented horse milk. This alcoholic drink is a staple across the country and a must-try when you visit Mongolia.
Another bizarre cuisine that I’d like to spotlight is the Alaskan jellied moose nose, also found in Canada. It is literally moose snout, removed of the hair, boiled with onion, garlic and spices, and left until it sets into a gelatinous pudding.
The possibilities of unique food to try around the world might be endless; these are only some of the more popular ones. It’s important to know what the local dishes and specialties are from the places we visit, as it will help us understand the local culture better and make for a richer travel experience. Of course, there’s always the case when a certain food feels a little too extreme for you, for whatever reason it’s okay to say no. But I think everyone should, at least once in their lifetime, try a bizarre new food that they didn’t even think edible!