I’m Portuguese and, for those who don’t know our most typical food, my country has a variety of culinary experiences that scare the most open-minded.
Of the pork, we eat it all! From the ears to the snout, to the sparks and even the testicles… yes, the testicles. Of the chicken, the paws are a delicacy in the soup. The cow’s or goat’s brain is much appreciated. Fish heads (eyes and everything) serve as the main course. Anyway, I could be here writing endless lines of countless precious things in Portuguese cuisine, but I won’t bore you with details. I can only assure you that they are all really delicious.
Accustomed to a national menu as vibrant as different, it was to be expected that as soon as I got outside, I would taste everything that came to the table. But the truth is that out in the world I’m a bit conservative, and I don’t remember any really exotic dish I’ve experienced abroad. Yet.
Curious about what this planet has to offer regarding unique food, I challenged a group of travelers to tell their most incredible stories. Prepare to be amazed (or sick) by it all.
Cassie, Mexico Cassie
“My husband made me do it. We were traveling around Asia for six months and while in China, he decided he had had enough of enormous, sprawling cities and needed to see a village.
So we headed to Jinan, a Chinese city from which he had decided we’d be able to find a village. We did. When we stopped for a snack at a cafe, he found that scorpions were on the menu. So he ordered them. Of course.
To be honest, they didn’t taste much except the salt and oil they’d been cooked in. That’s what I tend to find with insects, no flavour except what the human chef has added.
We live in Mexico now, and my three-year-old daughter loves to eat grasshoppers (chapulines), so maybe some people enjoy insect-eating more than others.”
Nathan Aguilera, Foodie Flashpacker
“During my nearly four years on the road I’ve tried many crazy things. A horse bacon cheeseburger in Slovenia (the bacon and the patty were both made of horse meat!), grilled chicken buttholes in Taiwan (but what was the crunchy bit??) and all manner of bugs throughout Asia.
One of the craziest things I’ve tried is a roasted sheep face on a walking food tour of Marrakech, Morocco.
When they served the dish they served the entire head. It wasn’t a pile of generic looking meat where you can convince yourself maybe it’s beef. It was the entire head.
“Who wants to go first?”, our guide asked. I volunteered, of course.
When I was gently trying to poke at it to find a serving she said, “no, you have to do it like this”, and peeled back the entire face revealing meat underneath.
Once I tried it, it’s actually really good! I had more than my share as others were a bit more skeptical.
If you’re ever offered a roasted sheep face don’t be shy — it’s delicious!”
Sarah McAlister, The Whole World or Nothing
“We weren’t expecting to understand much or be able to read anything while we were travelling in China. But we’re pretty adventurous when it comes to food and will generally try anything once, so we weren’t too worried. However, one day we definitely got more of an experience than we bargained for.
In Chengdu they have these hotpots or firepots whereby you choose raw ingredients, meat and/or vegetables, and cook them yourself at your table in a huge pan of boiling spicy broth. At this particular restaurant they had a huge list of ingredients and we had no idea what to choose. So when the waiter motioned that he could choose for us, we gladly accepted.
Queue a particularly interesting meal including, goose intestines, congealed pigs blood, accompanied by chrysanthemums, that’s right the flower. To be fair I don’t know what we expected and actually it wasn’t disgusting, just not something we’d have again by choice. Also congealed blood is really difficult to pick up with chopsticks.”
Gary Low, 2-Week Trips
“I had spent a day trekking in the hilly jungle of Northern Thailand, and had finally reached a remote village belong to the Lisu tribe. As I rested in the kitchen, my guide started warming up the wok and casually asked if I had tried bamboo worms before.
‘Nope, but I sure wouldn’t mind having one to try.’
5 minutes later, the miscommunication was apparent as I looked down on a plateful of freshly fried maggots.
As you can imagine, the first bite was the hardest, especially after seeing the segmented body and the featureless face. Despite the frying, it still looked very… maggoty. After a moment of apprehension, I took a sip of rice wine and swallowed the first one down whole.
No aftertaste, I thought. That was promising, so I took the next one. Inspecting it for any signs of life (there were none), I took a tentative bite into it. To my amazement, it actually had the texture of fries. The kind that’s crispy, but kinda soft after leaving it out for too long. Taste-wise, it was pretty bland with an oily aftertaste, so that went down ok.
Long story short, I took a liking after a few more and eventually polished off the whole plate.”
James, Worldwide Shopping Guide
“I’ve eaten a few crazy things on my travels and always assumed that the craziest (read: worst) thing of all of them would be in Asia or somewhere else similarly exotic. Thinking about it, though, I think the craziest thing that I ate was actually in Spain. The dish was called “Morro,” which translates as snout, and that’s exactly what this was: chopped up pig’s snout.
I didn’t bother to look it up on Google Translate before ordering. I’m generally not a fussy eater and usually eat what’s put in front of me. Had I known, I probably still would have ordered it. I’ve eaten pig’s ears (Oreja a la Plancha) in Madrid before, along with a few other unsavoury parts of the pig, and am usually happy to try anything at least once.
Morro was a bit of a surprise, though, mainly because the meat still had hair on it. It had been deep-fried, like many Spanish dishes, which meant all of the bristles were now even crunchier. In the end, I did manage to eat one or two pieces telling myself that if they serve it on a menu it must be okay. I couldn’t convince myself, though, and quickly paid the bill and left before any questions were asked.”
Inma Gregorio, A World to Travel
“Right next to Teotihuacan – the famous archaeological remains near Mexico City, there’s one of these restaurants that don’t go unnoticed: La Gruta.
This restaurant has been there since 1928 when the grandfather of today’s owner, started serving meals to the pouring visitors, is located inside a wide semi-open cave that was anciently used as a refrigerator for the corn supplies. Nowadays, Carlos Cedillo, its executive chef, will make sure you leave it happy and willing to come back.
If you want to play tourist, try their Xoconostle margaritas, their homemade mole, chapulines (crickets and grasshoppers), escamoles (ant eggs), white worms, huitlacoche and quelites quesadillas, ram barbecue and elote cake for dessert.
Here are a few other things to do, see and eat in Mexico City.”
Jason Mullin, Edible Adventure Travel
“Known throughout the Philippines as a favoured snack and a challenge to tourists adventurous enough, it is a boiled developing duck embryo. A fetus if you will. This is also common throughout some other areas of Asia and Vietnam is where I first indulged in this tasty morsel. It varies from local preference generally ranging from 15-21 days of development. At its oldest, bones have developed adding a bit of crunch and a feather may get stuck between the teeth.
In the Philippines it is served in the shell, somewhat hiding what you’re consuming. In Hanoi, it was different for me. Fully peeled and into a small dish sitting in its natural juice, it resembled what I thought an alien egg might look like or a cancerous testicle. I fancied it up a notch with the condiments provided. A fine julienne of ginger, Vietnamese coriander and salt. I was surprised how good it was. It tasted like a rich duck egg, but it was the textures that get you. The yolk was denser and a touch dry and if you’re lucky enough to get a crunch, you may cringe. Grab one off the street and have your own experience!”
This last story is pretty strong, huh?! Would you be able to try it or one of the other dishes on this list? What were your most exotic culinary experiences? Tell all about it in the comments box below.