We’ve all heard the saying: to truly discover a culture, try the local cuisine. Naturally, food is more than something we eat to survive—it also has cultural significance. In our day and age, we even label certain dishes and cuisines as bastions of cultural heritage. French cuisine is a great example.
When travelling far from home, however, you can expect to come across strange dishes that might appear unpleasant at first glance. Take a trip around the world with me today and discover a few of the strange delicacies I’ve seen.
This list is based on my North American point of reference; the dishes I describe below are based on my own subjective definition of “strange”. There’s no judgment here, I assure you, only discovery!
Take a trip around the world with these daring dishes
Simply mentioning the names of certain local delicacies can make some travellers’ skin crawl: fried tarantulas, bull’s testicles, century eggs, etc.
Here’s a little list of attention-grabbing dishes I’ve had the chance to see on my trips. Read on to see why Asia wins the overall prize for “strangest things to eat”.
Grasshoppers and fried grubs
I’ve heard that fried grasshoppers are particularly appreciated in certain parts of Asia. I had a chance to see this for myself at the Boat Racing Festival in Vientiane, Laos. The streets were lined with kiosks selling grub-filled baskets and platters overflowing with grasshoppers. Laotians seemed to eat them in handfuls like crunchy candy. Appetizing? You be the judge!
Snake meat & snake blood cocktail
They say snake meat tastes like chicken. Maybe so, but this invertebrate has never graced my plate. Snake meat is mostly eaten in northern Vietnam, where snake blood mixed with alcohol becomes a prized cocktail. Ryan, French travel blogger for Le sac à dos, has tried snake blood. Have you?
Someone told me in Laos that if a serpent gets run over by a car, the locals run to be the first to pick it up. Apparently snake meat is that delicious.
I was in Vietnam the first time I heard about eating dog. After dinner one day while visiting the Mekong delta, I was petting a cuddly puppy. My guide told me that his mother was eaten the week before. I admit I felt more than a twinge in my heart.
Following that discovery, I noticed many dogs in cages in Chinese markets, destined for slaughter. Let’s say that this came as quite the shock.
In China, chicken feet make a common snack. I had a surprising train ride the first time I saw a group of teens snacking on what looked like raw, white chicken feet. They seemed to relish their treat, spitting out the bones into a small container.
Many Chinese love the skin and cartilage of chicken feet. You can find these snacks in restaurants and vacuum-packed in handy to-go bags in supermarkets. The feet I found the most unappetizing were the ones boiled skin-on, vacuum packed and sold at room temperature in the supermarket aisle.
I haven’t actually seen this dish myself, but Cambodians have told me tarantulas are a delicacy. The practice of capturing and frying these enormous spiders dates from the Khmer Rouge regime. With nothing else to eat, locals started hunting these furry creatures to survive, and eating tarantulas became a tradition still practiced today.
Cuy, aka guinea pig
In the Andes of Peru and Ecuador, cuy (guinea pig) is a common dish, prepared on the grill, BBQ style. It’s an odd sight to see this animal roasted to a gold brown on your travels, while at home it’s a furry pet you’d find caged in someone’s living room. From what I’ve been told, cuy tastes pretty good.
In Quebec, we tell our kids ‘don’t touch the pigeons’ because we consider them dirty carriers of bacteria and vermin, whereas in France, to my surprise, pigeon is a delicacy. Silly me, thinking French cuisine was refined! This fowl, when raised by artisans, can make a fine dish worthy of haute cuisine.
There’s nothing strange or disgusting about eating pig, right? Well, when travelling in Ireland, I was surprised to see entire pigs’ heads on display. Some even had an apple in their teeth. In this case, it was more the aesthetic choice of the display that perplexed me as opposed to the content of the dish itself.
Dare to try!
When travelling, choose local specialties. You can cultivate your taste and discover new flavours while still respecting your limits. Personally, I don’t eat everything, but I do enjoy taste-testing traditional dishes wherever I go. Street food and small, hole-in-the-wall restaurants might seem dodgy at first glance, but that’s where you’ll likely find the freshest, highest quality food (often better than in tourist-frequented restaurants).
The best advice I can give you is to go where the locals eat. Don’t hesitate to ask them for suggestions for good restaurants that serve local dishes. These are usually the best places with the most reasonable prices too.
Above all, don’t hesitate to try strange dishes when travelling. You might be surprised! And in the off chance your stomach doesn’t take it well, know that TuGo covers the medical costs of any taste test gone wrong. Hopefully this won’t happen to you, of course!
If you’ve discovered some strange dishes while travelling, watch out for TuGo’s Taste for Travel Contest on Facebook next week! Share a photo of a local delicacy from your travels abroad for a chance to win weekly prizes or $1,500 towards your next trip!
Whether it’s balut from the Philippines, haggis from Scotland, or cuy from Peru, #EatAdventurously knowing you’re protected with travel insurance.
Happy eating, and happy travels,