This week, I have been glued watching Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, a documentary-styled travel and cuisine program on the Travel Channel. The show focuses on regional cuisine from around the world which is typically perceived by Americans as being gross, unique, or, of course, bizarre. In each episode, Zimmern focuses on the cuisine of a particular country or region. He typically shows how the food is procured, where it is served, and, usually without hesitation, eats it. As gross as they come, a part of me wants to be there and taste these unusual foods. Call me crazy, I know. But for the love of food, I’ll at least give it a try if given the chance.
So here are some of the intriguing food I’ve seen, heard of, and some even tasted. For the squeamish, I advise you not to eat anything while reading this article. Keeping an open mind is a must.
Country of origin: The Philippines
Description: A fertilized chicken or duck egg is buried in the ground for a week, after which the egg — containing a half-formed fowl — is soft-boiled. Balut is eaten out of the shell with a spoon; there is no need to worry about choking, as the bones and feathers are only partially formed. This delicacy is widely believed to be an aphrodisiac and is usually sold by street vendors.
I have to admit, I love this stuff. I guess it’s the Filipino genes talking but I do recommend it. It’s like chicken noodle soup, without the noodles and with a big surprise waiting, on-the-go. Tasty.
2) Casu marzu
Country of origin: Sardinia
Description: Casu marzu literally means “rotten cheese.” This pungent delicacy is loaded with live insect larvae whose digestive processes give the cheese its soft, creamy texture by breaking down the fats it contains. The cheese also seeps a liquid called “lagrima.” The larvae are white worms that measure approximately one-third of an inch and can jump approximately six inches when disturbed. Many people remove the worms before feasting on this delicacy, but others prefer to leave them in.
I’ve never had any but I heard that eating the cheese can lead to intestinal infections. Something about the worms not dying and ending up living and eating your intestinal walls. Not too appetizing after that little information.
Country of origin: Iceland
Description: This Icelandic delicacy is made from shark meat. As soon as the shark is caught, it is buried in the ground and often topped with manure. Allowing meat to decompose is a traditional method of preservation for many cultures. After the shark has decomposed in the ground for between two and six months, it is dug up, and the meat is sliced and served cold. The dish has a strong ammonia smell, an undeniably strong flavor, and some people claim that it tastes like cheese.
4) Century egg
Country of origin: China
Description: Also known as a 100 Year Old Egg or the 1000 Year Old egg is a Chinese delicacy made from duck, chicken or quail eggs. The eggs are preserved in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime, and rice straw for several weeks to several months.
Not like the traditional red salted eggs that I grew up eating, the century egg has a strong sulfur-like smell to it. The color is even different; having a green hue to the yolk and the white is somewhat grayish brown. Thanks to my relatives, I wouldn’t try it again.
Country of origin: Italy
Description: This traditional Tuscan dish was once reserved for the poor, but it has since become a delicacy served at many fine restaurants. The cibreo is the comb of the cock — the red crown on the head of a rooster. The dish of the same name is generally a stew composed of the rooster parts that would be considered waste products, such as giblets and testicles.
6) Cobra blood
Country of origin: Indonesia
Description: In many parts of the world, the cobra enjoys an elevated status as a symbol of strength and virility. Thus, in these regions, it is assumed that drinking the blood of the snake can bestow upon the consumer these same characteristics. It is also considered a stimulant and general health aid.
Cobra blood is usually combined with liquor and served as a shooter. To prepare this shot, a living cobra is beheaded and the blood is drained into a glass that contains arak. The heart is often extracted, eaten and washed down with several shots of the blood mixture. Black and white cobra blood is relatively inexpensive, between $5 and $8, but the blood of a king cobra is more than $100.
7) Shrimp paste
Country of origin: Southeast Asia
Description: Shrimp Sauce, is a common ingredient in many Southeast Asian dishes. It is made from ground shrimp that has been fermented, sun dried then cut into small blocks. The paste is meant to be used and cooked in meals but not eaten raw. The smell is repulsive, especially by many westerners.
It’s really good with fresh chopped up tomatoes and mangoes. I recently tried it with my mango salsa – just amazing. Ok, so here’s the kicker. If you’ve eaten at my house or tasted some of the Filipino dishes that I’ve prepared, chances are you’ve probably eaten shrimp paste. Not bad eh?
So there you go. These are just a tidbit of some of the “bizarre” delicacies out there. If you have encountered some of these foods in your lifetime, let me know. Share it.
This post gives true meaning to the the question, “What’s for dinner?”