1. Balut, Philippines
It isn’t always enough to spend your time rushing to the next cookie-cutter tourist stop. If you really want to experience what another country has to offer, then try travelling like a local and most importantly, eating like a local. Each culture has its own take on mealtime, and immersing yourself fully in that ritual is a must-do for any traveller worth their salt. And we’re not talking about munching on your own weight in pasta in Italy, or chowing down on a bucketload of croissants in Paris. You need to stretch the imagination a little bit here, folks. Some of the following options might not exactly conjure images of gastronomical delight but the saying “don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it” rings true in each case.
So, before you go searching for French fries, step out of your comfort zone and try one of these weird foods from around the world. They may not all be your cup of tea, but at least you can say you got a taste of real culture.
Balut is one of the more out-there foods of Asia. The dish is made from a fertilised duck embryo that is boiled and eaten from the shell. The locals enjoy this slightly grisly delicacy seasoned with salt, chilli, garlic and vinegar. While it is becoming an increasingly popular appetiser in restaurants all over the Philippines, it is still most commonly found at street vendor stall. Give it a try – if you can ignore the duckling’s eye staring at you as you slurp back the flavoursome broth, then peel the egg to eat the yolk and young chick.
Strangely, the white is the bit that shouldn’t be eaten because it can be tough and untasty. As the dish becomes more widespread, cooks are experimenting with increasingly more complicated recipes, some of which include baking the balut into a tasty pastry. You’ll never look at your Cornish pasty quite the same way. So there you go, that’s flavoursome balut in a nutshell – pun intended (sorry).
2. Cockroaches, Thailand
These scurrying little buggers have survived since the age of the dinosaur, so the Thai locals have decided they must be good for something. Eating. Deep-fried cockroaches are considered a common snack by roadside vendors and food venues alike in South-east Asia. Before you get squeamish, think about it this way: crunchy roaches are a cheap-and-easy munch for hungry backpackers on a budget.
3. Tarantulas, Cambodia
To prepare this snack, spiders are tossed in garlic, MSG, sugar and salt and then fried until the legs are completely stiff. Travellers describe the taste as bland, a cross between chicken and cod. The best bit of meat comes from the head and body, but be wary of the abdomen full of brown paste, which includes organs, sometimes eggs and definitely excrement. Tasty treat.
4. Guinea Pigs, Peru
Cuy chactado is a dish most popular in the Andes region of Peru. It may shock some people to find out that the succulent meat is actually guinea pig, but one country’s pet is another’s yummy little snack. The indigenous women of the Peruvian Andes will raise large numbers of guinea pigs specifically for food. It’s hard to imagine the critters yielding much meat, but they can grow surprisingly big when left to run around in the fresh mountain air.
5. Fly Pancakes, Malawi
Dry and dusty Malawi a could give the Australian Outback a run for its money when it comes to the annoying fly population. But unlike the inhabitants of the sunburnt country, the good people of Malawi have found a clever way to get revenge – by eating the pests. The flies are caught in a net, mashed and squashed together to form a patty and then cooked on whatever sun-soaked metal surface is handy. Yum.
Photos: Thinkstock, Getty, Charles Haynes / Creative Commons