In our never-ending exploration of ethnic foods from cultures all over the world, occasionally you come across some foods that people eat that just, well … make you shake your head in wonder. These 7 Bizarre Ethnic Food Delicacies did just that to me. While I might be daring enough to try a few of them, I still have to wonder what possessed the first people in history who thought to even try these!
Of course, over the many thousands of years people have been on this planet, they have tried eating any and everything available. Some of the more absurd sounding (and looking!) foods become “delicacies” to certain cultures while, to others, they seem absolutely strange – even disgusting.
But it takes all kinds to make a world, so let’s now get into the list of:
7 Bizarre Ethnic Food Delicacies
#1 – Balut, Phillipines
Many cultures like to eat boiled eggs, but not very many eat them like this. These eggs are fertilized and allowed to mature until they are nearly ready to hatch. When you crack open the hard-boiled Balut chicken (or duck) egg, you will see something like the image to the left.
Balut eggs are cooked when the fetus is anywhere from 17 days to 21 days old – depending on your preference. Traditionally, they are preferred as old and mature as possible, when the developing fetus has started forming its claws, bones, feathers, and beak.
Balut is almost as popular to the Filipino people as the hot dog is to Americans. It is a favorite “fast food” served up by street vendors, who you will hear yelling out, “Baluuuuuuut” as they push their carts along the streets in the marketplace.
According to cultural folklore, Balut are believed to boost the libido. Whether that is true or not, the other reason they are so popular is certainly factual: they are a very hearty snack that is chocked full of protein.
Filipinos typically take their Balut with beer, and the eggs are most often seasoned with a dash of lemon juice, a pinch of salt, black pepper, and sometimes a sprinkling of fresh chopped cilantro. Some Balut eaters, however, prefer to season it with hot chili peppers and vinegar.
#2 – Bird’s Nest Soup, China
Often considered as the “Caviar of the East”, Bird’s Nest Soup probably conjures up images in your mind of a nest made of twigs, leaves, fragments of vegetation matter, etc. Not so … this soup is made with the nest of the Swiftlet bird, which uses predominantly its own saliva to build its nest.
This uniquely gelatinous, rubbery texture of the Swiftlet bird’s saliva is what is so treasured by the Chinese. It is such a valued item that it is among the most expensive animal food products on the planet. The expensive nature of this saliva is due to simple supply and demand marketing principles.
The birds build their nests during breeding season over a period of 35 days, and there are only around three times a year when this happens. Also, collecting the nests is often a dangerous process, involving skillful climbing through treacherous conditions in caves along the coastal regions where they nests are typically built.
All of this adds up to a very hefty price tag!
In recent times, the “Caviar of the East” has become popular in other regions of the world as well – including the USA. To meet with this increased demand, commercial nesting sites have been established. Whether commercially obtained or from the wild, you can expect to pay anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 (the wild nests are the most pricey, considered to have the best taste) per kilo. A bowl of Bird’s Nest Soup, served in a restaurant? Plan on shelling out anywhere from $30 to $100 per bowl.
This soup has been a Chinese tradition for many centuries. It is very nutritious, high in protein content, and folklore claims it has aphrodisiac qualities.
#3 – Puffer fish, Japan
This Japanese delicacy is one you definitely do not want to try at home, unless you are a trained chef who is licensed to do so. You could wind up dead, very quickly.
The deadly Puffer fish, or fugu, has a poisonous toxin in its skin and parts of its insides as well. This toxin is 1,250 times more potent than cyanide!
Small wonder, then, that in Japan only expertly trained, specialized
chefs in restaurants are given license to prepare it. The poison, if ingested, will cause the person to become paralyzed while still conscious. Eventually death from asphyxiation will occur, because there is no known antidote.
In spite of all this, the Puffer Fish is considered such a rare and treasured delicacy, it is a highly popular and high priced meal throughout Japan.
We are now almost half way through our list of 7 Bizarre Ethnic Food Delicacies – still want more? Read on …
#4 – Fried tarantulas, Cambodia
Anyone suffering from arachnophobia most likely will not want to try this one – sautéed 8-legged “monsters” – the world infamous tarantulas.
These are not your little “house spiders” either. No, these are the giant tarantulas found in Cambodia.
You can buy them as street food in the marketplaces of Cambodian cities like Skuon. They’re fried whole: fangs, legs, everything. This food was first discovered of necessity by starving Cambodians during the Khmer Rouge rule, with its brutal, oppressive and bloody reign.
Better times have returned to the country, and imperial savagery and
genocide have departed. But the culinary practice of eating fried tarantulas has stayed, having become more than just a vital source of sustenance. It is now a much vaunted delicacy, and has even gotten international attention and popularity. The dish draws tourists from all over the world to come and try some. Tourists can sit down in a fine restaurant and be served a gourmet meal with fried tarantulas with condiments as a main entree.
The region has also benefited economically from the discovery and proliferation of eating these black, hairy arachnids. They are found in the jungle around the market town of Skuon, and regularly scheduled buses loaded with paying tourists will go on tours to see them.
In the marketplace, as a street food, they cost a mere few pennies. The word is they are really delicious. Usually they are simply pan fried with a bit of salt and minced garlic. People say they have a taste similar to lean chicken or crickets. The outside is crispy and crunchy, and the inside is kind of gooey.
#5 – Casu Marzu, Sardinia
This next member on our 7 Bizarre Ethnic Food Delicacies list is one that I have to admit is to me, just … disgusting. Nevertheless, this Sardinian cheese is considered by the natives as a treasured delicacy. Casu Marzu is a cheese with a distinct difference from any other. It is riddled through and through with insect larvae.
Casu Marzu, more commonly known as “maggot cheese”, translates into English as “rotten cheese”.
Some grave health concerns have arisen regarding eating Casu Marzu. There are reports of severe allergic reactions in some people, as well as the danger of consuming cheese that has advanced to a state of toxicity. Also there is some risk of intestinal larval infection. For these reasons, Casu Marzu has, in recent times, become banned, even in Sardinia. But you can still get it on the black market in Italy and Sardinia, and people still love and eat it.
The sheep’s milk cheese used to make it is basically a Pecorino. The larvae of the cheese fly, Piophila Casei, is introduced to the cheese as fermentation starts to occur. The larvae digest the cheese fats, producing a texture which is very soft and has some liquid oozing out.
And get this, folks: The cheese must be eaten while the maggots are still alive … this is because, when they die, the cheese is considered to be toxic.
Wait – it gets even better (worse?): Because cheese fly maggots can jump when disturbed, when you eat Casu Marzu you have to shield your eyes – or you can put the cheese in a sealed paper bag and wait until the maggots are dead, due to starvation of oxygen.
#6 – Sannakji (Live Octopus), Korea
Koreans enjoy Sannakji, which is basically eating a raw, live octopus. The octopus is sliced into pieces while still alive, sprinkled with a little sesame oil, maybe also some soy sauce, and served immediately while the tentacles are still writhing and squirming on the plate.
Now, just the idea of eating a live octopus is challenging enough – but it is also physically a challenge. You have a fight on your hands!
The tentacles will stick to any surface they come in contact with. Before you can enjoy the taste and satisfaction of chewing and swallowing your octopus, you are going to have to become the victor in a battle going on inside your mouth.
The tentacles will cling to your chopsticks, on the way up to the mouth. After you bite and yank them off the chopsticks, they will wiggle around and cling to your teeth, gums, tongue, mouth roof, whatever. It is still fighting for its life – even when in a dismembered state.
To the Koreans, this all part of the fun, and good sport in eating Sannakji.
In fact, some more adventurous Koreans like to take their Sannakji while still whole. As shown in the picture below, two (or more) people will suspend the fighting-for-its-survival octopus between them, and eat their way into the center of the doomed sea creature.
Whether eaten in cut up portions or whole, however, special care must be taken to chew thoroughly. If you swallow a still-living, clinging suction cup, it can cling onto the back of your tongue and/or wall of your throat and present a dangerous choking hazard.
#7 – Paniki Manado (Bat Soup), Micronesia
If you want to try this one out, be sure you trap bats that are disease-free – something that is not very common in many regions of the world. Nevertheless, all throughout the Indonesian and general Southeast Asian region, bats are caught and eaten regularly. They are sometimes boiled, whole, and pulverized into a paste that is eaten by itself, or as a spread and/or condiment.
Another, also very popular way to eat them is in this soup, Paniki Manado. It is made with flying mouse, fruit, or fox bats. Feeling courageous? Here is how you make it:
First, you have to get some fresh bats, and lots of them, and bats that
are not disease-ridden. For most people, that means you must travel to a remote village in Southeast Asia, and get some local native help in netting a dozen or so of flying mouse, fruit, or fox bats. Have the local medicine man inspect the bats and give the approval that they are fit for consumption. If need be, net some more, but as soon as you have 6 to 8 disease-free bats, proceed with the following recipe on how to prepare one of the 7 Bizarre Ethnic Food Delicacies:
Paniki Manado Recipe-
(Makes 4 Servings)
- 6-8 fruit, fox, or flying mouse bats, well washed but not skinned or eviscerated
- fresh water
- 2 tbsp. fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped fine
- 2 large white or yellow onions, peeled and rough chopped
- 12 to 16 large cloves garlic, peeled and rough chopped
- freshly ground coarse sea salt and black peppercorns, to taste
- soy sauce
- unsweetened coconut milk
- coconut cream, for accompaniment
- 8 green onions, trimmed and rough chopped, for garnish
- Place the bats in a large cooking pot; cover with water plus a depth of 1″ more, and then add in the ginger, onion, garlic, salt and pepper.
- Bring to a vigorous, rolling boil, and cook for 1 full hour.
- Strain the mixture through a colander into a second pot, retaining the broth.
- Skin the bats, and discard the skins.
- De-bone the bat meat, and remove any other parts you prefer. Lots of people prefer to remove the heads and tails, and the wings are basically meatless, anyway. But it is a matter of personal preference. Whatever parts you use, chop the meat into small bite-sized chunks.
- Return the bat meat to the broth and reheat; add in soy sauce and coconut milk to taste. Boil the soup, uncovered, until your preferred consistency is achieved – the longer you cook, the thicker the liquid will become.
- Serve your Paniki Manado while nice and hot, garnished with a generous sprinkling of chopped green onions. Also have more soy sauce and coconut milk on the table for people to season additionally to their tastes.
So there you have it, 7 Bizarre Ethnic Food Delicacies from around the world. Please, if you have tried any of these, leave a comment to share your experience. And any other comments are welcome too. Would you eat any or all of these 7 Bizarre Ethnic Food Delicacies? Why, or why not?
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