Samui Wining & Dining
What a Load of Tripe

Strange foods from around the world.

Strange foods from around the world.When you’re on your travels, a trip to a new country can mean trying the local delicacies. Wonderfully fresh sushi in Japan or genuine pasta dishes in Italy spring to mind. But there are other foods out there that may not appeal to you quite so much. Here is a short list of some of the strange food around the world, because there are lots of weird and wonderful delicacies out there.

For the cheese lovers among you, how about some casu marzu? It’s made from a beautiful round of Parmesan cheese, and so far sounds pretty tasty. But leave it out for a few days, attracting all the cheese flies in the vicinity and you’re left with a wheel of rotten cheese (the literal translation of casu marzu is rotten cheese) filled with live cheese fly larvae. You’ll be glad to know that the cheese flies not only lay their eggs in the cheese but break down the fat in the parmesan so that it’s softer. It’s a particular delicacy in Sardinia, so if you’d like to try some this is the place to head to.

Staying in Europe, smalahove is a Norwegian dish that is served just before Christmas. The skin and fleece of a sheep’s head is burnt away and the brain removed. The head is salted then boiled or steamed for about three hours. Half the sheep’s head is one serving, and is eaten alongside mashed potatoes and vegetables. Typically the eyes and ears are eaten first because they are best eaten hot. In some preparations, the brain is cooked inside the skull and then eaten with a spoon or fried. It is illegal nowadays to use an adult sheep’s head and only a lamb's head may be used. Not because of ethics but because of concerns over disease. You’ve heard of extreme sports? Well this is considered an extreme food and usually eaten these days either by tourists in search of a thrill, or die-hard traditionalists who still view the food as a delicacy.

Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish, consisting of a sheep’s stomach filled with the minced heart, liver, and lungs of the animal along with spices, oatmeal and onion. This is then boiled for approximately three hours and served with potatoes and turnip. There have been some very modern takes on the haggis if you wish to try it out. How about haggis dipped in batter and deep fried with chips, or a haggis burger, or a pizza with haggis topping? Tempted? There are also vegetarian variations, using nuts and pulses and various vegetables.

Travelling over to the Americas, escamole is a Mexican delicacy and is sometimes referred to as ‘insect caviar’. It’s made from the larvae of ants that are found on the tequila plant. The larvae are harvested from the roots of the plant. Huitlacoche is an ingredient that is used in a lot of Mexican recipes, most notably quesadillas. It’s a black fungus scrapped from corn. Doesn’t sound very appetizing, but apparently it’s delicious and as an added bonus it’s packed with nutrients. It can also be served as is, or in a patty with corn and onions.

A brain sandwich turns out to be an enduring specialty in some parts of Missouri, USA. It looks like a huge burger. Thinly sliced calves brains are coated in batter, deep fried then served in a hamburger bun with all the usual toppings. They are particularly popular down the Ohio River valley where you can find quite a few diners still serving them. Kissner's, a bar and eatery in Defiance, Ohio, has had on its menu what it calls their ‘infamous’ brain sandwich, since 1928. Indeed one story has it that an instructor at Defiance College would famously hold his last class each year at Kissner's where he and his students would drink beer and he would offer to buy a brain sandwich for any student who would care to try one. Now there’s a generous teacher for you. Nowadays it’s banned in the rest of the country over fears of mad cow disease.

Century Eggs, despite the name, are not a hundred years old, though they have been left for a long time. Duck or quail eggs are preserved in a mixture of clay, ash, salt and quick lime for weeks and sometimes even months. These are served on special occasions in China, and have a strong sulphur and ammonia odour.

Balut is a duck embryo that is boiled and eaten from the shell. This is a popular street food in parts of South East Asia. And it’s now being used in haute cuisine, and high end restaurants, as well as in pastries. In the Philippines, balut eaters like to season their eggs with salt, garlic and chilli. In Vietnam they like the eggs with lime juice, salt while the Vietnamese prefer mint leaf. The age of the developing embryo also varies depending on preference. A younger embryo means no hard beaks or bones, and an older one looks more like a duck.

A-Ping is a street food that has been rapidly gaining in popularity in Cambodia since the 1990s. Tarantula spiders are bred or harvested from the forests. They are then fried and seasoned with garlic and chilli. The legs are crispy but the body has a delicate white meat that has been described as tasting like a cross between fish and chicken. The abdomen part is full of a brown paste that some suggest not eating while others say it’s a delicacy. It’s probably full of eggs and excrement but there’s no definitive answer on the matter!

Or how about, Tong Zi Dan Virgin Boy Wee Eggs! As the name suggests these are made by boiling eggs in the urine of prepubescent boys. They are a traditional delicacy in Dongyang, China. Every year in the spring time, the urine of the young boys, preferably under the age of 10, is collected from school lavatories and market places, in buckets set out for that purpose. The eggs are then boiled and can fetch double what a normal egg does. The Chinese believe these eggs improve blood circulation, increase body heat and generally reinvigorate the body. Tong Zi Dan was declared a local intangible cultural heritage in 2008. But one wonders by whom.

Sannaki is very popular in South Korea. It’s a dish made from a live small octopus that has been cut alive into bite-sized pieces and is served immediately, usually lightly seasoned with sesame and sesame oil. The octopus pieces are so fresh that they are usually still squirming on the plate. Because the suction cups on the arm pieces of the squid are still active when the dish is served, choking is a hazard from eating this dish if the cups suck onto the side of the throat. But diners like the feel of the suction on the inside of their mouths. However there have been incidents where people have died from choking on this food.

I’ve left my own favourite to last – because while it’s not gag inducing and features no insects, urine or live animals, it’s just plain weird. In 1861, ‘Miss Beeton’s Book of Household Management’ was published, and it’s here that you can find the recipe for a toast sandwich. It’s made by putting a buttered slice of toast with salt and pepper between two slices of untoasted bread. You may be adventurous and add egg, sardines or carrots. In 2011, Britain’s Royal Society of Chemistry hosted a toast sandwich banquet and named the dish ‘Britain’s Cheapest Meal’, a title it still holds today.

If you’re ready for an eating adventure then the world is your oyster and so much more. As a child, my mother would feed me tripe and elder, regularly. That translates as boiled cow stomachs lining and steamed cow udders. So when you think about it who is to judge what is considered strange?


Natalie Hughes


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