Trying new food on a trip is one of the best parts of traveling. Often it’s delicious and exotic. Sometimes, however, another country’s food can be a little out there, at least to foreigners. But it’s all part of the experience, right?
Open your mind and get ready to dig in – these are the 10 most unique foods you should try at least once in your life.
Cuy (Guinea Pig), Peru
Animal-lovers, this one is not for you. A popular Peruvian specialty, guinea pigs are far from the adorable pets we’re used to stateside. In Peru, they are considered a delicacy. Guinea pig farms raise these furry creatures only to be fried or roasted whole and served with their head, arms, legs and claws intact. What may make most people cringe is actually an age-old tradition in Peru - dining on guinea pigs dates back 5,000 years.
Som Tam (Papaya Salad), Thailand
The odd combination of ingredients is what gets som tam on the list. Grated, unripe papaya creates the base. Mashed up chili peppers and garlic combine with fish sauce and lime juice to make the salad dressing. A handful of dried mini shrimp serve as a garnish. I know - it sounds like a bizarre blend of tastes. But it is, without a doubt, my favorite dish in Thailand!
Do a little digging beneath the surface of the traditional tourist “must-try” cuisines of pho and fresh spring rolls and you’ll find something a lot more... interesting. Eating a small cobra snake in Vietnam is kind of like a rite of passage and - if you can stomach - a must-try experience.
At specified snake villages, locals serve 7-course snake meals made from the ribs, skin, meat and even the blood and bile of the snake. But this isn’t the more unusual part. The snake is killed in front of the patrons by a slit to its middle. Its heart is then squeezed out for the grand finale. It may sound gruesome, but locals don’t even bat an eye.
Cig Kofte, Turkey
The name actually means “raw meatball,” but before you get grossed out - hear us out. First, this grab-n-go Turkish food is completely vegetarian-friendly. The name is derived from its appearance, which - to be fair - does look a lot like raw meat. So, what is it really?
Cig Kofte is a fine-grained, uncooked bulger kneaded tirelessly with tomato paste and lots of herbs and spices. The raw bulger softens and “cooks” with the continuous massaging of the mixture. The final product is a dense paste that can be spread on a lavash (thin bread wrap) or wrapped in a lettuce leaf topped with lemon juice and pomegranate sauce and eaten taco-style.
San-Nakji (Live Octopus), Korea
Can you handle the idea of your food wriggling around on your plate? If so, give live octopus a try. This dish is more commonly served as just squirming arms, but if you want, you can get the head, too. Either way, it takes an iron stomach and steely will to rise to the challenge.
To eat, use your fingers to tightly wind the octopus’ arms and legs around a pair of chopsticks. Then pop the whole thing in your mouth and chew. Novice live octopus eaters are warned against swallowing everything in one gulp. The suckers on the arms stick to the mouth and throat and are a possible choking hazard! Would you dare try this dish?
Percebes (Goose Barnacles), Portugal
Who knew the crustaceans clinging to the side of a rock in the Atlantic Ocean could be a delicacy? In Portugal, divers make a risky living collecting these barnacles from rocks amidst the crashing waves. The difficulty involved in harvesting percebes is what makes them more expensive than your average seafood meal in Portugal. But it’s definitely worth the splurge. There’re also surprisingly easy to prepare and eat. The goose barnacles are typically steamed and served as is. Just snap near the “neck” and suck the meat out.
Escamoles (Ant Larvae), Mexico
The Aztecs considered this a real treat and it’s still a popular dish in Central Mexico today. The insect caviar (sounds better than ant eggs, right?) is collected from maguey plants and pan fried with butter and spices. They have a mild nutty flavor and can be enjoyed alone or as a pleasant crunchy topping on tacos and omelets.
Casu Marzu, Italy
Would you eat a piece of cheese with squirming maggots on top? The general consensus is probably “NO WAY.” But for the people of Sardinia, this cheese is an absolute treat that they’d never dream of turning down.
Casu Marzu is a cheese made from sheep’s milk and left open to invite flies to come and lay their eggs on it. The cheese consequently becomes infested with maggots and their job is to eat and excrete into the cheese. It sounds like a questionable method, but it actually helps make the cheese super soft and full of flavor.
Fun fact: The EU has actually banned the consumption of the cheese due to health implications (no surprise there), so it can only be purchased on the Italian black market.
French fries, cheese curds and gravy; there’s nothing strange about the three simple ingredients that go into Canada’s national dish. The combination is simple but the final creation is a one-of-a-kind comfort food that locals and tourists both gobble up.
Black Pudding, Scotland
Not a dessert. Not even close. Black pudding is a sausage stuffed with boiled pig blood thickened with oatmeal and pork fat. The liquid is then poured into a casing where it hardens to create a sausage. Eat it deep fried, grilled, baked or cold. Either way, this is a hearty meal that ensures every part of the animal is used. So, points for that.