The term "cultural delicacy" can mean different things to different people. For some, a delicacy is an expensive or rare ingredient. Others think of it as weird or bizarre foods from a particular region. Sometimes people consider it both.
While some foods may seem disgusting at first, remember these foods are an important part of their respective local cultures. Some, however, have generated significant controversy, like shark fin soup, or are downright illegal now, like casu marzu, which is a maggot-infested cheese from Sardinia. If you’re looking to try some cultural delicacies on your travels, here are 10 options to get you started.
Book a reservation at Pujol in Mexico City, one of the top restaurants in the world, to try Chef Enrique Olvera’s tasting menu that includes smoked baby corn dusted with chicatana ant mayonnaise. These are flying ants from Oaxaca that make an appearance every spring after the first rains. If you’re game to try more insects while in Mexico, look for chapulines (grasshoppers) in a variety of dishes, especially those from Oaxaca.
Fugu is a Japanese delicacy that should only be ordered at a restaurant that is certified to serve it. Fugu, or pufferfish, is extremely toxic due to the poison in its organs. It takes skill to ensure it’s prepared correctly, which is why you need to purchase from a licensed chef. Japan prohibits locals from preparing it at home, and the Japanese royal family is even forbidden from eating fugu.
Gibnut is typically referred to as the “royal rat” after it was served to Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Belize in 1985. It’s not found on every menu around the country, but locals know where you can try it, like at El Fogon on Ambergris Caye. Stewed gibnut is one of the best preparations, especially when it’s cooked on a traditional fire hearth.
Chinese Century Egg
Despite its name, century eggs are not one hundred years old. In years past, they would be preserved for around 100 days, using ash, quicklime and salt, and then covered with rice husks. They are unmistakable with their amber-colored, gelatinous albumen, a greenish-black yolk and pungent odor. You don’t eat them like a hard-boiled egg. Ease yourself into the flavor by trying a few chopped pieces over congee at breakfast, or be brave and look for them on a Michelin-starred tasting menu like at San Francisco’s Benu restaurant.
Frog legs are served in various countries around the world, but they are most often associated with France and French cuisine. How frog legs became a part of fine dining in France is a bit unclear, but there are records of them as haute cuisine in the 18th century. A traditional preparation is cuisses de grenouilles à la Provencale, which involves dredging the frog legs in flour and sauté them with olive oil or butter with garlic and chopped parsley.
If you visit a Taiwanese night market, just follow the pungent odor and you’ll find a stinky tofu vendor. This widely-popular fermented snack is most commonly served deep-fried, with bit of pickled vegetables and a spicy chili sauce for dipping. Its flavor is typically quite mild in comparison to its odor.
Palau is home to a small bat that eats only fruit. In years past, it was more of a culinary staple, but now it’s more of a delicacy. The presentation is not necessarily for the faint of heart, as the most common method is serving it whole in a soup broth.
Haggis is a year-round delicacy in Scotland, but it’s also the star of the show at Burns Night in January each year, which is a celebration for poet Robert Burns. The haggis is carried into the dining room while bagpipes are playing and people recite Burns’s poem, “Address to a Haggis.” If you aren’t familiar with haggis, it’s made with minced calf or sheep offal and a mixture of oatmeal, suet and seasonings, all of which is boiled in a bag made from the animal’s stomach.
Sometimes called Mediterranean caviar, Bottarga is salted and cured fish roe that was primarily used in Sardinia and Sicily. It was hard to find in years past and often given as a valuable gift up until the 1950s. Today, it’s more popular and considered the truffle of the sea. Depending on where it’s made, you may find regional variations of bottarga, like whether grey mullet or tuna is used.
When it comes to stench, stinky tofu pales in comparison to the vile odor of the durian fruit. It’s so odiferous, durian has been banned in public transport and hotel rooms in parts of Asia. It’s eaten plain, used in sauces, ice cream and a variety of other ways. It’s one of those foods you either love or hate. Somewhat surprisingly, even the Hong Kong Michelin Guide has a recommended durian dessert shop now where you can get everything from durian bubble tea to a wrap made with Parma ham, durian and cheese.