The biggest thrill about traveling to another country is becoming immersed in the local culture. Travelers enjoy experiencing life in a different way by observing or even partaking in practices and traditions they are unaccustomed to. They like wandering through open-air markets, having a cold one in a cool trendy pub, exploring the streets and alleyways, and most of all, relishing in the cuisines which may not be available back home. They want to eat like the local residents do. Sometimes.
While Americans are known for eating things like chitterlings, frog legs, fried chicken livers, and Spam, most of us consider this normal even if we don’t personally eat those things ourselves. But in some places, they’re shoving stuff so gross into their mouths it’s really difficult to accept any amount of normalcy. What some cultures consider an edible food substance would likely turn even the toughest of iron stomachs.
1 Haggis – Scotland
A well-known traditional dish in Scotland, they say it’s delicious as long as you don’t know what you are eating. For starters, this meal is cooked inside of a sheep’s stomach and the purpose is to not waste any part of the sheep. Not. One. Single. Part.
The heart, lungs, and liver are mixed with minced onions and other spices, placed inside of the stomach along with fat and blood, and then boiled for several hours. The dish can be found in supermarkets and there are companies which produce a lower grade product using synthetic stomachs.
The dish began centuries ago during a famine when starving citizens would eat anything they could come up with just to stay alive. So much of it was eaten that people got used to it and carried on the tradition once the famine ended.
2 Tuna Eyeballs – Japan
It has been said Tuna Eyeballs taste very similar to squid. The eyes are surrounded by fish fat and severed muscles which are supposed to be the best part. They are easy to prepare just by boiling them and popping them into your mouth.
Grocery store shelves are lined with them. Mainly they are served in sushi restaurants although they do need to be lightly cooked and are not to be eaten raw. Next time you’re watching a late-night movie forget the popcorn and boil up a bag of these babies instead.
3 Khash – Armenia
Developed in Armenia, Khash is now served in many mid-eastern and eastern European countries such as Iran, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Mongolia, and Iraq. The dish was originally thought to have healing properties and was suggested to be consumed with wine or vodka.
This is one of those dishes you don’t want to look at if you’re brave enough to give it a try. You’ll find yourself being stared at by sheep or a cows head. Khash is whipped up using the heads and feet of either animal. Other parts such as the brain and stomach are sometimes added for additional grossness. In days of yore, it was considered a winter comfort food. Today, for reason known only to those who partake of this gruesome concoction, it’s considered a delicacy.
The feet are soaked in cold water for a period of time to elimate the nasty smell and then boiled all night long along with the head so the meat separates from the bone making a thick brown stock.
It is said that Khash is a great cure for hangovers when eaten the morning after and chased with a shot of vodka.
4 Surstromming – Sweden
Baltic Sea herring is fermented with just enough salt to keep the fish from rotting. This extremely pungent food is usually eaten outdoors to avoid stinking up a kitchen or dining room. Adding to its lack of appeal is the fact that it comes in a can.
After placing the fish in brine for a day they are stacked in barrels and set in the sun for 24 hours. An inch of space is left at the top of the barrel so it doesn’t explode from the escaping fermentation gases. The fish is then placed in cold storage where it continues to slowly ferment. As it does so, the smell gets stronger.
The can is immersed in water when opened to trap the gases and the smell, and it is always opened far away from other people. If a can of it is left for one year at a temperature of 68 degrees it will begin to puff and swell. Just when the can appears like it is going to explode is the best time to gingerly open it. It is suggested that the opener of the can turn their head away to avoid the gas and ammonia which will come blasting out. It’s been said this is the best way to eat it.
5 Century Egg – China
These eggs are not really 100-years old but they might as well be. An egg is placed into a mixture of clay, mud, and quicklime, and left to set for a few months. During this time the yolk turns slimy and becomes dark green or even black. The white transforms into a dark brown gelatinous jelly.
Upon cracking the shell open the smell of sulfur and ammonia is so strong it’s a wonder anyone can get past it long enough to even think about eating the thing. But they do. The odd thing is that it’s supposed to taste exactly like a hard-boiled egg which poses the question, why not just boil an egg?
6 Dragon in the Flame of Desire – China
There is no other way to describe this dish than to get right to the point. This dish is made from Yak penises. The penises are usually roasted and served on large platters in an elaborate fashion, even topped with caviar in some cases.
Yak penises are considered a delicacy to the Chinese just as much as a huge plate of steaming lobster is to some of us.
Just because you visit another country doesn’t mean you have to eat like them while you are there. But if you really want to experience a true cultural experience, grab a plate of those fried crickets and dive in.