Chew Your Tea and Finish That Fugu

Have you ever had one of those “cream of tartar is the same thing as tartar sauce” disasters? Well you certainly know now that if you mix those two up, your chiffon will not be a tasty dessert. While Recipe4Living has many expert cooks, we have probably all had a time in our cooking explorations when we have come across an ingredient and thought “what the heck is that?” As fellow gastronomers, gourmets, and gourmands, finding out about new foods is almost as fun as sampling them. In that spirit, here are some of the rarer, odder, and more exotic foods from all over the world. While I wouldn’t really recommend all of these, I’m not here to judge; haggis just might be someone’s absolute favorite.

Bubble Tea/Boba– Boba is a Taiwanese drink that comes in a variety of flavors. Large marble-sized balls of tapioca, sometimes made from sweet potato, form the bubbles in this often fruity drink. The bubbles are sucked up though a large straw and chewed. Tapioca drinks like this are popular in many Asian restaurants throughout the states. I love them!

Ceviche– This immensely popular dish in Mexico varies, but always consists of a raw fish or shellfish chopped up and marinated in lime juice overnight. The most popular choice is red snapper, while shrimp ceviche is becoming increasingly common in restaurants in the U.S.

Conch– That pretty horned shell found on the beach, the one you can hear the ocean in, was probably once home to an animal called the conch. While protected as an endangered species in the U.S., this edible snail is a popular food throughout the Caribbean, but must be tenderized because of its toughness. Vendors in the Bahamas serve the shellfish right on the water by chopping up the raw conch and marinating it in lime juice. It’s delicious!

Durian– This football-sized fruit covered in spine, from a tree native to Southeast Asia, is the definition of irony. The smell from the custard-like flesh of the fruit is absolutely horrendous, often compared to rotten meat or sewage, but the taste is extraordinarily good. Many call it the king of fruits. Public signs in many places in Southeast Asia outlaw bringing a durian onto public transportation.

Fiddlehead Ferns– This one sounds safe enough, being simply the sprouting tops of new ferns resembling violins. These are served as a delicacy in the northeast United States and western Canada. But strangely enough, fiddleheads contain a toxin that can cause symptoms similar to food poisoning from undercooked meat. Adequate cooking does destroy this toxin, but many restaurants still make the mistake of quick-sautéing fiddlehead ferns.

Fugu– Did you ever see that Simpsons episode where Homer eats the dangerous sushi? There was truth in that. In Japan, a certain pufferfish called the Fugu is enjoyed as a delicacy even though it is highly poisonous. Specially trained sushi chefs prepare the fugu so that a small amount of poison gives a desired sensation to the tongue. Still, several hundred people die in Japan each year from eating poisonous fugu.

Fried Candy Bars– Ok, I know what you are thinking–this artery-clogger is just the invention of American state fairs looking for the craziest and most unhealthy food creations. Actually, Scotland might be able to take credit for this one. In fish and chip shops throughout Scotland, fried candy bars are very popular, battered in the same flour and milk mixture used to fry fish, black pudding, and other foods.

Haggis– This Scottish dish is made by stuffing a sheep or other animal’s stomach with a mixture of minced organs (heart, lungs, etc.), oatmeal, vegetables, and other seasonings. Ironically, some modern companies have started producing vegetarian versions of haggis. How is that possible?

Hákarl- This one truly makes you wonder why. Putrefied or rotten shark makes up this classic Icelandic dish. The shark meat is actually buried for several months to ensure proper decomposition and then left in a drying shack for several more. When fresh, the shark meat is poisonous due to a high concentration of uric acid. This one has to be enjoyed, or rather, endured with shots of the equally strong Icelandic drink called Brennivin.

Inago– Another Japanese dish compliment of the inland area of Nagano, Inago are cooked and often candied grasshoppers. They taste crunchy, of course, but also quite sweet from living off the rice fields. Many consider them quite tasty.

Kimchi– (gimchi or kimchee) This traditional Korean food is fermented cabbage. Soaked in salt and red pepper for several weeks, the fermented cabbage takes on a hot vinegar taste.

Kishka/Kishke– This Eastern European food popular among Russian Jews is a kosher beef intestine stuffed with matzo, fat, and spices. In another variation, kishka can also be a stitched kosher chicken neck holding similar ingredients when preparing a chicken broth.

Lobster Butter– I do not mean butter mixed with lobster meat. Rather, this term refers to the green, mucus-like substance found in the head of a cooked lobster. While it doesn’t look appetizing, many lobster connoisseurs consider this the best part of a lobster meal. Next time you want a lobster tail at a fancy meal, consider the whole thing instead.

Pâté de Foie Gras– French for “fatty liver,” this delicacy is made from the livers of uniquely fed and fattened geese or duck. Unfortunately, this often involves the practice of force-feeding the animal, making pate a controversial food. Recently, Chicago became the first place in the United States to ban pâté de foie gras from restaurant menus.

Scotch Egg– You’ve got to hand it to the Scots for this one. A Scotch egg, popular also in English and Irish Pubs, begins with a hard-boiled egg. The egg is wrapped in sausage meat (or bacon), rolled in bread crumbs, and finally fried to heart-stopping goodness.

Sild– Varieties of pickled herring are found throughout Scandinavia. Left in outdoor barrels, the fish “marinate” for around three months in vinegar and spices. If not gutted first, the fish turn a dark red and have an even stronger musty taste (red herring).

Surströmming– This rather-famous Swedish dish is fermented herring. Unlike pickled herring, the fish is left unsalted to allow it to ferment while remaining in those outdoor barrels for several months. Because of the extremely pungent aroma, this dish can only be enjoyed outdoors. Do not, under any circumstances, open a tin of packed surströmming indoors.

Tequila Worms– True to those gaudy Cancun t-shirts that boast, “I ate the worm,” the little “tequila” worm, the gusano, lives on the Mexican agave plant used to make tequila. The worm, more correctly a caterpillar, never actually appears in Mexican-bottled tequila. Rather, the worm was added to bottles of another agave liquor mezcal in the 1940’s as a genius marketing ploy, and the myth evolved on its own. And you are supposed to eat the worm in the bottle of mezcal. In a strange twist for the tourists, some shops sell tequila-suckers; tequila flavored lollipops complete with worm.

Truffles– You may have heard of this expensive food as part of fine gourmet or French cooking. A truffle is an edible fungi, like the mushroom, and has a strong aroma and flavor. White truffles are much stronger, while black truffles have a more refined taste. Uncooked truffle shavings or paper thin slices are added to many different dishes. Strangely enough, the truffle in open fields has a compound strongly resembling the sex pheromone of male pigs, which explains why female pigs are often used to find truffles.

Vegemite– This smelly, salty sandwich spread is made from yeast extract and has a slight taste of beer. Marmite is actually the British version without the added vegetable extracts. Vegemite is most popular in Australia and New Zealand (it’s practically a national tradition), but actually originated from an American company.

Copyright © 2006 Ampere Media LLC

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