Bizarre, unknown outside of national borders, a must for locals, and difficult to find anywhere else. The world is full of amazing gastronomy products that don’t follow the rules of globalization, considered weird foods, local delicacies available (so far) to just a few.
Contrary to gourmet and refined foods, these – at least where they come from – belong to local culinary traditions and habits. Overly fermented herrings, quite smelly and delicious, can be found in surstromming cans, a Swedish delicacy impossible to open in closed quarters because of its strong smell, and also difficult to export outside of Sweden because of European Union regulations on food preparations. The experience of eating it is very convivial, and accompanies the sacred moment in which the can gets opened, totally worth the trip.
Almost the same thing happens in Japan when you order a light beer and sushi made with Shirako, or quite literally fish sperm, technically the liquid inside the male fish’s glands. Japan is also known for serving one of the most dangerous fishes in the world: Fugu is a balloon fish that has tetrodotoxins in it, a venom you can only get rid off following a special cooking technique. If you make mistakes, the stakes are high. In China they are fond of soups and especially soups made with bird nests such as the salanganes’ nest (similar to swallows). Something like pudding instead of noodles, it is prepared using bird nests made with saliva, algae and twigs. It tastes delicious, especially with milk on it, and the Chinese consider it their caviar. Eggs are a tackling subject all around the world and in the Far East they are even more surprising and weird: you can get them now at Chinese restaurants all over – we are talking about the 100th year eggs, they can be of any kind, chicken, duck, quail, fermented on ashes for many months until they turn black. In the Philippines they eat Balut, semi-developed eggs: apparently they have aphrodisiac qualities. Ants are also popular in some countries: in Mexico they cook escamoles with vegetables, these are the larvae, and apparently they taste like a delicate cheese. Recommended to eat with Tacos. In Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, they make a soup using the eggs of the ants, white and crusty, and claim they literally explode in your mouth.
Fruits and plants also hold their own, some are legendary and definitely worth a trip: take the durian, a South Asian fruit, hard and acerbic, with a foul smell, it actually tastes like sweet caramel. In Australia, the peach of the desert, or quandong, grows in bushes and is favored by the aborigines for its curative and supposedly-magic qualities. It tastes like rhubarb and is used in sauces and jams. In Sweden they make the Nyponsuppa soup, the liquid from the rose hip, rose’s fake fruit. You add sour cream and breadcrumbs, and you’ve got yourself a hot meal. There is also a totally weird Thai food to sip: basil seed juice, with a lemon aroma, sold in a can, filled with carbon dioxide. The jelly seeds, which according to Indians have medicinal properties, don’t fall apart in the glass.