They say one man’s pleasure is another man’s pain, and we think what’s placed on the dinner table can very well be described in these terms. Take blue cheese, for instance, which is basically moldy cheese, or the popular Mexican menudo soup, made from beef tripe. Both are considered delicacies by some, bizarre foods by others. With that in mind, let’s take a trip around the world and check out some pretty far out travel food you might find along the way—without forgetting that for some people, these are tasty treats!
1. Fried Tarantulas (Cambodia)
A regional delicacy in Cambodia, you’ll find these crispy critters being sold in roadside stands in the town of Skuon, where they’ve become somewhat of a tourist attraction. A little history: they may or may not be a product of the villagers’ desperation during the rule of the Khmer Rouge, when there was very little to be had, as they’re a fairly new menu item from the 90s. Today they are bred in holes in the ground or foraged for in the nearby forests. The recipe calls for the spiders to be tossed in a mixture of sugar, salt, crushed garlic and MSG, then fried in oil. Throw them in your knapsack for travel food… Or not.
2. Jumiles (Mexico)
These little stinkers—they are stink bugs, after all—are native to the Taxco region of Mexico, also known for its amazing silver jewelry. They’re served roasted, ground in a sauce, fried or raw and kicking, meaning you have to keep tucking them back into your tortilla as you munch. The start of the jumil (pronounced hoo-meel) season in Taxco is in October and is celebrated with a giant fiesta complete with the requisite Jumil Queen. Jumiles are actually very high in tryptophan, riboflavin and niacin, and though they are somewhat bitter, they’re prized as a remedy for rheumatism.
3. Surströmming (Sweden)
Along with a hard-to-pronounce name, surströmming is also quite hard to digest: it’s literally fermented Baltic herring that comes in a tin with an odor so strong it’s mostly consumed outdoors. In fact, a Japanese study concluded that a newly opened can of this fish has one of the most putrid food smells in the world. The tinned fish was supplied as army rations back in the 16th century, when it was no surprise that soldiers who did not come from the North of Sweden refused to eat it. Today it’s eaten on a sheet of thin soft or crispy bread, together with butter, boiled and sliced or mashed potatoes and finely diced onions, and served with snaps or light beers. There’s even a surströmming museum in Skeppsmalen on the northern end of the High Coast, should you care for a whiff.
4. Durian (Southeast Asia)
The durian fruit has a spiky cool look that belies its incredibly stinky interior. In fact, “No Durian” signs can be found in more than one haughty hotel lobby in Southeast Asia, not to mention the Singapore metro. It can also be quite lethal in other ways: because of its weight and sharp spikes, falling durians actually kill a number of people every year! Once you get past the smell, though, the flesh is sweet, buttery and quite delightful. It’s also very good for you, as it’s high in fiber, Vitamin C, potassium, essential amino acids, copper, iron and magnesium. Some complain about its ratty aftertaste, so basically, you either hate it or you love it.
5. Casu Marzu (Italy)
Some cheeses are stronger than others (see “blue cheese” above), and some… have live larvae wiggling in them. This particular dish is created by leaving a whole Pecorino cheese outside with part of the rind removed so the cheese flies can swoop in and lay eggs. The larvae eat the cheese, breaking it down and making it very soft. Most Sardinians (who consider it an aphrodisiac!) eat their cheese in sandwiches with the maggots still alive (you have to hold your hand over it because these little buggers can actually jump about 6 inches off your sandwich). Others place the cheese in a sealed paper bag first so the maggots suffocate and they can forego the acrobatics. Don’t forget to floss afterwards.
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