Nothing beats trying a new dish abroad and discovering a favorite food you never knew existed. And ordering a well-known national meal, like a plate of haggis in Scotland or a Vegemite sandwich in Australia, is a must when visiting many countries. But sometimes trying new foods requires an iron stomach and a courageous heart — especially if you’re eating stomach or heart.
Foods made with animal parts or produce not normally utilized in one’s home country may seem unappetizing or even downright disgusting … but you wouldn’t want to leave Ireland without tasting some blood pudding, would you? Browse our menu of the strangest international foods to see if you have the chops to chow down on an exotic entree on your next trip.
Plucky Scots, who dare to wear kilts amid frigid Scottish winds, are also brave enough to feast upon one of the most famous traditional Scottish foods — haggis. To make haggis, first chop up the liver, heart and lungs of a sheep and mix them with diced onion, spices and oatmeal. Then pack the mixture in a sheep’s stomach, tightly secure the ends and boil it for a few hours.
If filling your stomach with stomach feels freaky or paradoxical, head to a Scottish grocery store, where cheaper brands of haggis made with artificial casings are sold. But if you’re going for the genuine stuff, you’ll have little trouble getting some real stomach-stuffed haggis in Scotland — it’s available countrywide in hotels, B&Bs and pubs. Haggis is also traditionally served with Scotch whiskey during the annual Burns Supper, a Scottish holiday commemorating poet Robert Burns. The taste and consistency of haggis have been compared to scrapple, a patty made from meat scraps (hence the name) served in the mid-Atlantic U.S.
Ask for the head cheese in an American supermarket and you may end up meeting with the manager. But request this entree in Europe and you’ll be served with a different heap of flesh.
Contrary to what one might gather from its name, head cheese is not made from cheese; it’s made from head. Traditionally, it’s made by skinning the head of a sheep, pig or cow and removing all organs. Next, the head is cooked in a pot of water until the meat is tender. Then the chef chops up the cooked meat, adds it to the cooking liquid and lets it cool. Thanks to the collagen in the marrow of the animal head, the entire mixture congeals into a solidified gelatin that can be sliced and served on salad or sandwich. This delish dish has been served throughout Europe since the Middle Ages.
So you think you’re bold enough to feast on any foreign food. But can you stomach swallowing a living — and moving — animal part? Fans of “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern,” a Travel Channel TV show, may remember the pilot episode in which the host visited a Tokyo sushi restaurant and ate a frog’s still-beating heart. The Japanese eatery that served the pulsating organ is called Asadachi, and all of its dishes are intended to improve virility. Order the frog sashimi and the chef will cut open the frog in front of you and hand you its still-beating heart between a pair of chopsticks. Then the chef will slice and dice the frog into a plate of raw-frog sashimi while you take a bite of the warm, pumping heart. Sashimi is chilled raw seafood chopped up, so the rest of your meal will consist of cold, uncooked frog flesh. Don’t expect raw beating hearts to be served everywhere — this special frog dish is a delicacy that can only be found in select Japanese restaurants.
Vampires aren’t the only ones who relish the taste of blood for breakfast. In Europe, Asia and other regions, dishes made with animal blood are common cuisine. Blood pudding, also known as black pudding, is a sausage comprised of cooked blood and fillers, like grains, potatoes or fat.
The dark congealed patty is a popular treat in Ireland and the U.K. Traditional Irish fry breakfasts — a must-try for visitors to Ireland — typically feature fried eggs, bacon, tomatoes, sausage, toast, potatoes and a delectable slice of blood pudding. In Taiwan, locals love the sought-after pig’s blood cake, which is made from sticky rice cooked in pork blood and covered with peanuts and cilantro.
A smear of thick, black Vegemite on some crisp toast is a favorite among Australians. Made from brewer’s yeast, the spread was developed in Australia in the 1920s and has since been an Australian kitchen staple — and a part of the country’s history. Australian World War II troops were given cans of the beloved spread in their rations. This stuff is as popular in Australia as hot dogs and apple pie are in the States — Kraft celebrated the production of its billionth jar of Vegemite in 2008.
So what does Vegemite taste like? It’s salty and tangy, with an indescribably unique flavor. Many agree that Vegemite is an acquired taste, so travelers who didn’t come of age in the Land of Oz may need some time to get used to it.
Eskimo Ice Cream
As if they’re not freezing enough already, Eskimos have been mixing up their own special version of ice cream for generations. Eskimo ice cream, known by locals as akutaq, is a frosty Arctic dish made with reindeer fat. Fat from other local animals, like seal or moose, may also be mixed up in akutaq — to cooks in remote Alaskan villages, it all depends upon the availability of game. Other ingredients in Eskimo ice cream include fish, dried salmon eggs or berries. Like regular ice cream, akutaq is creamy and cold. But the Alaskan treat contains lots of animal fat, so it won’t taste anything like the pint of Cherry Garcia you have stocked in your freezer. Traditional akutaq made by Eskimos in communities along the Bering Strait isn’t made with sugar; however, travel to Alaska today and you’re likely to find Eskimo ice cream made with sweetener, which may be a bit more palatable to the unaccustomed tongue.
The durian fruit is quite possibly the smelliest snack in the world. Don’t try to sneak one onto the subway! The durian is so odorous that it is illegal to carry a raw one on public transportation or through airports in much of Southeast Asia — it’s literally a forbidden fruit in many places. The fruit’s smell has been described as similar to that of sewage, body odor or rotten garbage.
But don’t worry — it doesn’t taste like it smells. The durian is filled with four seeds covered with a thick, creamy flesh. Eat a durian by breaking it open and consuming the flesh from around its seeds; you may want to hold your nose as you eat. The durian is native to Thailand and can be found throughout Asia and even at Asian markets in the United States.
Bonus: McDonald’s Menus Overseas
If you’re looking for a taste of home, those gleaming yellow arches that beckon you with promises of French fries and chicken nuggets may not be the answer to your comfort-food prayers. In international McDonald’s restaurants, some menu items may remind you of home … while others may surprise you or incite a deep fear of mystery meat. Here’s a sampling of unusual foods found on McDonald’s menus around the world:
Would you eat lobster from McDonald’s? In parts of Canada, some McDonald’s restaurants serve a McLobster sandwich, which has lobster, lettuce and celery on a long roll.
The McArabia features either chicken or spiced beef wrapped in pita-style bread, and is popular in Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
In Quebec, some McDonald’s serve poutine: French fries and cheese curds covered with gravy.
The Maharaja Mac, made from chicken, is served in McDonald’s restaurants in India. Because cows are sacred in India, you won’t find Big Macs or any other hamburger at Indian McDonald’s restaurants.