Food souvenirs from your travels are always a popular buy and usually make a very acceptable gift too. There are some very strange foods that you can buy in countries around the world and they may sound wacky, but they will not be the ideal gift for the faint-hearted! You will find your palate challenged by pungent, sour, and truly scary foods – and not always in remote places off the beaten track!.
1. Tuna eyeballs from Japan
Well, this is definitely ensuring that nothing goes to waste! If you have a look in the chilled fish section in the Japanese supermarkets, you will see pre-packed trays of Tuna eyeballs – and not surprisingly, they are incredibly cheap! But what to do with them? Cook the eyeballs either by boiling or steaming them and then add some garlic or soy sauce. They don’t taste as bad as they look and in fact taste a little like squid.
If Tuna eyeballs sound too mild, look out for some wasp crackers containing digger wasps that do have a nasty sting! The ultimate scary food in Japan must be Fugu – pufferfish- as this fish contains enough poison to kill 30 people! No wonder it takes chefs years to master its preparation!
2. Munch some crispy tarantulas
If you are traveling in Cambodia, you will soon discover that deep-fried tarantulas are a popular snack and you will see roadside stalls selling bags of them to eat! They are particularly popular in the market town on Skuon. The tarantulas are collected from the surrounding forests and deep-fried and flavored with garlic before being enjoyed. The tarantulas are crispy on the outside and gooey inside and taste quite like chicken. Connoisseurs will tell you that they are meatier to eat than fried grasshoppers!
3. Enjoy a glass of Airag
This is a popular drink in Mongolia and considered the national drink. It is definitely an acquired taste, but not unpleasant! Airag is also known by its Russian name, ‘kumys’. It is fermented horse milk and is slightly fizzy, sour-tasting, and slightly alcoholic (3%). It is traditionally served in a bowl-shaped cup. There is a much stronger version of Airag, called shimni and this is about 12% alcoholic
4. A cheese to avoid in Italy
Casu Marzu is a Sardinian specialty and its name means ‘rotten cheese’. Casu Marzu is made from Pecorino cheese that has gone bad. Larvae of cheese flies are added to the cheese and they quickly hatch into thousands of maggots that start eating the fat in the cheese. This hard cheese changes consistency and becomes soft and creamy – with a strong aftertaste that lasts many hours! There are are two types of Casu Marzu to buy – either with or without the maggots!
5. Sample moose nose preserved in jelly
This is a Canadian delicacy that is much loved – by just a few! The nose of the moose is boiled with onions and spices and then finely sliced before being popped into glass jars and covered with a flavored meat jelly.
Whilst you are in Canada, watch out for another delicacy – Prairie Oysters/ Rocky Mountain Oysters. These are no oysters, but the bulls’ testicles that can be bought fried, stuffed, or raw, ready for you to prepare!
6. Taste a century egg in China
Century eggs – Pidon are literally old eggs! The eggs are packed into clay, ash, and salt and left for many months. When deemed to be ready, they are then sold as a delicacy. When you open the egg, the yolk has turned to dark green/ black and the egg white has changed to a dark brown translucent jelly with an almost overpowering sulfurous smell.
7. Chocolate covered locusts in Israel
Israel has had problems with swarms of locusts for centuries, but now some enterprising chefs have found that they are quite palatable if they are either deep-fried and spiced or dipped in thick melted chocolate.
8. Pipe in the Haggis
If you are enjoying some time in Scotland, it will not be long before you learn about the national dish – haggis. Traditionally, haggis is ceremoniously piped in by a piper in highland dress, playing the bagpipes for Burns Night on 25 January, when the haggis is served with ‘neeps & tatties’ – turnips and mashed potatoes. Haggis, tastes good and is lovely and meaty and enjoyed with a dram of whisky.
Haggis is made from the meat of a sheep’s head and also sheep’s heart and liver which is all mixed with oatmeal, chopped onions, stock, and spices. This mixture is then spooned into a sheep’s stomach before cooking it by simmering in boiling water. If you decide you would like to take a haggis home, any traditional butchers shop has them on sale.
9. Savor some surstromming
Fresh fish is plentiful in Sweden and one of the local specialties is surstromming. This is made from fermented sea herring – with just enough salt added to prevent the herring from rotting. The fish is caught in the spring when it is spawning and fermented in barrels, before being popped into a can and sealed. These cans can be easily found in supermarkets. When you do decide to open your souvenir from Sweden, do so outside in the fresh air because boy, the is smell overpoweringly strong!
* Please note: Certain airlines have banned these cans from being taken on flights, as they consider the pressurized cans to be potentially dangerous – like carrying an explosive.
10. Salo – a popular topping for rye bread
There are many people around the world who enjoy eating a little fat on their cooked meat, but this is definitely taken a stage further in Ukraine, where the fat is eaten with no meat! The fat is cut into slabs and these are smoked and then matured for one year in a cellar. The fat is then prepared ready to sell, by thinly slicing the fat and popping it on display in the delicatessen. The idea is that you place a slice of fat onto some rye bread as the perfect snack.