Jumping off a plane or into the ocean might be on your list for a true adrenaline high, but have you ever explored the thrill of a gastronomic adventure? Cultures and cuisines vary across the world, but some dishes make even the heartiest of foodies do a double-take. Here are eight of our favourite adventurous food items, if you have a stomach for them!
Considered to be the most expensive coffee in the world, Kopi Luwak is often known as the ‘cat poop coffee’. The Indonesian island of Bali specialises in this unique coffee. Coffee cherries, or the fruit surrounding the coffee bean, are fed to Asian palm civets—a viverrid species resembling a cat—who digest and defecate the beans. The digestive enzymes supposedly remove some of the acidity and result in a smoother coffee. These beans are then cleaned and processed, and can cost between $35-$100 a cup.
This industry, however, has come under scrutiny because of the conditions under which the civets are kept.
Some people often shoo away flies or bugs, worried that they might infect the food. Sardinia Island, on the other hand, does quite the opposite. Casu Marzu literally translates to rotten cheese. Made from sheep’s milk, this cheese is purposely infested, post-fermentation, with live fly larvae to make it soft and liquid. The dish is exclusively made in Sardinia. The traditional dish is consumed at weddings and other celebrations. A different version of the cheese is available in Corsica. This cheese, while a delicacy in Sardinia, is illegal in other markets.
Fugu, or pufferfish, is a Japanese delicacy not for the faint of heart. The fish is highly poisonous—even more so than cyanide—and should only be served by highly trained and licensed chefs. If not prepared with the utmost caution, this delicacy can just as easily turn deadly. The fish’s innards contain Tetrodotoxin—a potent neurotoxin—and it’s the second most poisonous vertebrate after the golden poison frog. Fugu lovers swear by the dishes distinctive taste and texture. Usually served in the shape of a chrysanthemum flower, the dish is a seasonal treat, consumed during the winters.
One person’s nightmare is another person’s street food. A common dish in the Philippines, Balut is a hard-boiled duck egg. However, it is no ordinary kind. The egg is fertilised and developed for 16-20 days and thus it contains the fetus of the duck. The features, such as the eyes, beaks and even feathers are sometimes clearly visible in the shell. As strange as it may sound, many admit that the taste is remarkable. A flavour milder than that of a chicken egg, even the bones are tender and dissolve in the mouth. Many Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam and Thailand make their own versions of the dish.
When we think of pudding, livers, hearts and lungs seldom come to mind. Not for the Scots, though. The national dish of Scotland, Haggis is a mix of these seemingly unfavourable cuts of a sheep with oatmeal, beef and sometimes mutton. The mixture is minced together, mixed with spices like onion, cayenne, and boiled in the sheep’s stomach. Modern interpretations of the dish often use synthetic casings instead of the sheep stomach, and it can even be baked or braised for hours. The dish is enjoyed any time of the day.
Paired with turnips and mashed potatoes, haggis goes rather well with some Scottish whiskey on the side.
Everyone is fearful of being eaten by a shark. The Icelandic Vikings decided to turn the tables when they created what is now called Hakarl. Shark meat is highly dangerous, when eaten fresh, but the Vikings found a way to cook it by burying it in dirt and rocks to neutralise the toxins. The meat is then dug up and left to age. What puts people off is the smell of the dish, which is often described as “urine-like”. The taste is pungent and either loathed or loved by the people. Instead of dirt and rocks, the meat is now fermented in containers.
Bird’s Nest Soup
Have you ever looked at a bird’s nest and wondered how it tasted? No? Well, someone did. Bird’s Nest Soup is exactly how what it sounds like. The gelatinous liquid is made from parts of a bird’s nest and their saliva. The bird saliva is dried and hardened and the nest pieces are soaked in cold water and stewed after storage in a cold place. Many Southeast Asian countries, most notably, China, Hong Kong and the Philippines, are known to commonly make this dish (the latter countries often make it just for tourists). Surprisingly, the soup is said to have medicinal benefits such as aiding digestion and strengthening the immune system. Unsurprisingly, one portion of the dish will burn a hole in your wallet. A large one at that.
Warning: The dish is amidst constant controversy due to the treatment of the birds.
The Wangfujang Night Market in Beijing is known for its rather off-beat delicacies. One of them is the fried starfish, impaled on a stick, no less. While not particularly appetizing, the hard outer shell of the starfish is deep-fried and can be bitten off to reveal the soft, pasty insides. It’s been described to taste like crab brain, or sea urchin, with a similar texture. A unique local treat, it’s unclear how much starfish locals really eat and how much of it is reserved for the wandering tourists.