Fried frogs (Photo by shankar s.)
Fried frogs (Photo by shankar s.)

Weird food to try as you travel

There's a whole world of food to discover as you travel so why not send your taste buds on a global trip with our guide to some of the world's most weird and wonderful traditional foods. You may need salt...

Weird food to try if you travel in Thailand

Love Strictly? Then check "dancing shrimps" (goong ten), stars of a northern Thailand travel salad - tiny live shrimp tossed in fish sauce, ground roasted chilli, coriander and onion, with lime juice squeezed over to set them jigging. Your tongue tingles with salty, sour and spicy flavours – plus the pitter-patter of dancing shrimp. You really can play with this food - keeping the critters on your plate.

Thais share a French liking for frogs – but the whole beast, curried, deep-fried, stewed. Mok huak, though, uses partly developed tadpoles. Deep-fried, they're said to taste like chicken nuggets, so if Colonel Sanders had been Thai they'd be High Street not just Thai street... Larb Mote Daeng, meanwhile, is a tempting 2-for-1 - fried red ants plus red ant eggs too! The ants' consumption of mango leaves gives a citrus kick that balances the unctuous eggs.

Really, food and travel doesn't get much more weird! Or does it...

Italy has food that's much more weird than just plain old pizza...

Cucina Povera – “poverty cuisine” – spurred Italy's use of every animal bit way before posh chefs coined “nose-to-tail eating'”. Travel in Italy, Rome in particular, and you'll discover pajata, the intestines from unweaned calves i.e. only fed on their mother's milk, cooked with the chyme (partly digested gloop) left inside. Heat turns it into a unique cheesy sauce for a dish served grilled (pajata arrosto) or with rigatoni. Rooster cockscomb - the top red bit - underpins cibreo sauce, meanwhile, flavoured further with chook livers and wattles (saggy chin bits), served with tagliatelli, potato and ricotta. Grazie!

Sardinia's casu marzu, though, is a cheese EU bureaucrats have been trying to ban for years. It's the live maggots, you see – hundreds that burrow into pecorino rounds to partly digest it to a soft, crumbly goo. Aficionados eat it with the live maggots in, because they claim dead maggots mean the cheese is unsafe! The aftertaste is said to linger for hours. And the nightmares for years.

Insects are a weird food no matter which country you travel in – they're literally a global buzz!

Chapulines (Photo by William Neuheisel)
Chapulines (Photo by William Neuheisel)
Over 1,000 species of insects – beetles, bees, ants, hoppy things – are eaten in 80 percent of the world's nations, covering travel in South America, Asia, Oceania and Africa. So squeamishness makes you odd one out. In Kenya and Tanzania, fried grasshoppers are classic nosh to put a spring in your step, while in Mexico so-called chapulines are served with garlic, lime juice and salt containing extract of agave worms for a sour-spicy-salty double dose of bug.

Travel Down Under and New Zealanders swear huhu grub (looks like a mini Michelin Man, but no Michelin stars) tastes like peanut butter. Aussies say the lookalike witchetty grub is like almonds when raw, and roast chicken with egg inside when cooked – Sunday brunch and lunch combined! Leafcutter ants are eaten in Colombia and Brazil, and coconut grubs in Ecuador. Native Americans once roasted beetles to eat like popcorn.

Kenya has some bloody weird food

Blood is used in sausages around the world but travel in Kenya and you'll find Maasai drinking it fresh from living cows. The animal's jugular is nicked and a small pot filled with blood, then mixed with milk and knocked back warm. Mud or hot ash is used to seal the cow's wound, and the animal appears to suffer no ill effect at all. Dracula, eat your heart out.

Travel in Indochina for food that's wonderfully wacky

Stir-fried tarantulas (Photo by istolethetv)
Stir-fried tarantulas (Photo by istolethetv)
We're always keen to hear ways to deal with big spiders - so genius to eat them. Tarantulas (a-ping) are a particular delicacy in Cambodia, stir-fried in garlic, chilli, salt and sugar. They're said to taste like soft-shell crab or a strange mix of chicken and cod, with the best bit the white meat in the head and body. The abdomen is spider Marmite – you either love or hate the brown pasty gunk (organs – and maybe spider poo). You can use the fangs as toothpicks, btw.

Then there's what is called balut (meaning wrapped) to try if you travel in Vietnam and pong tia koon in Cambodia – as well as khai look in Laos and khai khao in Thailand. Yep, Indochina loves duck foetus (8-9 days old is optimum) boiled in the shell. Savoured for the balance of textures and flavours, there are multiple ways of enjoyment. In Vietnam, go with salt 'n' pepper, lemon juice and Vietnamese mint, while Cambodians prefer just lime juice and pepper. They're big in the Philippines too, where the broth surrounding the embryo is sipped from the egg before the shell is peeled and the embryo scoffed. Hopefully, without any feathers to stick in your throat.

Peru is not the place for vegetarians

Roasted guinea pig (Photo by Nestor Lacle)
Roasted guinea pig (Photo by Nestor Lacle)
Peruvian has become a hipster cuisine, but meat-loving locals forget that ceviche stuff and go straight for the guinea pig (cuy in Spanish). Low in fat and cholesterol, high in protein, try them roasted or barbecued to discover a tasty South American alternative to rabbit. And remember, the younger the cuy, the crispier the skin. Talking of travel in Peru, what would Paddington taste like?

Balls to America – weird food in the USA is what travel is all about

Finally, we need to talk bollocks: testicles are tasty globes around the globe. In Spain, rather than bollocco do toro, bull testicles are known as criadillas – floured, breaded, fried and served in spicy wine sauce. They're also legendary cowboy cuisine to try if you travel in USA, where deep-friend “Rocky Mountain oysters” provided real man comfort out on the prairie. There are several US bull ball cook-ins like the Texas Testicle Festival (motto: "Come Have a Ball With Jesus"). Yessir! In China, they plop rooster testicles in hot pot, while Afghans prefer sheep balls grilled as kebabs. Icelanders pickle rams' testicles for the truly unforgettable traditional dish Hrútspungar. For something soft and tangy, peel off the membrane and sauté with lemon and sumac.
Why are my eyes watering? Must be the lemon.

Tasting weird food and drink as you travel is a highlight of many holidays, but we don't support eating some of the things mentioned in our article just for the sake of it. The best way to sample local cuisine as well as to pick up a few tips from the experts is to check out Responsible Travel’s cooking & food travel guide that's bursting with flavour – and many more palatable options than the delightful dishes mentioned above!
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