Food is reason enough to travel. Countries revel in their ability to showcase a truly original meal, something that reflects both cultural tones and bizarrely trained senses.
We’re not just talking about weird food here. Every country has their own bizarre snacks that few others can fathom; like Scotland’s deep fried chocolate bars or Cambodia’s oily spiders. These traditional meals take things a little further. They’re the pinnacle of the country’s gourmet traditions, doused in culture and reserved for special occasions. Think about sitting down to a Thanksgiving dinner or equivalent festive feast. Well these bizarre traditional meals from around the world are essentially the same, just in a country you’ve probably never heard of.
1. Eating the Whole Animal in East Turkistan
Traveling the world and not trying a weird animal part is pathetic. Cow trotters, boiled intestines, roasted knee joint; just man up and give it a try. Taking the theme to a whole new level is Kashgar’s animal market in East Turkistan (a stateless nation stolen by China). Customers tour the stalls, piling up a plate of goat eyeballs, heart roasted in low grade petrol fumes, stuffed cow brain, and lungs with the esophagus still attached. As barbecue smoke wafts around and animal heads bubble in vast cauldrons, you’re sharing the national dish of a forgotten nation.
2. Kiviak in Greenland and Hakarl in Iceland
This one takes six months to prepare so you can bet it’s only getting devoured on a special occasion. In Greenland, auk birds are stuffed inside a seal carcass and left to ferment underground (Kiviak). Cross the arctic to Iceland and the locals bury the carcasses of basking sharks to remove their poison, before hanging it out to dry (Hakarl). Both produce pungent yet tender meats, characterized by their ability to make eyes water and noses explode in revolt. If you can handle the smell the meat is actually very good. But we’re yet to meet anyone without a reindeer fur coat who can go within five meters of kiviak without covering their nostrils.
3. A Guinea Pig Last Supper in Peru
Guinea pig isn’t that rare of a dish. It’s a tasty little animal, a little short on meat but easy to farm in urbanized areas. For centuries it’s been protein for the working class in Peru. And perhaps they know something that we don’t. In Cusco’s cathedral you’ll find a painting of the Last Supper, with Jesus and the disciples sitting down to a roasted guinea pig with all the trimmings. This historical revelation has to be closest anyone has ever come to explaining the correlation between Easter and bunny rabbits. Are rabbits bringing us chocolate eggs to avoid going in the oven like their cousins?
4. Roasted Dog in Vietnam
Travel to China or Vietnam and there’s a good chance you’ll unwittingly gobble down a dog. It’s not your fault, it’s just the common denominator when the menu simply says “meat.” You’ll probably hope that it’s beef, but deep down, you know…So why pussyfoot around the national dish of Vietnam? Locals roast the dogs on smokey wood fires, skinning them first and then sometimes chopping up the meat before a diner’s eyes. It’s pretty horrific to look at. And the meat is tough and gristly. However, without dogs, many Vietnamese families won’t have much protein in their diet.
5. Bushtucker With Aboriginals in Australia
Most preconceptions of outback Australia involve a crocodile hunter in khaki skinning kangaroos with a three foot knife. Either that, or feasting on weird bugs and insects found in the bush. Australia was actually home to around 1000 Aboriginal tribes, with their diets dependent on the land they inhabited. Ancestral land rights mean they can still hunt for delicacies and traditional foods, like rock crabs, possums, turtles, snakes, and some marsupials. And the world’s oldest surviving culture has spent generations perfecting how to cook it all up. Any invite for dinner with an Aboriginal will be a bizarre and rare treat.
6. Barbecued Bush Meat in West Africa
Continuing the theme of dietary necessarily, bush meat is a celebratory meal for the poorest communities in West Africa. They would prefer goat or cow. But those things are expensive, especially when you can head into the forest and capture anything that moves. Monkeys, wild boars, chimpanzees, and even the odd giraffe. Again, it’s tough and gristly, although this one comes with an additional health warning. Bush meat has been blamed as the cause for the latest ebola outbreak. So when you get invited to a West African wedding, think carefully before chomping into a heavily scorched rough animal skin.
7. Fried Rats in Togo, South East Asia, and Parts of India
The problem with rats is that they’re so big and ravenous when they’re raiding your kitchen cupboards, yet so small and spindly when you fry the retched things. It’s a major delicacy in Togo and other parts of the world, with profuse Mamas competing to cook the tastiest rodents. Due to their size, the best recipes involve an overdose of chilli and overcooking until you create a kind of rat jerky. Serving the meal to neighbors has dual talking points; firstly, how big are the rats that the husband or son can catch, and secondly, how well does the wife or mother cook it.
8. Haggis in Scotland
Haggis is a pretty simple concoction that’s slowly drifting towards the annals of forgotten world food. Take an animal’s stomach (sheep works best), and stuff it full of minced heart, liver, and lungs – along with a bit of onion and salt to taste. Unfortunately it’s rarely on the menu anymore, except for Burns Night or weddings doused in tradition. Completing the dish are mashed neeps and tatties, which is turnip and potatoes for those who can’t decipher Scottish slang.
9. The Chinese New Year Dinner
China is a country of eating everything that you shouldn’t really eat. Like the insides of turtle shells, live octopus, bird feet, and a few illegal imports from around the world. It might come as a surprise (particularly if you’ve watched too many youtube videos) that these delicacies are not part of the daily diet. They’re often expensive and come to the table at New Year celebrations. Dishes are piled on a circular table with the eldest male relatives showing off about who can afford to buy the most delicate treats.
10. Burger King / McDonalds in the Western World
As we tour the world seeking out the weird and wonderful it’s worth considering the bizarreness of our own culinary traditions. If you think about it, fast food chains in the West are little different than roasting dog or frying rats. It’s just a more professionalized version of serving the cheapest and most readily available meat. Most depressing of all is the standardization of taste. Whereas the rest of the world bursts with unique recipes and methods of preparing cheap meat, the fast food chains ensure we only get one flavor for the whole combination of horse, rotting beef, goat, and rodent.