There are some travellers out there who might consider it a “challenge” to go without Vegemite for a couple of weeks. That, my friends, is not a challenge. There are some that might think it a challenge to eat street food. They’re wrong too.
Because if you want a real foodie challenge, you have to explore a bit more. Once you take a few chances, once you stray from the beaten path and get into some true local food, you’ll pretty soon discover that the proper challenges still lie out there.
Think you’re hardy? Think you’d try any food put in front of you? Then grab your knife and fork.
Known on this Italian island as “casu marzu”, and known to everyone else as “maggot cheese”, this is a sheep’s milk cheese that has live insect larvae inside it. That’s right: live maggots. It’s questionable in its legality, but still easy enough to find if you ask around in Sardinia. Careful: the maggots can leap up to 15cm. And they leave a strong aftertaste.
Walk into a traditional Peruvian kitchen in the high Andes and you’ll probably find a few things: a stove, a prep bench, a dirt floor, and about eight or nine guinea pigs running around. The guinea pigs eat scraps that drop on the floor and get themselves nicely fattened up – little realising that they’re being prepared to be the next day’s main course. The taste? A little gamey. But not too bad.
Anyone who’s actually eaten this dish has my sincere respect. Because it both sounds and looks absolutely disgusting. Balut, a prized dish in the Philippines, is a duck egg that has been fertilised, meaning it contains the embryo of a baby duck. The whole thing is gently cooked, seasoned with chilli, garlic and vinegar, and then eaten. All of it. Beak, feathers and all. Gross.
“Airag” is a fairly hideous concoction that Mongolians absolutely love. Mention you find it a little disgusting and they’ll look at you like you’re a mad man. To make this dish, the Mongol nomads milk a horse, then put the mixture in a leather bag and leave it out in the sun for a week or so, stirring it every now and then to aid the fermentation process. The result is sour and slightly bubbly. And horrible.
They eat some strange and wonderful things in Japan. From poisonous and potentially deadly puffer fish to the still squirming tentacles of freshly killed octopus, you can get your food challenges in for pretty much every meal. One of the weirder ones is gizzard soup – a hotpot made from the intestines and stomach lining of things like cows, goats and sheep. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but the Japanese love it.
Most of us look at a hairy, crawly tarantula and think: “Eww.” Cambodians, meanwhile, look at a hairy, crawly tarantula and think: “Yum.” These fat, gooey spiders are something of a delicacy in some parts of the country, where they’re skewered, fried and then munched up like nobody’s business.
Go down to the night market in central Marrakech, a sprawling mass of tables, chairs, tents and people, and you’ll see a cloud hanging over the square, a dense haze of smoke coming from all of the sizzling meats and seafood on sale below. Delicious. Right? Except one of the Moroccans’ favourite dishes doesn’t sizzle. It bubbles. It’s a whole sheep’s head, boiled and served up, eyes, brains and all. You just grab a fork and dig on in.
This is possibly the most disgusting edible substance on the planet: Icelandic fermented shark, or hakarl. A “sleeper shark” is gutted and then buried underground for up to 12 weeks, where it rots, before being fileted and hung up to dry for another couple of months. The end product is an ammonia-heavy, stinky, sour, horrible bit of fish. Why?
Anyone who’s been to the Rockys will know that these aren’t your regular oysters – rather, they’re the locals’ slang name for bulls’ testicles. Deez nuts are peeled, chopped, coated in flour, salt and pepper, and deep-fried. The taste is not too bad. Hey, you can deep-fry just about anything and it’ll taste good.
There are plenty of people who eat insects as food, from the Thais to the Tanzanians. One of the most interesting places to try them is Uganda, where you can head down to a market in Kampala and watch as women pick the wings off huge bags-full of grasshoppers. The little critters are then deep-fried and eaten. They taste kinda like chips. Chips with brains.
Have a fun, safe & enjoyable holiday with our guide to staying safe in Bali.
1Cover’s UK Survival Guide is packed full handy hints, tips and tricks from those in the know.