What comes to mind when you hear “strange and unique dishes?” Is it the everything bagel sushi? Which if you’ve never heard of, the everything bagel sushi is a delicious Japanese-Jewish fusion composed of sushi rice, cream cheese, layers of smoked salmon covered in everything bagel spice for a truly unique experience.
Or maybe your mind drifts back to Andrew Zimmern, the beloved host of “Bizarre Foods” who calls things like stinky tofu delicious but refuses to eat the durian fruit. Well, if you’re thinking of some of the foods you’ve seen on “Bizarre Foods”, then the dishes on this list will come as no surprise to you.
Let’s start the list off with a bang. Shirako is a Japanese dish that looks tasty and for the most part normal but once you find out what it is, it can be a turn off for some. The dish can be served raw, fried, steamed, or as a topping.
The Shirako, or the white part of the dish, is said to have a sweet, custardy taste and a slimy, spongy texture. Some of said the texture is reminiscent of sweetbread (brains) when eaten raw. Often served as an appetizer, Shirako is definitely an uncommon menu item so don’t expect to find it at your local Japanese restaurant.
Is your curiosity piqued yet? Well, Shirako translates to “white children”. Yes, you read that right. No, we’re not joking. The dish is composed of the sperm sacs of cod, angler, or puffer fish and is commonly served raw though as listed above there are other preparation options available for Shirako. What we really want to know is who came up with this dish?
Ok, we have to be honest here: this dish looks exactly what it is. There’s no disguising the fact that you’re eating a fertilized duck egg with a partially developed embryo inside. And yes, we realize that this one is probably pushing the limits of what we’re all willing to try, but it’s interesting enough to make the list.
We’re not going to discuss how the dish is prepared but we will tell you how it’s cooked and served. Balut is boiled and served in the egg with chili, salt, and vinegar. So how are you supposed to eat it? Well, chefs and lovers of the dish say that you first tap a hole in the top of the shell then enjoy the delicious liquid before eating the crunchy rest of the insides; which includes the embryo, feathers, bones, and even some bits of the shell.
On its own taste is supposedly reminiscent of a pungent, strong boiled egg but with crunch. The salt, vinegar, and chili are meant to mellow out the harsh flavor but in our opinion anything that requires that many strong additives isn’t going anywhere near our plates or mouths.
3. Century Egg
Another egg for our list! Okay, so this one is really intriguing and no you aren’t eating an egg that is a century old. However, you are eating an egg that has been sitting out for anywhere from a few weeks to a several months. Sound appetizing yet?
This Chinese delicacy consists of eggs that have been covered in ash, clay, and salt then left in the mixture for a stretch of time before being eaten. By the time the dish is served, the yolk is a dark green and the scent is reminiscent of sulfur. Delicious.
So what does it taste like? They taste like regular boiled eggs but on steroids; the flavors are full and supercharged. The gelatin, or what had previously been the white pat of the egg, supposedly doesn’t taste like anything; all of the flavor is contained in the yolk. To quote someone who has tried the dish, “it’s rather like eating a ripe Camembert, pungent and creamy, with a whiff of ammonia.”
We figured it was a good idea to break up the weirdness with something a little more palatable. Salo is a traditional and extremely popular Ukrainian dish. And chances are if you’re a big fan of fat and the smoky, juicy flavor of meat, you’re going to love this one.
Salo is the fat of the meat that is prepared, served, and eaten on its own. Yes you read that right: just the fat. Typically, Salo is made into slabs and smoked before being in a cool cellar for up to a year. This preparation allows the smoky flavor to really penetrate the fat. It also keeps the fat tender but together so it’s not some gooey, slimy mess that falls apart to the touch.
Once it’s ready to be eaten, it’s traditionally cut into thin slices and served with rye bread. The taste is said to be similar to hickory-smoked bacon that’s heavy in fat or the fatty part of a nice juicy steak that’s been grilled to perfection.
In fact, Salo is so popular that Ukrainians hold a festival of lard each year to celebrate it and from the looks/sounds of the dish we can totally understand why!
5. Jellied Moose Nose
Canada (are you really surprised?)
If we’re being completely honest here, the dish doesn’t look any tastier than the name sounds. In fact, both are incredibly off putting but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a treat in Canada. Probably developed by someone who didn’t want to waste any part of the moose, jellied moose nose is a dish that highlights a less than desirable cut of meat: the nose.
More often than not, the meal is prepared by boiling the nose with spices, and onions until the nose hair can be removed easily. Once the hairs are removed, (because finding a hair in your meal is the most off-putting part of this dish), the nose is boiled some more until it is tender. From here, the chefs slice and cover it with a broth that turns the meat into a jelly consistency and it’s ready to be eaten.
Well according to chef Andrew Zimmern who has unsurprisingly tasted this dish, described the meat as “exploding ‘with little’ tastes’,” and likened the flavor to that of corned beef. So in other words, it tastes much better than it looks.
6. Crispy Tarantula
Alright, you knew we had to include some kind of insect delicacy on our list. For most Americans insects, particularly spiders, do not equal lunch. In fact, many Americans are arachnophobic so it comes as no surprise that crispy tarantulas aren’t part of most restaurants’ menus.
However, in many other countries around the world such as Cambodia, Vietnam and others, insects are a staple and integral part of meals. They are an abundant resource that always replenishes itself so there’s no fear of running out of food. Insects are also high in protein, cheap to eat/prepare/purchase, and taste like whatever they’re cooked in. Plus, they’re “travel-size” so to speak so they can be eaten on the go.
But what does a crispy tarantula taste like exactly? Well, as mentioned above it depends on the seasoning used. However some have likened the taste of these crunchy treats to that of crab.
Bear with us because everything about the next sentence is going to sound really strange and probably disgusting. Airag refers to a glass of fermented horse milk that is a beloved drink in Mongolia. Why? Well, because not only is it super tasty but it’s also alcoholic! Oh and for those of you who are lactose intolerant, this drink also means good news: since the milk is fermented, it won’t bother those with lactose allergies.
Airag is mare’s milk that has been fermented into a sour, fizzy, and slightly alcoholic liquid. So while you won’t get drunk off of it, you might catch a nice buzz, which is probably a must if you’re looking to have another glass of the stuff. Not surprisingly, the fermented milk has a sour, pungent taste but after the initial sip, it becomes very tasty. Some have compared it to sour cream, plain yogurt, and buttermilk.
Traditionally, Mongolians sever Airag chilled in a cup shaped like a bowl. Dregs are then supposed to be poured back into the main container once everyone has been served a glass.
Muktuk is one of those dishes that upon first glance looks “normal.” If it was served to you and you had no idea what it was, you’d probably think it was strips of fat or maybe a super white fish. While both of these are in the same ballpark, what Muktuk really is might surprise you.
Muktuk is a traditional Inuit meal and is composed of frozen whale skin and blubber. The fat of the blubber provides much needed calories and obviously fats that Inuits need to get them through the cold months. It can also be eaten when food is scarce and can be stored for a generous amount of time.
The dish has “layers” which you can see in the image above and each apparently has a unique taste. The skin, or darker layers, is slightly crunch and is said to taste like hazelnuts. The fat, or white layers, is chewy and tastes very fish but is tender. There are also protective layers between the skin and fat that is said to be even chewier than the fat and just as fishy. Smell wise there supposedly isn’t one so the struggle won’t be getting it to your mouth but rather swallowing it.
The dish pictured above looks pretty weird but tasty nonetheless right? Well, you might not think so after you find out what Huitlacoche translates to. In English, Huitlacoche means “sleeping excrement”. And if you feel like gagging at the name, we completely understand. Despite the off-putting name, the dish is actually pretty tame (and delicious.)
Corn smut is a type of fungus that affects normal corn kernels and turns them into the unusual looking blue-black puffs you see above. For most, this would mean that it’s time to throw the crop out but for Mexicans, it’s a chance to prepare a delicious treat. The dish can be served a number of ways but the most popular is to cook it in a skillet alongside onions, bell peppers and jalapenos then serve it with tortillas like a taco.
The taste is similar to eating mushrooms and other fungi: it’s delicate, soft, and has a very woody, earthy flavor. You can also still taste a hint of the corn alongside the delicious smoky flavor.
If you’re a fan of the Travel Channel and/or Food Channel, chances are you’ve probably heard of this dish. Everyone from Andrew Zimmern to the late Anthony Bourdain has experienced this delicacy and the reviews are overwhelmingly positive despite the preparation.
The Greenland shark, which on its own is strange looking, is beheaded and gutted before being placed in a shallow grave covered with sand and stones. After 3 months, the Hakarl is dug up, cut into strips, and dried before being served.
The biggest turn off regarding the meal is easily the smell and first-timers often gag when they come into contact with it. Because of the harsh smell, Hakarl is prepared far away from residential areas and kept in tight storages to prevent the scent from leaking out.
So what does it taste like? Well, that depends on the part of the shark you’re consuming. The soft white flesh from the body of the shark is said to possess a cheese-like texture while the belly meat, which is red in color, is much chewier. Those who have tasted it describe it as fishy, mild, or similar to bleu cheese.
But why try any of these foods?
After reviewing our list, this is probably the question that’s most digging at your mind (even though we were hoping it would be “when can I try these?” but hey we get it). Well the simple answer looks something like “you never know if you’ll like it until you try it”.
However, we think it’s important to sample dishes from around the world. Tasting a culture’s cuisine, even the strange ones, is the best way to learn about it and its people. So while the idea of eating fried tarantula might turn you off at first, it’s a great chance to mingle with locals and learn about their traditions. And chances are you might just discover your new favorite food!
Still not sold? Think about it for bragging/social media rights. You can be one of your few (or only) friends who has eaten moldy maggot cheese and lived to tell about it. Plus, these interesting dishes are definite social media attractants so you can expect a lot of attention on platforms like Instagram with the right tags and a picture of your unique meal.
Don’t forget to let us know which of these dishes you’d actually try and which ones are a hard no!