Here’s where to wrangle the world’s weirdest foodstuffs into your stomach.
1. Rocky Mountain oysters, Montana, USA
Seafood in Montana? Uh, not exactly. Also known as prairie oysters, calf fries, cowboy caviar, and swinging beef, Rocky Mountain oysters are actually the deep-fried testicles of young bulls. Eating them is a tradition among western ranchers, who find themselves with a surplus of bovine cojones after the spring castrating season. While it may take balls (sorry, sorry) to bite into your first oyster, once you get a mouthful of the crispy-on-the-outside, creamy-on- the-inside goodness, you’ll be back for seconds (luckily they come in pairs). See if you’ve got the, uh, stomach for them at the annual booze-soaked Testicle Festival in Clinton, Montana.
Get more info about the Testicle Festival at testyfesty.com.
2. Chapulines, Oaxaca, Mexico
Scientists say insects will likely be a major source of cheap protein in the future. Well, in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, they’re way ahead of the curve. Here, grasshoppers known as chapulines have been a common bar snack and taco filling for ages. They’re usually toasted with salt and chilli, which gives them a pleasant crunchiness and tang. In fact, if you didn’t spot the tiny legs and antennae, you might easily think these crispy little critters were popcorn. But don’t take our word for it – look for the baskets of chapulines at the Mercado Juarez in Oaxaca City.
Oaxaca City’s Mercado Juarez is located between Flores Magón and Calle 20 de Noviembre.
3. Balut, Philippines
This Filipino delicacy of fertilised egg is better tasted than seen. Because peering at a tiny pink duck embryo, complete with half-formed beak and wing buds, might just put you off your snack. And that would be unfortunate, because balut is mighty delicious. Imagine scrambled egg mixed with tender chunks of poultry and just a smidge of pleasantly gamey liver. It’s usually served as a street food, boiled in the shell and served with salt, spices and vinegar. Crack the top of the shell and sip out the liquid broth before tackling the meat and yolk.
Look for balut in the street markets of Manila, where it’s sold by vendors with portable carts.
4. Snake soup, Hong Kong, China
A traditional treat in the rapidly vanishing working-class neighbourhoods of Hong Kong, this Cantonese delicacy tastes like ordinary hot and sour soup, complete with chunks of tofu and slivers of mushroom. But those strips of meat? They’re not chicken. Considered warming for the blood, snake soup is only served in winter, and only in a handful of old-fashioned restaurants that keep live snakes in wooden boxes in the dining room. She Wong Lam, in Hong Kong’s increasingly trendy Sheung Wan neighbourhood, is one of the few holdouts. Here, you can wash down your soup with a shot of snake-infused liquor. Bottoms up!
She Wong Lam is at 13 Hillier St in the Sheung Wan neighbourhood of Hong Kong Island.
5. Casu marzu, Sardinia, Italy
For most of us, the sight of food teeming with insects is an excellent indication that it should be thrown in the bin ASAP. But on the Italian island of Sardinia, the more maggots the merrier when it comes to the local cheese known as casu marzu, which uses the larvae of the cheese fly for maximum fermentation. This gives the cheese a pungency unrivalled by the sharpest Cheddar or most biting blue.
The legal status of casu marzu is currently dubious due to EU health regulations. Try asking at a Sardinian cheesemonger’s.
6. Virgin boy eggs, Dongyang, China
Funky eggs are a bit of a theme in Chinese cuisine. There are ‘century eggs’ preserved in ash and quicklime, eggs boiled in tea, and duck eggs packed in salty charcoal. But the funkiest of all is the so-called ‘virgin boy egg’ of Dongyang, a city with a population of 800,000 in the eastern Zhejiang province. These eggs are soaked and then boiled in the urine of prepubescent boys, ideally under 10 years old, then served in all their ammonia-scented glory. Locals say the eggs have amazing health properties, such as preventing heat stroke and promoting good circulation. Sounds like urine for a treat!
Dongyang is about five hours by train from Shanghai.
7. Lutefisk, Minnesota, USA
Norwegian immigrants brought this aged fish dish to the Midwestern United States, where it’s become far more common than it ever was in the motherland. As pale as a Norwegian in a Minnesota winter, lutefisk is white fish soaked in lye until it becomes nearly translucent. Its pungent odour belies a rather bland taste. It’s the disturbingly gelatinous texture that presents the real challenge to eaters. The classic venue for lutefisk-tasting is at a lutefisk supper at one of Minnesota’s many Lutheran churches or Sons of Norway lodges.
The Lutfisk Lover’s Lifeline (lutfiskloverslifeline.com) keeps an up-to-date list of lutefisk suppers across the upper Midwest.
8. Witchetty grubs, Australia
A grub as big as your hand that leaks yellow goo and tastes like scrambled eggs? OK, colour us curious (and more than a little queasy). Aboriginal Australians have been chowing on these juicy insects since time immemorial, as they’re an excellent source of protein. The grubs live underground, where they feed off the roots of decaying trees. Women and children were traditionally responsible for digging up the fat, wriggling treats, typically eaten raw. As you’re unlikely to find witchetty grubs on the menu of Sydney gastropubs or Melbourne bistros, sample them on a ‘bush tucker’ tour of the Outback.
Boshack Outback, a farm 90 minutes from Perth, offers Outback tours which include a taste of witchetty grubs (boshackoutback.com).
9. Guinea pig, Peru
Many of us fondly remember our pet guinea pigs. So sweet! So fuzzy! So fond of nibbling on their food pellets and snoozing in their cedar shavings! Well, in the Andes Mountains of South America, the homeland of the guinea pig, the adorable rodents are what’s for dinner. Known as cuy in Peru, guinea pigs are eaten roasted, grilled and fried. Diners order either the front end or the back end of the cuy, much as one might order the breast or thigh quarter of a chicken. This is appropriate, as cuy meat tastes very much like poultry. What’s more, eating cuy is much better for the environment than eating beef, as raising guinea pigs causes a fraction of the carbon output of raising cows.
In the Peruvian city of Cusco, the restaurant Kusikuy (Calle Suecia 339) means ‘happy little guinea pig’ in Quechua. Maybe not so happy?
10. Durian, Singapore
Incongruously un-food-like words such as ‘turpentine’, ‘gym socks’, ‘toilet’ and ‘rotting corpse’ pop up with disturbing frequency when food writers try to describe this wildly popular Southeast Asian ‘king of fruits’. The size of a bowling ball with evil-looking jagged green spikes, the durian looks like a medieval weapon. But its true power lies in its smell, which is so strong it’s banned on public transport in Singapore. Crack open the durian and scoop out its creamy yellow flesh, and you’ll be rewarded with a sweet yet strange flavour halfway between vanilla pudding and onions. This is the definition of ‘acquired taste’.
Many Singapore locals consider Kong Lee Hup Kee Trading on Pasir Ris to be the top durian stall in the country.