Part of travel is coming up against local foods that might raise your eyebrows. Here we take a global trip to those 'wha?!' plates, but remember, as author Eddie Lin of Lonely Planet's Extreme Cuisine says, 'The only difference between 'tasty' food and 'nasty' food is one letter.'
Witchetty grub: Australia
These chubby grubs have been a vital staple food for indigenous Australians for thousands of years. They grow to be about 7cm long and you can find them across central Australia in the root of the witchetty bush or gum tree, where they gorge on sap before metamorphosing into a moth - assuming you haven't eaten it first. So what does it taste like? Imagine biting into a small water balloon. The juices spread around your mouth like a swig of red wine, but the flavour is the essence of egg...or is it chicken?
Edible testicles come in all sizes - bull testicles (also called Rocky Mountain oysters) are larger, rooster testicles ('rooster fries') are smaller. The Chinese like rooster fries in a hot pot, Afghans skewer sheep fries and grill them as kebabs, and there's a whole festival dedicated to bulls' balls in Texas. To prepare them, just slice the testicle (your eyes may water in sympathy), peel off the membrane and sautee with lemon and sumac for a soft, spongy result.
This relative of the shark is equipped with a venomous barbed stinger at the end of its whip-like tail. The meatiest part of the stingray is the fins; Icelanders like their stingray rotten and fermented, while it's more popular fresh , spicy or barbecued in Malaysia and Singapore. Stingray meat is flaky yet dense and chewy and tastes like a mix of fish and lobster.
Sea cucumber: China
Okay, so it's not an actual cucumber, it's a sausage-shaped sea creature that you'll find in almost every Chinese seafood restaurant. You'll find the dried versions in markets and Chinese medicine shops. Rehydrate the dried ones in water for 12 hours, then braise it for two hours and serve it with vegetables. The flavour itself is pretty bland and the texture is slimy with a capital S so don't even bother with the chopsticks.
Seems insane to willingly eat something that could send you into a mess of convulsions, but a lot of Asian countries like to look on the bright side, seeing scorpions as a good source of protein rather than a good source of, well, death. In Beijing you can get them on skewers, in Thailand they're fried or soaked in whisky. So what do they taste like? Well, a little like popcorn, with crispy outsides and light and airy insides as the organs are evaporated by cooking.
Pig face: China
Hole-in-the-wall Chinese barbecue restaurants display their wares of pork and duck in the window, hanging from hooks without disguise or apology. Pig face is just that. Snap off the ear and eat it like a thick, chewy, greasy potato chip. Offer the eyeball to someone special. Eat the tender part of the cheek. Try not to think about if the shoe was on the other hoof...
Guinea pig: Peru
Most people know them as cute, squeaking little cartoon creatures, but in Peru, most homes have a few dozen guinea pigs (called cuy in Spanish) scampering in the backyard until they are barbecue-bound. When roasted they look like rat but taste like rabbit and the younger the cuy, the crispier the skin.
Forget peanuts or popcorn with a cold beer - in Oaxaca, Mexico it's all about chapulines (grasshoppers). Oaxacan restaurants will throw together tacos or guacamole with grasshopper as the main ingredient. The younger grasshoppers are preferred because of their tender texture and lack of wings. They are boiled, washed and then dry fried with lime, salt and chilli. They're light and crispy with a grassy, earthy flavour.
A pinhead's worth of the toxin in fugu (puffer fish) can kill 30 people. The poisonous parts of the fugu need to expertly removed by a licensed fugu chef. Fugu flesh is sliced tissue thin, so thin that the ornate design on the platter shows though when it's plated, but the taste? Well, it's virtually flavourless. But at least you're still alive. It's a bit of a rollercoaster.
Chicha: Latin America
This fermented drink is traditionally made of corn, cassava or fruit, chewed and moistened by Inca women. The key ingredient must have its starches broken down and converted to sugar. Some chicha utilise human spittle as a catalyst. Others just boil the ingredients then ferment them after cooling. Flavours vary depending on whether it's fermented or fresh, not to mention the source of the spit, but it's generally sweet.
Has your stomach turned at the sight of the more 'exotic' foods of the world? Let's hear all about it.