Food: it’s a subjective thing. One person’s delicacy is the next person’s abomination. The everyday dishes some of us have grown up with and love are viewed by others as, frankly, horrifying. 

It’s only when you begin to travel that you realise the true breadth of the world’s different cuisines, that you discover all the edible things that seem so strange and questionable to you, and yet are considered normal to everyone else. This is one of the joys of exploring the world: challenging your perceptions and challenging your tastebuds.

If you encounter any of the following dishes, you’ll have to do both.

San-nakji, South Korea

It’s not the taste that’s most challenging about san-nakji, the Korean dish of raw octopus tentacles with sesame oil and sesame seeds. Rather, it’s the look of it. And the knowledge of what it is. In san-nakji, the octopus is served so fresh as to be still wriggling. Diners are advised to chew quickly, lest one of the tentacles attach itself to the inside of your mouth and choke you. It’s… an interesting experience.

Rocky Mountain Oysters, Colorado

Oysters, you think – they’re not too bad. But then, these are from Colorado. Where do they farm oysters in land-locked Colorado? The answer is that they don’t. The “oysters” served here are bulls’ testicles, which are floured, salted and deep-fried, and served up on cattle ranches and at festivals, and even at the stadium that hosts the Rockies, Colorado’s Major League Baseball team. And you know what? They don’t taste too bad.

Green Ants, Australia

It’s a little confronting when you spy a nest of green ants on a tree and someone scoops a handful of them up, claps their hands a few times and then pushes the treats in your direction. I’m supposed to eat these? But the truth is that this ancient form of bush tucker is actually pretty tasty – green ants have a peppery, citric taste that works as the perfect breath mint.

Hakarl, Iceland

The Greenland shark is poisonous when eaten fresh, which you’d think would be all the information most people would need. Just leave it alone. However, not those from Iceland, who take something poisonous and quite possibly make it worse, burying it in sand and gravel and allowing it to rot for up to 12 weeks – at which point it’s apparently ready for consumption, despite the highly ammonic taste and the reek of rotting fish.

Cuy, Peru

There’s something confronting about eating an animal you would normally consider a pet, and that’s what awaits travellers in Peru keen to dine on cuy. Cuy is guinea pig – it’s an onomatopoeic name inspired by the squeaky “cuy” sound the furry creatures tend to make. It’s also a standard ingredient in the high Andean parts of Peru, where guinea pigs are flash-fried and eaten with potatoes. The taste? A little gamey.

Airag, Mongolia

To imagine the taste of airag, every Mongolian’s favourite fermented horse milk beverage, simply consider the procedure involved in its creation: fresh horse milk is placed in a leather bag and then hung outside for a few days, where it’s stirred with a wooden stick every now and then to encourage it to ferment. The resulting beverage is sour, lightly effervescent, and mildly alcoholic. Oh, and an acquired taste.

Tarantulas, Cambodia

Arachnophobes, close your eyes. This is about to get ugly. In Cambodia, it’s a normal thing to eat tarantulas. Big, fat, hairy tarantulas. These eight-legged beasts are deep-fried, lightly salted, and eaten whole. The legs are crispy and frankly pretty tasty (that’ll be the oil and salt). The torsos, meanwhile, are much softer and gooier and no, you really don’t want to think about what the goo actually is.

Shiokara, Japan

The food of Japan is so good that is comes as a genuine surprise when you discover something that’s not immediately delicious. And shiokara is just such a thing. To make shiokara, raw squid is chopped into small pieces and then mixed with that same squid’s salted, fermented innards. It’s a classic beer snack to the Japanese, and yet a huge turn-off to everyone else.

Springbok, South Africa

There aren’t many countries that eat their national emblems. Australia does, regularly dining on kangaroo, which also appears on the country’s coat of arms. And South Africa is another: the nation’s proud rugby team is known as the Springboks, and that dainty antelope is also fair game for the dining table. A good springbok stew is actually a thing of culinary beauty.

Balut, the Phillipines

Balut is one of those dishes that appears innocent enough until you dig a little deeper and its true horror is revealed. This Filippino delicacy is a duck egg, though a duck egg that’s been fertilised and contains a duck embryo. The egg is boiled as it normally would be, and then eaten straight from the shell. To call it a challenge would not even be doing it justice.


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