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World’s most unusual foods – Part One

You are about to read my picks of the world’s most bizarre and unusual foods, some of which may be less than appetizing for most people. Warning for those who don’t want to spoil their lunch: Do not read either of the two parts of this article, skip them and find yourself something else to read.

Ok, here we go! You’ve heard the popular saying: “If can’t spell it, don’t eat it”, right? I will leave it up to you to decide after you’ve read this article or whether to go ahead or not, next time you come across a Kæstur hákarl.

I have travelled a lot and seen many strange and unusual foodstuff, often considered delicacies in their places of origin. The subject of what people eat has always been very interesting to me and I decided to compile a list of the most unusual foods I know about. I also did some research and made a combination of what I’ve seen and tasted, and what I’ve found on the net.

I am not recommending the consumption of these foods, just sharing. See the most unusual of the unusual – just don’t try to pronounce them.

Black chicken (or Silkie or wu gu ji) – Taiwan

(To start off, I will treat you gently with my first choice…)

Taiwanese black chicken

Share it, don't be stingy!

Black Chicken is considered a delicacy in Taiwan. Some people get put off by its unusual appearance but it actually quite interesting on terms of looks and taste. It takes a while to get used to the colour. It has black skin and bones, and the meat is slightly darker that of the usual white chicken.

In China, the Silkie is called wu gu ji — black-boned chicken. It has been prized for its medicinal value since the seventh or eighth century, it is seen as a kind of health food because it has a high level of anti-oxidants. Women who have just given birth eat it for energy. But its curative powers are not necessarily gender-specific.

In an Asian home, most often a Silkie will be made into a deeply flavored, aromatic, amber-colored soup, simmered or steamed with ginger, ginseng, dried wolfberries and dried red dates, also known as jujubes.

 

Chuño blanco (naturally freeze-dried potatoes) – Peru & Bolivia

(The sweet story of the bitter potato)

Andean people still use natural, traditional methods for processing white  “chuño blanco”, a process of freezing and dehydrating potatoes that may take up to 50 days. They take advantage of the unique geography and climatic conditions of the Andes: the freezing temperatures at night and strong sun in the daytime, these variations being more marked in the dry season when the nighttime temperatures frequently drop below 0° C. This is chuño making time, particularly in the coldest months of June and July. The widest variation of temperature in the Andes is daily rather than seasonal due to the combination of high altitude and geographical location in the tropics.

Thus, the extreme temperature variations in the Andes present the perfect environment for this ancient method of preserving otherwise bitter and inedible potatoes.

Here is how they do it:

Chuno blanco

I can pass for anything, really...

Soaking

Once frozen, potatoes are put into pits dug in the stones of a river- or streambed and left immersed in cold running water for up to 30 days.

Pre-peeling

Potatoes are once again exposed to freezing during the night; on the following day they are stepped on to peel off most of the skin and squeeze out almost all of the water they contain.

Drying

The peeled potatoes are exposed to direct sunlight for 10-15 days, until an almost complete dehydration is achieved. The water content is reduced to 14%.

Final peeling

Dehydrated potatoes are then rubbed against each other to remove the remaining bits of skin, the final step by which white chuño obtains its characteristic white chalky appearance and firm consistency.

These naturally freeze-dried potatoes are a treat in the local markets.

Pig’s Blood Cake (zhū xiě gāo) – Taiwan

(My experience from Taiwan shows that this is not your typical ice cream on a wooden stick…)

Womans hand holdinga pigs blood cake on stick

Some cake for dessert?

In Taiwan, pig’s blood cake is sold on a wooden stick, almost like we were used to buy our ice cream, when we were kids. Easily found at street markets, it’s a sweet treat generally made from pig’s blood and rice. It is found in many roadside stalls and if you ask nicely for it, the vendors will serve coated it with fresh peanut powder and some coriander. Then, you can dip it in different chili sauces.

How to find it when in Taiwan? Just go on any of the main streets nearby and when you see a long queue in front of the stall, the chances are you have found it. Mind you, you better go there before six in the morning, or they would be completely sold out after then.

Hurry up!

Live Octopus (sannakji) – South Korea

Mans hand lifting a glass lid, revealing a live baby octopus

Guess what's under this lid...

Unlike calamari which is still, octopus in South Korea often arrives at the table alive and moving.  The live baby octopus is cut up and served right away, usually with some sesame oil. Korean experts of the dish say it’s best to eat this dish quickly. The fun is the tentacles are still twisting, turning and fighting – which feels like hosting a party in your mouth as you attempt to chew them.

Dessert anyone?

Grasshoppers – Uganda

(How about a crispy grasshopper?)

Black woman about to put a fried grshopper in her mouth

Let me show you how you do it...

There are more than a dozen bug-eating countries on earth, but Uganda is probably topping the list. Caught during the rainy season that is around November and eaten cooked or raw, these are a locals’ favorite. Sold with or without wings and legs, they are easily found at the local markets.

If you’re going to eat a bug for the first time, go for something that is fried and crunchy. It’s much easier to keep down.

Durian – The King of Fruits (well, according to lovers) – Malaysia

Mans hand holding a whole Durian fruit

I can hold it like this for hours... as long as it's far away from my nose!

Greeny-yellow in colour and covered with spikes it has the appearance of an oversized Horse Chestnut; but it is the distinctive smell that sets it apart from other fruit. So strong is the smell of rotting flesh that in many Malaysian public places, such as hotels, buses and aircrafts they put up signs banning the durian (see the picture bellow). The ultra-strong aroma of this spiky fruit may turn off tourists, but many Malaysians love its doughy taste. Durian is reputed to have aphrodisiac properties. There is a Malay saying: “When the durians are down, the sarongs are up.”

Durian banning signThe taste of durians ranges from sweet to bitter, and in the case of durians, bitter does not immediate translate as bad. Some are dry, others creamy, like ice cream or chocolate. Good durians usually have a substantial amount of flesh, or body, between the skin and the seed. The flesh could be separated from the seed by the inner skin which itself is as tasty as the flesh.

To me it’s one of those things that you either love or hate!

Witchetty Grubs (large, white, wood-eating larvae) – Australia

These white, high-in-protein snacks are actually the larvae of moths, once a staple in the diets of some Aborigines, today in Australia, the humble witchety grub is enjoying a renaissance. So much so that Prince Charles was given one to eat on a recent visit to Alice Springs (he refused).

Witchetty grub is white and its head is black and yellow, with the length of 12cm long and a width of 3 cm. It lives in the roots of the Witchetty Bush, and is therefore called as the Witchetty grub. Witchetty grub is dug out of the trunks and roots of gum trees during the summertime.

They seem to enjoy it...

The aborigines used to eat it live and raw. Well, upscale restaurants roast the grubs like satays, these barbecue food is served as an appetizer and is highly nutritious. The center of the grub is quite juicy, it has a sweet, juicy flavor, quite like chicken, and to some it tastes like eggs. Supermarkets in Australia are selling tinned witchetty soups.

There has been a lot of aboriginal influence on Australia cuisine, which deserves admirations but eating witchetty grubs seems a bit weird to me.

Will be interesting to hear your comments…

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