Eating foods that look totally unfamiliar is something a lot of people dread; how do you know that you’re in for a culinary treat and not a gustatory disaster? If you’re the kind of person who is open to adventure and especially if you have a desire to travel, try to open your mind to some of the unfamiliar dishes that you will find along the way. It’s also important to remember that every country in the world has its own rich culinary heritage and ‘exotic’ food is really just food that is unfamiliar to you–sushi would not be considered ‘exotic’ in Tokyo, but hamburgers might!
As an adventurous traveler, keep a look out for foods made with endangered animals, advertised as being rare and exotic because of their illegal ingredients; you don’t want to be a part of the problem. There are plenty of other exotic foods that are available for expanding your palate and experiences that don’t damage any of our fragile ecosystems or wildlife. We’ve even composed a list of some of these exotic foods that you definitely must try!
Let’s take a gastronomic adventure…
1. Sushi, Japan
Sushi is a global favorite and, as such, accessible in many places outside of Japan. If you haven’t had much experience trying new foods, sushi could be a great place to start. Slices of raw (or cooked) seafood and various vegetables are rolled with seasoned rice. Sushi is eaten in many different forms and a lot of modern or fusion sushi restaurants offer less traditional rolls that are cooked or baked and cater to a Western palate if you’re not sure you’re ready to start right in with the raw fish.
2. Penang Assam Laksa, Malaysia
This is for all of you spicy-food lovers out there (or spicy-food lovers to be!) Malaysia’s most popular dish, penang assam laksa is a spicy-sour fish broth with noodles. Try not to drool: mackerel is flaked and poached in a broth spiced with tamarind, chili, mint, lemongrass, onion and pineapple. Absolutely delicious and bursting with flavor, you’ve got to try this classic Malaysian dish, but be warned: it’s a fiery one!
3. Cordyceps, China and Tibet
Cordyceps extract is made from the Cordyceps sinensis, known as ‘caterpillar fungus’. Why the strange name? Well, it grows on the larva of a caterpillar! Chinese and Tibetan traditional medicine have used Cordyceps for hundreds of years to treat a myriad of medical conditions. They are often grown in a vegetable medium, rather than on a caterpillar these days to ensure a purer product. Cordyceps can boost the immune system and even stimulate sexual arousal, making it a highly-sought delicacy and the focus of extended research.
4. Kopi Luwak, Indonesia
Coffee lover? Read on. This is the rarest and the most expensive coffee on this planet. But you’d be surprised where it gets its ‘exotic’ allure. It is actually taken from the feces of an Indonesian creature closely resembling a cat, called the Luwak. The feces are filled with the ripe coffee cherry beans that the Luwak’s stomach cannot digest! The Indonesians say that the stomach acids and enzymes give the beans their unique flavor and aroma. Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi are the three places famous for this $120-$300 per pound coffee.
5. Truffles in France or Italy
You may be familiar with chocolate truffles, a small, round chocolate modeled after this, the truffle mushroom. These delicate fungi tend to lose their incredible flavor during transport, so it is worth it to go straight to the source. If you want to try the real deal, Italy’s Piedmont region offers the slightly garlicky, white truffles and black truffles are at their best in Perigord, France.
6. Peking duck, China
Peking duck is a Chinese classic. The skin is coated in syrup, giving it that distinct shine. Served with onions and sweet bean sauce, it’s worth the effort finding a traditional restaurant while in China to sample this iconic delicacy.
7. Maine Lobster, USA
The sweet taste of fresh lobster is unrivaled, especially if you take a chartered yacht and eat it freshly pulled from the sea. It’s worth the trip, but be warned that a taste of the real deal may ruin Red Lobster for you for good.
8. Raw Oysters
If you’re a romantic, oysters are the way to go. Oysters have reputedly aphrodisiac qualities, making it the perfect food for a romantic evening. The rich, creamy texture contrasted with the saltiness of the sea and a variety of complimentary condiments makes raw oysters a favorite around the world.
9. Bird’s Nest Soup
Chinese chefs use swifts’ nests to make this soup, known as the ‘Caviar of the East’. You may be thinking of a nest made of twigs and leaves, but no–Swiftlets construct their nests with their saliva. Tasty, right? With its uniquely gelatinous, rubbery texture, it is one of the most expensive animal products ever consumed by humans with one bowl costing anywhere from $30-$2,500, depending on how much of the nest is used and the region where it comes from. The cost stems from the fact that the breeding season is short and that the nests are very hard to reach. Dexterous climbing and agility are required to fetch the nests. Hong Kong and the US are major importers.
10. Fugu, Japan
Sadly, yes: Mrs. Puff, Spongebob Squarepants’ driving instructor is considered a delicacy in Japan. Known as Fugu to the Japanese, the puffer fish is prized for its delicate flavor and supposed aphrodisiac qualities. Its worldwide status as an exotic food derives mainly from the fact that eating it is incredibly risky. If prepared incorrectly, Fugu can be lethal as some parts carry a poison that causes nearly instant paralysis and respiratory failure. Japanese chefs who prepare the dish are specially trained to remove the poison. New chefs who want to prepare this dangerous dish have to go through years of training to master the technique.
If you want a reputation for being an adventurous spirit, consider branching out not just outdoors but at the table! Nobody will question your daring after you recount your scrape with fugu fish or your willingness to eat an unnamed something on your travels through Peru or Alaska. Besides, you may discover some new favorites along the way!