Food habits are shaped by environment, available ingredients, climate, and even factors like class and income. Though food is first and foremost a basic necessity, it is also a cultural symbol: Sushi is synonymous with Japan, fish and chips conjure up images of Britain, and tacos are associated with Mexico etc.
However, besides these common cultural symbols, many nations boast of “exotic” foods that are native to a region or a people. For example, Westernised nations may balk at eating a crisply fried Tarantula, but these giant spiders are a staple diet among Amazonian tribes. Or how about a plate of fresh bull’s testicles? A delicacy in Spain, it might well be considered unpalatable in other countries. Here’s a look at the “delicacies” that you will find on food plates around the world.
Cockscomb: Its preparation involves boiling it for an hour before using it as part of a stuffing for cannelloni. Spaniards swear by its spongy softness and very subtle taste.
Cabeza de Cordero: In plain English, this dish is lamb’s head. In Spain, it is split into two halves and baked with root vegetables. The head is served with eyes, tongue and brain intact. In Kyrgyzstan, the guest of honour is served this dish. The eyes are especially presented with respect, and refusing it is considered a grave insult.
Stink bugs: These little crawlies are of economic importance in Mexico and not least because they are eaten as taco filling, in Taxco and other regions of Mexico. The Mexican comestible bugs are called jumil, and are eaten alive.
Escamoles: If you come across a giant black Liometopum ant nest, among the roots of the agave, you will probably find a Mexican somewhere around harvesting its eggs. With its cottage cheese consistency and butter flavor, these eggs are added to guacamole and served up with tacos.
Gibnut with rice: The Gibnut, also known as Paca, is a nocturnal rodent that feeds on fruit, leaves and tubers. This highly prized game animal is served on the side with rice, or in a stew.
The bamboo chicken: The green iguana, popularly known as the bamboo chicken, is a favorite food among the locals in South America. The government is trying to stop the practice because these slow moving reptiles are critically endangered in the wild.
Asian countries like China, Hong Kong, Thailand etc are famous (or infamous) for the kind of things they will put on their menu. Everything from insects, to dog, to apes and snakes are game.
Snakes: Causeway Bay, in Hong Kong, faces quite a rush during snake season. Around this time, you will find on the menu dishes like ‘Five Kinds of Snake Soup’, ‘Fresh Snake Blood’ and ‘Snake Wine’ among others. In Beijing, look out a restaurant called Guo-li-zhuang that serves up a menu comprised entirely of animal reproductive organs including snake private parts. Their menu also offers deer and sheep fetuses. In Thailand, freshly served snake’s blood is believed to have medicinal powers.
Monkey toes and monkey brain: In Indonesia, they serve the toes deep-fried and the brain still attached to the skull of a living monkey.
Baby mice wine: Considered to be a tonic in Chinese and Korean medicine, baby mice are fermented in rice wine.
Camel tendons: The dish is a boiled, gelatinous mixture made from camel tendons.
Shiokara: This squid dish reflects the Japanese’s love for all cephalopods. Raw squid is served in fermented paste from fish or squid guts. Oh, and they have another type of dish that calls for a very brave person: live baby octopus. This love for seafood is reflected in another common dish: Eel icecream!
Donkey Salami: Yes, you read that right. In the Piedmont region of Italy, salami made from donkey meat is common. They are also known to use horsemeat in their salamis.
Casu Marzu: So, you’re a cheese aficionado, but this cheese is nothing like you’ve ever tried before. Casu marzu from Sardinia, is pecorino cheese that has been left outside to allow the cheese fly to lay its eggs. When the eggs hatch and the larvae start breaking down the fats in the cheese, it’s ready for human consumption live larvae an all.
Baalut: This delicacy does a roaring business in Philippines. It is basically a fertilized chicken or duck egg that is buried in the ground for a few weeks, and served fresh. What’s so exotic about it? The eggs are incubated till the fetus develops feathers and bones.
Dinuguan: Otherwise known as ‘Chocolate Pork’, this is a stew made from the blood, heart, liver and head of a pig.
Stinkheads: A dish native to the Yup’ik Eskimos, stinkheads are basically fish heads (traditionally salmon) that has been buried in the ground throughout summer.
Food defines a culture, and it’s one of the most basic elements that people identify with strongly. Taste and smells have a way of evoking memories of community and sharing that cannot be explained. So, what may be exotic to one may be plain fare to another. That is the beauty of multicultural food.
Article written on behalf of Global Kids Oz by Annie Besant
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Related site: www.globalkidsoz.com.au