World Tour Highlights: 10 Weird or Scary Foods

As I mentioned in an earlier list, although I’m not a food fanatic I will try anything once (the sole exception to that rule is given an honourable mention below). Sometimes this leads me into strange culinary places. This list, the fifth in the World Tour Highlights series, presents in chronological order the weird things that ended up in my mouth. Some of them I liked and would eat again, and some… well, judge for yourselves.

1. Zebra (Namibia)

I encountered Zebra on my plate in Swakopmund, Namibia, at a restaurant specializing in game. Take away a zebra’s stripes and you’ve more or less got a donkey, and zebra tasted like I imagine a donkey would taste – strong and musky. Zebras are evil-tempered and insane, so I didn’t feel guilty about eating it.

2. Ostrich Eggs (South Africa)

I’ve had ostrich before and it’s good, healthy food. But I’d never had ostrich eggs until we visited Oudtshoorn, South Africa – the ostrich capital of the world. Ostrich eggs are massive, with thick shells. You can’t have them hard-boiled or sunny-side up, because they’re so hard and thick you have to smash open a small hole with a pointy rock or a hammer and then shake the insides out through the hole. Each ostrich egg is equivalent to 24 chicken eggs, and the taste is not that different. A little richer, maybe.

3. Camel Milk (India)

I’ve never really liked to drink any kind of milk, but when Sheryl and I visited a camel research institute in Rajasthan and they had camel milk for sale, I had to know. Thicker, a little more sour than cow’s milk. Gives you hideous-smelling gas later, though.

Image courtesy of Sheryl

4. Yak (Nepal)

High up in the Himalayas among the displaced Tibetan people, the yak is ubiquitous. Squat, hairy cattle with flat heads and stumpy legs, it’s sometimes hard to tell which direction they’re facing. In a village called Yak Kharka (which means “yak pasture”) we nearly got trampled by a yak stampede, and so that night I ate yak-meat as revenge. It tasted like beef, but stronger and gamier. And unfortunately I think my particular yak had been sitting around unrefrigerated for too long, and it brought on a case of food-poisoning – so the yaks won in the end.

5. Fried Eel Spines (Japan)

While staying with our friends Jun and Sayaka in Tokyo, Jun’s father (who owns an eel farm) sent along a box of eels, or unagi. It’s one of my favourite Japanese foods, but what I didn’t know was that their spines, carefully extracted and lovingly packed in the box, are also a delicacy. Jun and Sayaka fried them in oil and done like this, they’re greasy and crunchy and a bit addictive, like potato chips.

Image courtesy of Sheryl

6. Dog (Vietnam)

When you’re travelling in countries where you don’t speak the language, you have to take your chances with food a lot of the time. Hungry, Sheryl and I stopped for a bite in the big market in Nha Trang in Vietnam. Sheryl got her usual yellow noodles and I picked the least nasty-looking meat dish by pointing. Should have had a clue when the woman behind the counter made a “you really want that?” look with her eyebrows and then shrugged when I nodded. Eating it, it wasn’t the beef I expected – the taste and the texture were all wrong. Working through a quick process of elimination and realizing that it couldn’t be any red meat I was familiar with, I was left with only one possibility – I was eating dog-meat. It wasn’t bad at all, honestly. I’d eat it again, no problem. He wasn’t my pet, after all.

7. Weasel Crap Coffee (Vietnam)

In Nha Trang I got the chance to try cà phê Chồn - coffee made from beans that have been hand-picked out of the dung of the Asian Palm Civet. No, honest – this is a real thing. It’s claimed that enzymes in the civet’s digestive tract do something really good to the coffee bean. It’s hideously expensive in most places, but I tried it. I’m not a coffee snob – in fact I know next to nothing about coffee, and so it was probably wasted on me, but I thought weasel coffee was really very good.

8. Fried Tarantulas (Cambodia)

Cambodia’s bloody and terrifying history includes years of famine during the time of the Khmer Rouge. Villages had to eat whatever they could find just to stay alive. One such village is Skuon, halfway between the capital of Phnom Penh and the historical site of the Angkor temples. It’s famous for its signature food - fried tarantulas. The bus we were riding from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap happened to make a toilet stop at this village. With Sayaka, our travelling companion at the time, I had a look at the food stalls around the bus stand and sure enough, there was one woman in a stall with plates piled high with pan-fried black spiders the size of your palm. Sayaka and I bought half a dozen and brought them back onto the bus to eat in front of Sheryl, who is terrified of spiders. She’s still never forgiven me for that. People always ask, when I tell this story, if they tasted like chicken. Not at all. They tasted like spiders. Under the honey sauce they’d been fried in, they tasted like… lobster without the briny seafood flavour, if you can imagine such a thing. You’re supposed to eat the legs and head, but not the bum, which is full of nasty-tasting guts, silk fluid and spider poo. The head is particularly meaty. The only bad part is that those spiky little tarantula hairs get stuck between your teeth and at the back of your throat.

9. Durian Fruit (Malaysia and Indonesia)

Durian is called the King of Fruits, but not by me. It’s a huge delicacy in Malaysia and Indonesia. Durian season in Borneo coincided with our last couple of weeks in Southeast Asia, and the streets and markets were full of their unmistakable stench. The smell is so pungent and stomach-turning that lots of buildings and buses prominently display a No Durian Fruit sign. People kept telling me that it’s an acquired taste, that they taste much better than they smell, and that I shouldn’t judge until I’d tried their particular favourite variety. I tried a few, but though I did eventually get used to the smell - even developing a certain fondness for it - the taste always made me gag, and there’s no way in hell I’m ever putting durian fruit in my mouth again. I remember sitting in a ferry from Brunei to Pulau Labuan in Sabah with somebody else’s box of durian between my feet, and wondering if my nausea was due to the rough sea, the durian or the gory Thai martial-arts movie being shown. Probably all three.

10. Kangaroo (Australia)

I wasn’t about to leave Australia without trying kangaroo. It’s in all the supermarkets in the country - a dense, dark-red meat. I never bought any because it only came in massive portions, and everyone told me that you have to know how to cook it properly or it’s nasty. After almost six months in Australia I still hadn’t tried it. At the time, Sheryl and I were being very kindly hosted by a distant cousin of mine and her partner in Sydney. Phil took the matter in hand and threw some roo on the barbie for dinner one night. The right way to cook kangaroo, he told us, was hardly at all - rare, or even less. I liked it, but it was definitely a strange meat.

Honourable Mention: Half-Chicken Eggs (Cambodia)

Pong tea khon or “half-chicken” eggs are a great delicacy in Cambodia. They’re sold everywhere. They get an honourable mention on this list, even though I never ate one, because they’re the only food I’ve encountered on the trip that I just physically couldn’t bring myself to try. We had more than a few adventurous travellers tell us how they’d taken one bite and thrown up their last three meals. Half-chicken eggs are just that - fertilized chicken or duck eggs that have been given enough time for the chick inside to form halfway, but not to hatch, before they’re cooked. Biting into it, you bite into the half-developed fetus inside, all bloody and slimy. I just couldn’t do it, and I don’t even pretend to myself for a second that I regret it.


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4 Comments on this Dispatch:

January 19th, 2012

ummm…i rank everything on this list as “fucking ew” and one of the main reasons i never leave canada. although…as an over caffeinated marvel, a nice big steaming (haha)mug of weasel crap coffee does sound mighty mighty fine on a golden horseshoe -30 winter night…

¬ Remy Fallbrook
January 20th, 2012

Maybe a pet weasel, then you get the best of both worlds.

¬ Chris
January 20th, 2012

loving the lists!!

¬ Kendall McLean
January 20th, 2012

Heehee, thanks! Seems like I’m really just writing down all the rambling stories I told you over the days and weeks in various places. :)

¬ Chris
January 20th, 2012

I love Kangaroo meat. It is so lean and tasty :) yummy! can’t wait to try some of the other more ‘adventurous’ eats!

¬ luke
February 6th, 2012

I’ve eaten the Honorable mention in the Philippines, called Balut. Well, once is more than enough for me

¬ Wong Choong Cheok
February 7th, 2012

OMG I can’t believe you ate that. Actually, I can believe it… if anybody would, it would be you. But it’s good to know that there’s ONE thing you won’t eat twice! :)

¬ Chris
Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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