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The Weirdest Foods From Around the World

Shark, pigeon, sheep, or maybe some brain, intestines, and liver – no, it’s not a map of the local zoo or the syllabus for your Bio 101 lab.  As many of us in America are used to a standard cheeseburger and a boring bag of potato chips, it is not surprising that food from other countries around the world can seem very unusual to our bland palates. Before many of you embark on your study abroad semesters or leave for a vacation this summer, check out some of these menus from other cultures and see if they leave your taste buds tingling or you running for the toilet.
Cow Feet
Ecuador is notorious for its unique cultural dishes, such as roasted guinea pig known as cuy. But Eric Ahearn, a junior at Case Western Reserve University, got to try cow hooves served in soup during his study abroad semester. His host dad convinced him to try the caldo de patas (patas meaning paws or hooves in Spanish) and he admitted, “I actually didn’t know exactly what I was eating until halfway through!” He described the hooves as having an odd rubbery texture, and it must have been pretty good because he still continued to eat the soup after he learned what was in it.

Stuffed Pigeon
Called hamaam, native pigeons are stuffed with seasoned rice and grilled in many restaurants and street vendors as a signature Egyptian dish. Windsor Hanger, our HC President and Publisher, tried stuffed pigeon on her trip to Egypt. “I’m a vegetarian, but I felt like it was once in a lifetime chance. You’re supposed to bite the neck off first – thankfully they’re decapitated. That was a little much for me. You literally pick up the whole cooked bird and bite into it. It was pretty primal.”

Fatty Goose Liver
A controversial delicacy from France, foie gras is made from force-feeding geese excessive amounts of corn. Feeding a goose with abnormal amounts of grain through a funnel causes the liver to grow to almost ten times the normal size, creating the fatty, rich, and buttery flavor. Duck foie gras is cheaper to produce and has become more popular in the U.S., though the force-feeding production method has been disputed as cruel and inhumane and has led it to become illegal in some countries.

Fermented Shark
Jensen Suther, a junior at Elon University, tried this Icelandic specialty called hákarl during his Spring Break from his semester abroad in Denmark. The basking shark is poisonous when fresh due to a high content of uric acid because sharks do not have kidneys to naturally remove the acid from the body, so the fermenting process turns most of the uric acid into ammonia. The process also softens the flesh and gives it a jelly-like consistency. It is traditionally served cubed with toothpicks and with the local spirit called brennivín, also known as Icelandic schnapps, with a shot “chasing” the piece of meat. Jensen’s non-Icelandic palate described the taste as “rubbing alcohol,” most likely due to the high ammonia content, but in Iceland it is considered a delicacy.

Check out Andrew Zimmern trying hákarl on his Travel Channel show Bizarre Foods.

The Philippines
Chicken and Duck Fetus
You might be thinking, “Why, a chicken embryo? I have a dozen sitting in my mini fridge right now,” but you would be wrong – this is a fetus.  In the Philippines, a special technique is used to continue incubating the egg in hot sand past its usual yolk stage into an almost fully developed baby chicken, and then boiled to stop the final development stages. Known as balut, the fetus is not quite old enough to have hard bones, a beak, feathers, or claws, and is eaten whole or in a few bites with a light garnish of lemon juice and salt. Like hotdogs in the U.S., balut is everyday food sold in street vendors and tastes just like a richer more textured hard-boiled egg.

Check out Anthony Bourdain trying balut on his show No Reservations

A traditional Scottish dish of a sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs mixed with onion, oatmeal, and a variety of spices, and then simmered inside the sheep’s stomach for several hours. Cheaper and commercialized versions found in supermarkets are cooked inside an artificial casing rather than the sheep’s stomach, and fried versions are sold in Scottish fast-food restaurants. While it does not sound very appetizing, haggis is universally popular and known for being extremely tasty.
Alicia Beckett, a junior at Case Western University, tried haggis at a pub in Scotland, and said it “tasted oily and salty, but it’s delicious! The oatmeal made it slightly chewy, plus an oily texture and savory flavor. It was served with mashed potatoes and turnips, with two oatmeal biscuits sticking into the haggis.”

Fried Lamb and Goat Intestines

Aylin Erman, a fellow HC writer and a senior at Harvard, lived in Turkey and described eating kokoreç: “They serve it as street grub and slab it between a cut loaf of bread. It happens to be one of the tastiest things ever! I LOVE it, but someone had to fool me into eating it before I knew what it was.” Animal intestines are a fairly common menu item in many cultures, with variations of different livestock’s stomachs appearing throughout the world, such as Italian tripe, so it must be pretty delicious.

So, who’s hungry?
Jensen Suther, Elon University
Alicia Beckett, Case Western Reserve University
Windsor Hanger, Harvard University and Her Campus Publisher & President
Aylin Erman, Harvard University and Her Campus writer
Eric Ahearn, Case Western Reserve University

Joanna Buffum is a senior English major and Anthropology minor at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.  She is from Morristown, NJ and in the summer of 2009 she was an advertising intern for OK! Magazine and the editorial blog intern for Zagat Survey in New York City. This past summer she was an editorial intern for MTV World's music website called MTV Iggy, writing fun things like album and concert reviews for bands you have never heard of before. Her favorite books are basically anything involving fantasy fiction, especially the Harry Potter series and “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell” by Susanna Clarke. In her free time she enjoys snowboarding, playing intramural field hockey, watching House MD, and making paninis. In the spring of 2010 she studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark, and she misses the friendly, tall, and unusually attractive Danish people more than she can say. After college, she plans on pursuing a career in writing, but it can be anywhere from television script writing, to magazine journalism, to book publishing.