75 Unique, Strange, and Exotic Foods To Try While Travelling

One of the joys of travel is sampling exotic foods available around the world. Here are 75 examples of the most wonderfully strange foods you can find.

“What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?”

This is one question sure to deliver an interesting conversation with people who love to travel. In fact, three in four travellers pick their destinations based on the local food.

Of course, eating pizza in Italy or Pad Thai in Thailand is one thing. But what about those really exotic foods — the insects, innards, stinky fruits, and other bizarre delicacies featured on our favourite travel shows?

In today’s culinary adventure, I’ve compiled a list of strange and unique foods from around the world. From jellied moose noses to deep-fried spiders and edible ant larvae, here are 75 dishes and snacks most people don’t even know exist…

Durian is one of the most unusual fruits on the planet. Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Exotic Foods to Explore in Asia

Let’s begin our journey in Asia, the world’s largest continent and home to a staggering 4.7 billion people. With so many different cultures and places to explore, it’s no wonder Asia has some of the most exotic food you could ever imagine.

1. Durian (Southeast Asia)

We’ll begin our journey with one of the most infamous fruits on the planet — the spiky, stinky durian. (Trust me, you’ll smell it before you see it).

Durian’s scent is so pungent it’s actually banned on flights and public transportation in most Asian nations.

With a smell reminisce of sweaty gym socks, a taste like rotten onions, and a texture like soft custard, it’s no wonder the “King of Fruits” can bring down even the most stalwart TV food show hosts.

2. Balut (Philippines)

Popular in the Philippines, China, and other East Asian nations, balut — a fertilised duck egg embryo — definitely qualifies as an exotic food.

After incubating for 14-18 days, the egg is boiled and cracked open so diners can eat the foetus right out of the shell. Vietnam’s version, hot vit ion, may incubate the egg for up to 22 days, resulting in a more recognisable duckling with feathers and bones.

3. Fugu (Japan)

Ready to try a weird food that’s more poisonous than cyanide? Enter fugu — AKA blowfish — one of the most exotic foods to come out of Japan.

Fugu must be carefully prepared by a professional chef to ensure the poisonous parts are removed. In fact, fugu chefs must train for years, pass rigorous testing, and receive a national license in order to prepare and serve blowfish. (Kids, don’t try this at home!)

4. Fried Tarantulas (Cambodia)

When protein options are limited, you have to eat what’s readily available. In parts of rural Cambodia and Thailand, that means spider is on the menu.

It’s common to see roadside stalls serving heaping piles of whole fried tarantulas (rolled in garlic or sugar) in these countries. It’s a great photo op for tourists, but it’s not just for show, as those crunchy spider bits are considered a delicacy for the locals.

5. Sannakji (South Korea)

If you’re ready to go into battle with your food, hop a flight to South Korea and get ready to try sannakji — that’s the Korean word for “live octopus.”

The tentacles are chopped up, lightly seasoned in sesame oil, and served raw and wriggling on a plate. The (still very active) tentacles will then wrap around your chopsticks and try to stick to the inside of your mouth and throat as you swallow them.

6. Shirako (Japan)

If you think live octopus tentacles are strange, why not travel to Japan and order a plate of shirako — AKA fish semen?

Usually made from cod sperm, shirako is commonly served atop rice or deep-fried in tempura batter. Some diners describe its taste as milky with a texture like brains, although others say it’s not that different from the traditional fish roe.

7. Fried Insects (Thailand)

Visit any night market in Thailand and you’re sure to see plenty of deep-fried bugs on display. Grasshoppers, silkworms, locusts, spiders — the list goes on and on.

Grab a handful of worms and munch on them like popcorn or (if you’re really feeling brave) try a fried scorpion on a stick. And don’t worry, these strange foods don’t taste as strange as you’d expect — they mostly taste like the oil they’re fried in.

8. Ice Goby (Japan)

If the sannakji in Korea didn’t satisfy your desire to eat live creatures, head over to Japan and order some Shirou no odorigui.

Commonly called “ice goby,” this delicacy is a species of tiny fish eaten — you guessed it — very much alive. Piled in a shot glass with a dash of soy sauce, you’ll throw the shot back and (enjoy?) the wriggling sensation as the fish descend to your stomach.

9. Grilled Dog (China, Korea, Southeast Asia)

It’s shocking to most Westerners, but dog is a staple protein in many countries across East Asia.

Popular in roadside stalls, it’s served in a variety of ways — grilled, fried, rolled into sausage, or made into soup. If the thought of it is simply too heartbreaking, we won’t judge you for giving this exotic food a miss.

Century egg both looks and sounds like an exotic dish. Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

10. Century Egg (Hong Kong)

You might also hear them called hundred-year or even thousand-year eggs, depending on which part of China you’re visiting. The name is a bit of a misnomer, though, as the process takes just a few weeks or months.

Starting with a chicken or duck egg, the egg is “preserved” in a mixture of salt, ash, clay, quicklime, and rice. As it ages, the yolk becomes dark and creamy while the white develops a salty flavour and jelly-like texture.

11. Sour Swallows (Laos)

A summertime speciality of northeast Laos, travellers will see nok ann toong featured on many menus — AKA pickled or sour swallows.

After fermenting in huge jars, the tiny birds are either fried and eaten whole or cooked into a swallow stew. Between the overwhelmingly sour flavour and the crunchy bits of bone and beak, you’ll need a stomach of steel to get through this dish.

12. Wasp Crackers (Japan)

If you ever find yourself in the Japanese town of Omachi, don’t miss their local delicacy — the aptly named wasp cracker. It is exactly what it sounds like: rice crackers baked with whole digger wasps.

The flavour is a mix of sweet and savoury and some say the wasps taste like burnt raisins. Maybe if you think of it as a chocolate chip cookie (replacing the chocolate chips with wasps), then it will sound more appealing.

13. Starfish (China)

In parts of China, Micronesia, and Southeast Asia, don’t be surprised to see street vendors selling whole starfish on a stick.

Some species are poisonous, so it takes a local to know which ones can safely be prepared and eaten. If you’re brave enough to try it, you might be pleasantly surprised by its sweet, crab-like flavour.

14. Cat Meat (Vietnam)

Here’s another one that may be tough for Westerners: cat meat.

Especially popular as a street food item in Vietnam, vendors often sell it grilled, fried, or in some type of soup. We’ve been told it tastes like chicken, but we probably won’t try it for ourselves anytime soon.

15. Basashi (Japan)

What steak tartare is to France, basashi is to Japan. But horse lovers beware: This popular delicacy is made from thinly sliced raw horse meat and is served sashimi style with ginger and soy sauce.

If you can get past the idea of eating horse meat, you’ll likely enjoy its flavour reminisce of high-quality beef or mild venison.

16. Fried Locusts (Myanmar)

Cambodia has tarantulas. Thailand has silkworms. Neighbouring Myanmar didn’t want to be left out of the exotic bug market, so its street food speciality is fried locusts.

Pro tip: It’s helpful to ask a local how to eat it, as you’ll want to remove the sharp parts of the legs and thorax before you chow down.

17. Giant Ant Eggs (Laos)

In addition to fried giant ants, you can try their eggs the next time you visit Laos.

Made from fresh larvae, the outside is slightly crunchy while the inside is full of creamy, sweet liquid. Popular in soups and curries, this “strange food” is actually full of vitamins, minerals, and protein.

18. Snake Whiskey (Thailand, Laos)

Want to take your night out on the town to the next level? During your next visit to Southeast Asia, keep an eye out behind the bar for a bottle of snake whiskey.

It won’t be hard to miss — there’s a literal snake inside the bottle, fermenting away in its permanent alcoholic bath. Despite the name, the liquor is generally made from sake or rice wine, not whiskey.

19. Crocodile (Cambodia)

Cambodia may not be the only part of the world where they eat giant reptiles, but they’re perfected one dish here — crocodile amok.

Amok is the national dish of Cambodia, a curry-type stew served in a banana leaf (with just the right amount of heat). Add in some surprisingly tender crocodile meat — yes, it tastes like chicken — and you’ll tick one more delicious item off your exotic foods bucket list.

20. Ox Head (Oman)

In Oman and surrounding nations in the Middle East, many types of meat are prepared in a traditional shuwa. Basically a communal fire pit, the freshly butchered meat is left to cook for two days before the feast begins.

The thought of eating an ox head (or any head, for that matter) might seem jarring, but the meat is fall-off-the-skull tender and on par with any slow-roasted meats you’ve tried at home.

21. Grilled Rat (India)

If you find yourself in Northeast India during the festival season, don’t be surprised if you’re invited to a fresh rat roast.

Those little creatures we exterminate in the West are a highly prized delicacy in this region, especially to the tribespeople of Arunachal Pradesh. Usually boiled in spices and finished on the grill, rat meat is reminiscent of a rubbery version of chicken.

22. Tavuk Gosgu Chicken Dessert (Turkey)

You don’t usually see “chicken” and “dessert” in the same sentence, let alone the same menu item! But if you travel to Turkey, you’ll find just such a delicacy that traces its origins to the Ottoman Empire.

Tavuk Gosgu is actually must tastier than it sounds. It’s similar to a rice pudding with its creamy texture and flavours of butter, sugar, and vanilla — with the addition of boiled shredded chicken breast.

23. Tuna Fish Eyeballs (Japan)

In a country that eats fish semen, would it surprise you that they also eat fish eyeballs? It might sound like an ancient tradition, but it only became popular in the past 30 years.

Usually served fried with soy sauce and white wine, the texture and flavour are similar to soft-boiled eggs. Bonus: They’re also packed with nutrients that are great for heart and brain health!

24. Brain Curry (India)

No, it’s not the zombie apocalypse — it’s a (surprisingly tasty) delicacy in different parts of India.

The fresh, raw brain of a goat or lamb is stir-fried with tomatoes, onions, and various spices and served with gravy or dahl. The texture is soft and creamy and takes some getting used to, but it’s packed with protein, fatty acids, and other vital nutrients.

25. Beondegi Silkworms (Korea)

Like durian fruit, Korea’s beondegi silkworms are another food you’ll smell before you see.

A beloved street food snack, the silkworms are wok-fried and served in a cup with a toothpick for easy snacking. If you can get past the pungent smell, you’ll notice an earthy, slightly gritty texture as you chew the worms.

26. Airag (Mongolia)

Also called kumis, this drink made from fermented mare’s milk is popular throughout Mongolia.

Fermented over a couple of days, the slightly alcoholic liquid is then strained and stirred to completion. Its taste is slightly sour and slightly sweet and has been called a cross between buttermilk and champagne.

Escargot is one of the better-known unusual foods from Europe. Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Strange Foods to Sample in Europe

Asia is often in the spotlight when it comes to exotic foods, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find weird food closer to home. Here are some strange foods from the continent of Europe that are sure to tickle (or possibly confuse) your tastebuds.

27. Hakarl (Iceland & Greenland)

The next time you’re in the far North Atlantic, tap into your Viking roots and try some hakarl — AKA fermented shark meat. This delicacy of Greenland and Iceland is tough, pungent, and definitely not for the faint of heart.

Because sharks expel urine from their entire body, their flesh is full of uric acid. To produce hakarl, shark meat is hung vertically and left to dry for months (or even years) in the sun and wind. The process breaks down most of the acid in the shark meat, but you’ll still need a shot of Brennevin liquor to wash it down!

28. Casu Martzu (Italy)

Don’t let the innocent-sounding name fool you — this Italian cheese from the island of Sardinia is chock full of live maggots.

But wait, it gets worse. Fly larvae are purposely introduced to the cheese to speed up the decomposition process. And when you cut into it, the interior is soft and full of translucent white worms.

29. Surstromming (Sweden)

Along the coast of Sweden, you’ll find surstromming featured on restaurant menus or sold in tin cans at markets.

What is this Swedish delicacy? It’s Baltic herring fermented in salt water. Perhaps it’s not the strangest item on our exotic foods list, but it’s worth a try if you’re travelling through Sweden.

30. Escargot (France)

Escargot is the French word for “snails,” a delicacy that’s popular throughout France (and in French restaurants worldwide).

Typically baked with butter, garlic, and parsley, the snails are served whole and inside their shells. You’ll be given a special set of utensils — a snail tong and a snail fork — to carefully extract the snails and enjoy their fluffy, tender texture.

31. Black Pudding (United Kingdom)

Common throughout the UK and Ireland, black pudding is the British Isles’ version of mainland Europe’s blood sausage.

Made from various types of meat, oatmeal, and a fair amount of pig’s blood, it’s impossible to miss the distinct black colour of the sausage. You can enjoy it boiled, fried, or grilled as part of a traditional full breakfast.

32. Haggis (Scotland)

To the Scots, eating haggis is as common as playing the bagpipes. But to the rest of us, a savoury pudding of sheep’s liver, lungs, and heart may not immediately sound appealing.

If you can get past the ingredient list and give it a try, you might be pleasantly surprised by its crumbly texture and warm, peppery flavour. It’s especially tasty with a side of mashed turnips and mashed potatoes.

33. Moose Cheese (Sweden)

Exactly what it sounds like — cheese made from moose milk — moose cheese is certainly one of the most unique foods on our list.

It’s available in just one place: The Elk House in the Bjurholm region of Sweden, where three female moose are milked daily. At a whopping $500 per pound, it’s one of the most expensive (and quite tasty) cheeses in the world.

34. Frog Legs (France)

You’d never think a slimy creature from the swamp would feature on some of the world’s finest menus. But thanks to France and their love of frog legs, that’s exactly what’s happened.

Flash-fried and served in a traditional sauce of butter, garlic, and parsley, this is one of those exotic foods that will surprise your palate. The meat is tender and juicy and yes, it really does taste like (delicious) fried chicken!

35. Stargazy Pie (England)

A Christmas tradition in Cornwall, England, stargazy pie doesn’t sound so exotic at first. It’s a savoury baked pie filled with fish (usually pilchards), potatoes, and eggs, topped with a flaky pastry crust.

Here’s where it gets weird, though. The dish is garnished with whole fish heads “peeking up” through the crust — as if gazing up at the stars.

36. Reindeer (Norway)

In northern Europe, it’s not uncommon to find reindeer meat featured in soups, sauces, stews, and casseroles.

Although it sounds exotic to foreigners, it’s a staple of traditional Nordic life. After all, it’s abundant, rich in nutrients, and similar to other types of venison.

37. Foie Gras (France)

Popular across France and in fine French restaurants globally, foie gras is fattened goose or duck liver. The flavour is fatty, rich, and delicate, and it’s delicious on its own or as an accoutrement to steak.

38. Baby Eel (Spain)

You’ve probably eaten eel (or at least eel sauce) in a sushi roll, but if you travel to the Basque region of Spain, you’ll have the chance to try a local delicacy — baby eel.

Known locally as “angulas,” they’re typically served hot in a simple sauce of olive oil and red pepper. Save this dining experience for a special occasion, though, since angulas sell for up to 1,000 euros per kilo.

39. Salo (Ukraine)

Popular in Ukraine and other Eastern European nations, salo consists of cured pork served with or without the skin.

That might not sound so strange, so why does salo belong on our list of exotic foods? Mostly because it’s all fatback with no lean cuts of meat.

40. Muktuk (Greenland)

The native Inuit and Chuckchi peoples of Greenland live in one of the coldest, harshest climates on earth.

One way they’ve survived over the centuries is by eating muktuk, made from the blubber and skin of whales. It can be eaten raw, fried, pickled, or even frozen.

41. Head Cheese (Various Cultures)

Despite its name, head cheese is not cheese and contains no dairy products at all. Rather, it’s a cold-cut style “meat jelly” made with leftover parts of pigs or calves.

It often includes the tongue, feet, heart, and other innards, simmered in a naturally gelatinous stock until it cools and firms. As you might have guessed, it arose out of necessity as a peasant food during Europe’s Middle Ages.

Fresh rocky mountain oysters cooking on an outside grill. Surely one of the most exotic foods in America? Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Weird Food From the Americas

America might have given us “common” foods like hamburgers and tacos, but that doesn’t mean Americans can’t get weird in the kitchen. Here are some unique foods to sample the next time you’re travelling across the pond.

42. Jellied Moose Nose (Canada)

Jellied moose nose is Canada’s answer to Europe’s head cheese.

It’s made with (you guessed it) the snout of a moose, which is cooked down into a brothy liquid and cooled into a savoury, gelatinous “jelly.”

43. Alligator (Southeast United States)

In Florida, Louisiana, and other parts of the USA’s Deep South, don’t be surprised to see alligator featured on bar menus.

Usually it’s the tail meat that’s diced up, battered, and fried, served with some type of sweet or spicy dipping sauce. The surprisingly tasty flavour is reminiscent of lemony chicken.

44. Rocky Mountain Oysters (Western United States)

This misnomer can really get you into trouble, as Rocky Mountain oysters do not come from the sea.

Rather, they come from unfortunate bulls who have their testicles removed. The “oysters” are then deep fried and commonly served as bar food in the western half of the United States.

45. Rattlesnake (Southwestern United States)

We know you’re tired of hearing about exotic foods that taste like chicken, but here’s one more — rattlesnake.

Typically served diced up, battered, and fried, the meat is sweet and tender. And since the snake’s venom is contained solely in its fangs, you don’t have to worry about getting sick from trying this “weird food.”

46. Escamoles (Mexico)

South of the border, you’ll find a strange food that’s nutty and buttery and — at first — you could even mistake for cottage cheese.

Upon closer inspection, however, you’ll realise that Mexico’s escamoles are actually made of edible larvae and the pupae of ants.

47. Tacaca Soup (Brazil)

Dare you try this Amazonian rainforest food that will leave your mouth completely numb?

Brazil’s spicy tacaca soup is made with peppers, dried shrimp, and the leaves of the jambu plant, which gives diners a bizarre (but completely safe) numbing sensation inside the mouth.

48. Pequi Fruit (Brazil)

Farmers grow hundreds of types of fruit in Brazil, most of which (like the pequi) you’ve probably never heard of.

Always eaten cooked and usually added to savoury dishes, the pequi is unique for its spiny pit that some have compared to a porcupine’s quills. If you decide to try it, get the canned version that has those pesky spikes removed.

49. Guinea Pig (Ecuador)

If you can get past the idea of eating an adorable furry rodent, give guinea pig a try — it’s one of the most beloved and popular dishes in Ecuador.

Usually served grilled or roasted, the skin crisps up like pork crackling while the meat stays tender and a bit gamey (like rabbit meat). Expect it to be served whole, including the head, teeth, legs, and claws.

50. Purple Potatoes (Peru)

Perhaps you’ve seen purple sweet potatoes (AKA taro) in your travels around Asia. But did you know they have a savoury cousin that originates in the mountains of Peru?

Peruvian purple potatoes are starchy, earthy, and nutty, similar to your typical russet potatoes. In addition to their delightfully bright colour, they’re also packed full of healthy antioxidants and vitamins.

In other words, it’s not quite the same type of potatoes found in potato chips!

Time to finish with 25 quick-fire exotic foods to look out for on your travels. Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Bonus: 25 More Funny Foods From Around the World

Can’t get enough of this exotic foods list? Here are even more bizarre culinary offerings from destinations across the globe.

51. Scorpions (Mexico): Served flash-fried with spicy chillies or rolled up in scorpion tacos

52. Huitlacoche (Mexico): An Aztec dish made of fungus that grows on ears of corn

53. Green Rum (Curacao): A potent, bright green Caribbean rum made with a closely guarded secret recipe

54. Tripe Soup (Nicaragua): Known as “mondongo” and made from the lining of cow stomach

55. Big Butt Ants (Colombia): Roasted, salted (and pregnant) leaf-cutter ants

56. Alpaca (Peru, Bolivia): A mild, tender, low-fat red meat, prepared in a variety of ways like beef or pork

57. Sea Urchin Sandwich (Chile):  Salty, rich and luscious, often served in a hot pressed sandwich

58. Witchetty Grubs (Australia): Larvae that are eaten raw or flash-cooked over hot ashes

59. Vegemite (Australia): Bitter, salty, brown spread made from leftover Brewer’s yeast

60. Kangaroo Meat (Australia): Rich, lean, and tender red meat akin to beef

61. Paua (New Zealand): AKA abalone or a large type of sea snail or mollusc

62. Flying Fox (Vanuatu): A fancy term for a flying bat, usually served whole and roasted, grilled, or fried

63. Mopane Worms (South Africa): Large caterpillars that can be eaten fried, grilled, dried, or raw

64. Stuffed Pigeon (North Africa, Middle East): An ancient delicacy stuffed with spiced rice and grilled whole

65. Camel Meat (North Africa, Middle East): Comparable in flavour to beef and often served as burgers or steaks

66. Molokhia (Egypt): A fragrant green sauce or soup made from mild spices and minced jute leaves

67. Sheep’s Head (Morocco): Crusted in salt and spices and roasted whole

68. Poutine (Canada): A popular dish of fried potatoes, savoury gravy, and cheese curds

69. Scrapple (Northeast United States): Porkscrap “meatloaf” served sliced and pan-fried

70. Prickly Pear (Southwestern United States): The sweet fruit of a prickly pear cactus plant

71. Stinkheads (Alaska, United States): A traditional Inuit food of fermented salmon heads

72. Chicken Feet (Various Cultures): Crunchy, gelatinous, and popular in cultures around the globe

73. Animal Hearts (Various Cultures): Robust, gamey, chewy, and full of vitamins

74. Raw Oysters (Various Cultures): Just crack open the shell and slurp them down — popular in coastal regions across the world

75. Various Animal Penises (Various Cultures): From donkey penis in China to bull penis in Jamaica, this might be one of the weirdest foods on the planet!


Expand Your Palate With These Unique Foods

How many of these strange and exotic foods have you already tried? Which ones will you put on your bucket list?

While they might be considered weird or unusual to us, keep in mind that they’re part of the culinary traditions in their respective regions.

So, no matter what you’re thinking internally, always be polite and respectful as you try exotic dishes on your travels! For more tips on how to be a responsible tourist, click here.

 

Author: Danny Newman

Title: Writer and Content Creator

Expertise: Travel, Digital Nomadry, Outdoors, Blogging

Danny Newman is a writer, content creator, and digital nomad from the UK. He founded the travel and lifestyle blog What’s Danny Doing, a popular resource for people seeking more adventure, self-discovery, and purpose. A nationally syndicated writer, Danny’s work features in dozens of online publications, including MSN.com and news sites across the US.

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