I can’t say it enough, (and I do, often) food is one of the best and most informative ways to experience a new culture. However, after hearing about a friend’s recent (strange/gross/wild) cultural eating experience in Peru (exactly what that was, we’ll come back to in a moment) I’m starting to think that it’s not just the variety of authentic cuisines that helps to define a new place, but often the experience of stepping completely outside of your (culinary and otherwise) comfort-zone in the process.
Deep, I know. But think about it for a minute, if someone offered you fish eyeballs, pig hoofs or alligator at your local diner, would you even think twice about saying no? Probably not.
So what is it that gets us crazy travellers to embark on weird and wild culinary adventures? Perhaps it’s the desire to become a part of a new place, a new culture, a new experience. Because, as any traveller knows, food isn’t just about filling your belly with calories it’s about embarking on a cultural experience.
Take my friend’s trip to Peru for example. She’s southern California born and bred, vegetarian, and an organic food junkie. What could have possibly made a girl who diligently washes each grape before digging into the bunch try (gulp) guinea pig at the local Peruvian market?
Surely it was partly due to the undeniable sense of excitement and adrenaline that comes with visiting a new place, and, yes, it was probably a bit because of the potential for a great Facebook album, but are either of those important enough to get a girl who won’t even look at a steak to suddenly decide to gulp down something from the local pet store?
I’d like to think it was more than that. In Peru, guinea pigs (or cuy as they call them) aren’t just a tourist stunt, they’re a real food source. Dating back to the pre-Incan days when guinea pigs were a rare delicacy, the rodent has remained an important Andean dish. Guinea pigs are used ceremonially, they’re said to help cure the sick, and, apparently, they’re actually quite delicious.
Sound a little more interesting yet? As odd as some dishes might seem on a Californian (or British) dinner table, exploring a dish’s cultural context is exactly what makes a foreign country, well, foreign. I say, the stranger the better. Good or bad, it’s all about the experience. After all, what’s the point of travelling if you’re going to hit up the local McDonald’s? Guess it’s finally time to go try out some of that black pudding…
Looking for other wacky (but culturally rich) dishes?
-How about a night of traditional Greek dinner and dancing?
-Have a typical Bavarian breakfast in Germany (beer, white “weisswuerste” sausage, and a pretzel).
-Herring is the Dutch national snack!
-Try some Kim Chee, a Korean fermented (traditionally stored underground for weeks) cabbage dish with salt and red pepper.
-Alabama-style fried green tomatoes? My best friend swears by these!
-Vegemite, a salty, yeasty (apparently it’s actually American-made) sandwich spread that’s most popular in Australia.
-Fugu (blowfish) is only for the most daring! It contains a deadly toxin and can only be handled and prepared by licensed chefs in Japan.
Still hungry? A great list of many “weird foods” has been complied at http://www.weird-food.com/.