Food being grilled over coals.

The Strangest Food We’ve Eaten Around the World

Mark Stewart Food 20 Comments

We like food. A lot. It’s one of the most exciting aspects of travel for us. Ever since our first trip to Tokyo back in 2007 when we first arrived in a blurry haze of jet lag. We soon found ourselves sitting in a small, dimly lit dive bar on a quiet backstreet. A lady behind the bar handed us two beer and a small plate of something fried that we hadn’t ordered. It was seafood of some kind and smelled far from fresh. Out of a combination of politeness, curiosity and hunger, we ate it. It didn’t taste good. But then again, it wasn’t bad either.

To this day we have no idea what it was, probably just an over-salted ball of leftover fish. All we know is that it didn’t kill us or even make us ill. This seemingly insignificant moment triggered something in us. Simply saying yes, submitting to our surroundings, it felt right. It stoked a curiosity to further seek out strange and unfamiliar foods.

Over the years this curiosity has taken us a long way from fried mystery fish in an Asakusa dive bar. We’ve eaten all sorts of odd animal bits, from cow stomach soup in Colombia to pickled pig tongue in Canada. But there are a few that stand out above the rest.

These are the five strangest foods we’ve eaten around the world.

Live Baby Squid in Seoul

A tentacle of squid covered in hot sauce in Korea.
Now imagine it moving…

This is one we’ve probably talked about the most, on this website and others. It’s easily the most disturbing of all but also the most exciting.

Before visiting any destination, we like to have a look at what Bourdain got up to. In South Korea, among other things, it was Sannakji. And while we’re not out to play copycat to everything he does, this was just too crazy to ignore.

Live baby squid? It’s a bit of a stretch from the smelly fish balls of Tokyo. But this is what we love to do; we had to do it.

Sannakji, or live baby squid, can be found in specialty restaurants across the country. Though following in Tony’s footsteps, we went straight to the source: the Noryangjin Fish Market. Now, eating anything alive —or at least slowly dying in this case — at any time of day can be tricky. First thing in the morning, for breakfast, is another story. Combine that with the fact that the soju (Korean rice wine) flowed heavily the night before, looking back, I’m quite impressed with us.

Click over to our post covering the full story of the squirming snack. Or head to our YouTube Channel to see us eating it in action!!

Fried Crickets in Oaxaca

To many travellers, this might not seem like a huge deal. Most backpackers who’ve spent any time in Thailand or Cambodia has likely given a fried grasshopper a nibble or two.

The reason I’m including these on the list isn’t necessarily because of how bizarre they are. It’s because, considering they’re fried bugs, they were actually pretty good.

Chapulines as they’re known in Mexico, are small crickets that are fried or roasted and used as a not-so-uncommon ingredient. The difference between these and your regular old fashioned fried bug is that chapulines are spiced and seasoned. Instead of just being a strange, crunchy bit that has you picking legs out from your teeth; you have a rather tasty, strange, crunchy bit that leaves legs in your teeth.

You can find chapulines all across Oaxaca, in markets or on the street. One of the most common ways to eat them is in a quesadilla. So after picking up a bag of our own, we headed home and made a few.

Several containers filled with fried crickets in Oaxaca Mexico
Chapulines, or Fried Crickets, in Oaxaca

Raw Horse Heart in Montreal

No, it wasn’t at a Dothraki wedding. Nor was it in some foreign land while participating in some eccentric cultural celebration. This was in Montreal, in our home country of Canada. We were visiting some cook friends and eating at one of their restaurants.

This restaurant in question specialized in all the nasty tasty bits. Offal of all kinds was on the menu, it was a wonderful place. Horse meat isn’t common country-wide, though it is found fairly often in Quebec. And what better way to showcase the true flavour of the animal than to serve its heart as tartare. They even folded in a few bits of foie gras for good measure.

This dish is, by a long shot, the most delicious on the list.

A plate with toast and a small pile of chopped meat.
The Horse Heart Tartare

Pork Blood Curry in Chiang Mai

Pig blood as an ingredient isn’t something entirely foreign to us. We’ve encountered it often, both in our travels and cooking careers. Blood sausage is probably the most recognizable version to most. Then there are pork blood-based soups common throughout Southeast Asia. Even at the Montreal restaurant mentioned above, we finished the multi-course meal with a pigs blood panna cotta for dessert.

The Chiang Mai curry stands out for two reasons. First, unlike most preparations, the blood was not dissolved into the dish. It was served in relatively large chunks, essentially acting as the ‘meat’ of the curry. As well, we enjoyed it while visiting a Thai family who were friends with a travel companion of us. We were invited into their home and were taught by the mother how to prepare the dish.

The experience was fantastic and the curry itself, aside from a wildly unfamiliar texture, was delicious.

A bowl of congealed pork blood.
This is the pork blood we put in the curry.

Rotten Shark & Black Death in Reykjavik

Hakarl. Fermented shark. What was once necessary for survival is now treated as a delicacy in Iceland, so we’re told.

It’s fucking awful is what it is.

Dating back centuries, eating this foul treat was a necessity. The Greenland shark is a species common in the waters here and provided a reliable food source. However, due to high concentrations of urea and other chemicals, the flesh is highly toxic if eaten fresh. In order to render the meat edible, it is buried underground, where it ferments for many weeks.

Of course, we had to try it.

Though it’s found almost anywhere from markets to grocery stores, we tried ours at a restaurant in Reykjavik. After sampling several local delicacies, we move on to the hinged jar, closed with a tight rubber seal. The waiter watches over and pours two shot glasses of brennivín, an Icelandic firewater commonly known as “Black Death.” And is traditionally consumed with hakarl.

When we ask him where it gets its name, he tells us “…it’s because of the black label.”

That’s not the part we’re concerned about.

We open the jar the smell hits us almost immediately. The acrid bouquet of ammonia makes our eyes water. I go first and pop the tiny white nugget into my mouth. There’s almost nothing at first, until I inhale and choke on my own breath. I chew quickly while my sinuses scream. After swallowing, I down the shot of brennivín. On its own, the stuff is vile, though following the shark, it was a smooth, soothing palate cleanser.

If you’re ever considering trying rotten shark, the best I can describe the sensation is chewing on spongefied cat piss.

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wendy white
Guest

You guys are so brave. There is no way I could eat any of that and I don’t class myself as a fussy eater 😂

Kylee Hayes
Admin

Haha We love to try weird food, even if it doesn’t smell good, or we know it might taste bad. Usually it turns out amazing. There is a reason local people eat these foods! Thanks for reading! 🙂

Chris
Guest

I’ve eaten some odd things over the years, even shark biltong, but I would stay well away from fermented shark. Sounds absolutely terrible… goo on you for doing it though!

Kylee Hayes
Admin

It was a small enough piece that a couple times chewing and it could be swallowed with the shot of Black Death haha

Sarah
Guest

I applaud you for trying such strange dishes in your travels. I don’t think I could try most of these, but I am not very adventurous when it comes to food – at least when it comes to things outside of my eating comfort zone.

Kylee Hayes
Admin

Haha it is what we LOVE doing the most when travelling! There is a reason why the locals eat these types of foods, and most of the time we are blown away with how good they are!

John Quinn
Guest

Pigs blood panna cotta? Live baby squid? No I couldn’t. The others, I could give a try. Especially the crickets, they sound good. Is it odd that I didn’t mind the rotten shark meat. I expected so much worse. The dried fish on the same plate I had in Iceland was ten times worse. Great share, and the videos are priceless.

Kylee Hayes
Admin

Really?? The shark was horrible! The dried fish was really great! haha I guess different tastes. The pigs blood panna cotta was AMAZING!!!!!

Scout (Let's Go Scoutside)
Guest

Wow this is fascinating. I didn’t know you could even eat horse meat raw (although I guess they are ‘red meat’, so it makes sense).

I wouldn’t mind trying the fermented shark haha

Kylee Hayes
Admin

Yipes. The shark is the last thing I would recommend haha It is possibly the worst on the list.

Travel Bugs World
Guest

Umm yeh the crickets were quite nice, like caramel popcorn. But, OMG, sorry there are some things we refuse to do, no matter how unadventurous we may seem. No thanks to live baby squid, no no to pigs blood. And rotten shark! what the !?
Thanks for writing such a disturbing story…
But entertaining nevertheless.

Kylee Hayes
Admin

Hahaha Thanks for reading it all the way! You are brave for just getting through it! The pigs blood is actually one of my favourite things to eat! haha

Crystal
Guest

Kylee – even though you gagged twice you did SO well eating that fermented shark! I love how open-minded you guys are with trying all sorts of strange foods. I could never do it! At least the crickets in Mexico were delicious – even if you had to spend the rest of the afternoon picking out cricket legs from your teeth.

Kylee Hayes
Admin

Hahahah Yeppers, we sure are troopers! Food has a large place in our hearts, even if it doesn’t always taste amazing!

Anca
Guest

So Romania is not on the list! There are some pretty mean blood sausages and meat dishes, but nothing like a heart tartare….that was the scariest for me!

Elisa
Guest

Ummm…you guys are incredible! LOL! I can’t get past the live baby squid thing hahaha but I definitely loved this list!

Mikes
Guest

Great guys its very hard to do but you are doing this and sharing with us really you are so brave i have never tried this or cannot try in future

Kylee Hayes
Admin

Yes, brave is right! Haha Some of these things actually tasted pretty good, and we would definitely go back for more. (Like the pork blood soup!)