For many people, travel is about experiencing something out of the ordinary; sampling local cuisine is often a good place to start. Before jetting off on an exotic culinary adventure, however, it pays to read up on a country’s favourite regional fare. After all, when it comes to food, every culture has its own version of what constitutes a tasty snack.
We’ve rounded up a collection of some of the world’s most uncanny edibles, from fried spiders to local lizards and great big mouthwatering worms! Adventurous eaters beware: not everything tastes like chicken and one man’s pet may be another man’s delicacy.
Crunchy Crickets, Thailand
Visit the street markets in Thailand and you are certain to find all manner of ready-to-eat fried insects like locusts, dragonflies and even giant water bugs! In the northeast of the country, though, small crickets are the local delicacy, considered the perfect beer munchies and often compared to popcorn for their “buttery” taste and crispy texture.
Caught using light traps in the rice fields of Chiang Rai, the crickets are cleaned, dehydrated and seasoned to taste. Yum! Cricket husbandry is even catching on as a means for farmers to supplement their incomes. Of course breeding them means having to contend with the constant chirping, but luckily, these little guys only need to be fed twice a day. Cricket breeders can make up to 20,000 Thai baht (over US$600) per month!
Yummy Walkie-Talkies, South Africa
Don’t play fowl! Chicken thighs and breasts are positively tasty, but why throw away the rest of this otherwise appetising poultry? As any good cook from China, Jamaica or Peru will happily explain, some of the best bits of this bird include the liver, gizzard and feet!
In South Africa, “Walkie-Talkies” are a common traditional township delicacy. To prepare it, the feet – the “walkies” – and head – the “talkie” – are boiled to remove the tough outer layer of skin; they are then covered with seasonings and grilled. Explore the local food markets in Durban or Soweto and you are likely to stumble upon this classic savoury snack. Other regional specialities include mngqusho – a dish made from samp (cracked corn) and beans – and “smileys,” which are whole roasted sheep’s heads, each still bearing a gruesome toothy grin.
Mouthwatering Mopani Worms, South Africa and Botswana
In hot, dry, low-lying areas throughout Southern Africa, the Mopani worm (a type of caterpillar that metamorphoses into an Emperor moth, one of the world’s largest) lives on the Mopani tree. There it is hunted down by hungry locals!
Considered a tribal delicacy in many countries and a staple snack in northern Botswana, the harvesting and sale of Mopani worms is a multi-million rand industry in Southern Africa. South Africa alone does annual trade of roughly 1.6 million kilograms of Mopani worms, which are plucked off the trees by locals two times each year. Like long tubes of slimy green toothpaste, the worms are squeezed, gutted and then laid in the sun to dry. Southern Africans just can’t seem to get enough of this grub, whether eaten raw like crispy potato chips, or canned and packaged in tomato or chilli sauce.
Guinea Pig Picante, Peru
The Andean delicacy of cuy, or guinea pig, has been a popular traditional food staple in Peru for literally thousands of years, even before the rise of the mighty Incan empire. Domestication of the cuy in the Peruvian Altiplano can be traced back to 5000 BCE, but it wasn’t until Queen Elizabeth I took one as a pet that these little critters became popular household animals. Today, though, while guinea pigs may be the “first pet” of choice for many European and Northern American kids, these tasty little fur balls continue to make mouths water in many Andean communities.
Peruvians consume more than 22 million guinea pigs per year – a number that might be startling were it not for the fact that cuy are, after all, rather lean and bony. Picante de cuy, a dish in which the guinea pig is fried and doused in spicy peanut sauce, is perhaps the most traditional recipe. Other variations include cuasa de cuy (guinea-pig stuffed potatoes), aguadita de cuy (a type of guinea pig soup) and escabeche de cuy, which is guinea pig served in a vinegar sauce with plenty of onions and potatoes.
Spiny Sea Urchins, Corfu
At first glance, ricci di mare, or sea urchins, don’t really resemble an edible treat. As any experienced scuba diver will explain, you certainly wouldn’t want to step on one of these small, spiky underwater animals that often inhabit the ocean’s rocky regions. Catching and eating them therefore requires some care, although when urchins pull across your palm, their spines merely tickle.
Considered a delicacy on the Greek island of Corfu and many other regions around the world, urchins are in fact rather meagre reward for the effort taken to catch and prepare them! With urchin in hand, take a seat right on the sand and begin: snip off those spines (carefully), split the urchin in half and then scoop out the raw insides. Urchin roe has a light consistency and complex salty taste. We’re told it’s best served raw with a nice glass of ouzo!
Braised Bamboo Chicken, Belize
Rest assured that you won’t be eating poultry if a local from Belize invites to dinner of bamboo chicken. This delicacy is none other than the great big green iguana, an animal commonly found throughout Central and South America. Catching these fellows is not always easy business, as some grow as large as two metres in length and have sharp tails (used for whipping) and an occasionally nasty bite. Nevertheless, this particular reptile does appear as bush meat on local menus, usually grilled or sautéed with seasonings such as garlic, pepper and teriyaki sauce.
While hunting green iguanas for food and sale as pets has unfortunately left their numbers rather sparse in certain areas, the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Centre manages to maintain a captive green iguana-breeding program to increase their populations.
Crispy Fried Tarantulas, Cambodia
Ever wondered what would be the scariest job in the world? If you’re afraid of arachnids, then being a spider-catcher in Cambodia would top that list! The spiders are dug out of their holes in the ground with a shovel and then collected by hand. Cambodian “tarantulas” (unrelated to the Western variety and by no means poisonous) are extremely slow and do not run quickly like their relatives on the other side of the world. This makes it relatively “easy” for the catcher to pick up the spider and prepare it for consumption.
For the bold, fried spiders are available at street stalls throughout Cambodia, especially around the town of Skuon (75 kilometres north of Phnom Penh. Jam-packed with protein – and flavoured with salt, sugar and garlic, these a-ping are the healthy snack food of choice for local Cambodians on the go! Many Khmer women also believe the furry arthropods have cosmetic properties which can enhance one’s natural beauty. Crunch and munch on the legs first, ladies, and feel your hair grow long and lustrous!