TASTES OF A NATION
Food the locals love can be hard for a visitor to stomach ... Vegemite, anyone?
You’re overseas and you’re feeling adventurous. But there are some things you simply just can’t stomach. Take your tastebuds on this journey around the globe, and ask yourself, what would you eat and drink, and what would you politely refuse?
There’s a difference between dying for a meal, and dying from your meal. In Japan, this can come down to luck. The Japanese love the thrill of eating fugu, pufferfish, which has a deadly poison. There’s more than 3800 restaurants here serving this delicacy. Some diners like it with a bit of toxicity to make their tongues tingle.
Nothing screams Australia more than Vegemite but the rest of the world doesn’t share our view, failing to see how this salty black spread can put a rose in every cheek. And while we’re Down Under, nor do they understand how we can eat kangaroo, an animal that’s on our official Coat of Arms.
Visit any Fijian village and you will not only be expected to participate in a traditional kava ceremony, but drink it too. To the Fijians, this is the elixir of life; to the rest of us, it’s a little like drinking muddy water that makes your tongue numb. Nor do we quite get taro root, a seemingly tasteless vegetable boiled in water.
The Chinese adore eating century eggs found on numerous street corners in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. The rest of us feel the look and name is enough to say pass. Also known as thousand-year-old eggs, this local delicacy is a preserved duck, chicken or quail egg which has been mixed with clay, ash, salt, quicklime and rice hulls and left to settle, sometimes for months.
For a nation revered for its dining offerings, to many of us, ice-cream sandwiches simply don’t make sense. Wander around Orchard Rd and you’ll find a number of vendors and stores selling this quirky dessert, which, as the name suggests, is ice-cream, in bread. Not quite the same as Singapore’s famed chilli crab.
Snake Alley in Taipei is not for the faint-hearted. Here, you will find some unusual local snacks such as snake and turtle blood and meat, and even deer penis wine. The snakes are often killed right in front of you, and their blood drained, which makes this dining experience all the more confronting. Bubble tea, a milk drink with tapioca bubbles, and invented in Taiwan, is probably a safer bet.
It’s fair to say that Cambodians eat pretty much anything, and there’s even the Bugs Café in Siem Reap which serves insect tapas.
A fusion of French and Khmer cooking serves up a menu of crickets, scorpions, grasshoppers, ants, bees, silkworms and spiders. Check out the Bug Mac here.
The Canadians go a little crazy for the traditional indigenous dish of bannock, which is a little baffling, as it’s effectively a loaf of bread. To the outsider, there’s not a lot that’s interesting about this heavy, flat, round bread made from flour, baking powder, sugar, lard and water or milk. You’ll find plenty of restaurants in Vancouver serving salmon and bannock.
The Scots love their national dish of haggis, but for the rest of us, it’s a wee bit confronting. Comprised of sheep lung, hearts and liver, it is then mixed with suet, oatmeal and seasoning, stuffed into an empty sheep stomach, and boiled for three hours. It is served with “neeps” or turnips. And whisky, thank goodness for whisky.
Who says the US has no culinary culture? This is the nation that introduced the peanut butter and jelly sandwich to the world. Colloquially known as the PB&J, this delight dates back to the early 1900s. It is even said that average Americans will have consumed 1500 PB&Js before they graduate high school.
Some think the English should have stopped at scones and tea, or Pimms and gin, but they went a step further – black pudding. This acquired taste is made from onions, pork fat, oatmeal and flavourings, with a special dollop of blood, usually from a pig. This dish is said to date back as far as the existence of animals themselves.
This is more an experience than an actual dish which baffles even the most well travelled. Germans call it abendessen, which literally translated means evening meal, except it’s not really a meal. Firsttimers to Germany often find themselves confused when they sit down to dinner, to find a plate of antipasto. The main meal is eaten during the middle of the day.
The Kiwis love the taste of Paua so much, it is considered a national dish. But be warned, it is an acquired taste. This sea snail has a distinctive savoury, leathery, mushroom-like flavour which needs to be cooked briefly or it becomes tough and chewy. New Zealand wine, on the other hand, has global admiration.
Greece, and neighbouring Cyprus, are literally oozing with ouzo, and it’s not uncommon to find locals washing back a shot or three of this aniseflavoured liquor for breakfast. Dating back to 14th-century monks, many travellers find the strong licorice taste a little too much to handle. To try it, head to a sidewalk cafe in Athens.
To the French, frogs’ legs are a delicacy. Said to taste like chicken (what doesn’t?) and with the texture of chicken wings, the legs of frogs are allegedly rich in protein, omega acids, vitamin A, and potassium. In Paris, restaurant Rainettes is dedicated solely to frog tapas and dishes.
Are you game enough to try century eggs (main) in China or black pudding (right) in England ? CENTURY EGG