Sbu Mkwanazi shares some of his tasty travels with us as he eats his way through some of the world’s weirdest nosh.
My culinary exploration of some of the weirdest foods in the world started when I blindly believed a notion that the best way to learn about a nation’s culture, history and identity, was to eat like a local. I had no idea just exactly what this would entail in certain corners of the world.
Goat Stomachs in São Paolo
“The cooked blood actually gives buchada its unique flavour”, said Pedro, a travel guide from São Paolo. What he was casually referring to was the condiment for a dish that is a palatable mix of goat stomach stuffed with other goat entrails.
They say you eat first with your eyes. Savouring buchada is difficult as it poses a number of visual hurdles.
When served, the goat stomach looks like a greyish, soccer-ball-shaped item in the middle of a plate, with coagulated blood as a side. Let us just say that had it not been for my inquisitive nature, I would not have stomached that delicacy.
Encouraging Unforgettable Experiences
After that, my South American escapade led me to the beautiful Chilean capital city, Santiago, but while I craved authentic food experiences, I knew I’d find them in the most rural towns. Putre is one of the northernmost towns in Chile, and its high-altitude has been jokingly attributed to some of the area’s most bizarre dishes.
Directly translated and quite simply put, ubre asada is grilled udder. In Putre, they take pride in offering a gourmet version of the dish. Fresh young cow’s udders are sliced thinly, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, then grilled until they develop a golden brown colour.
I learnt that the real taste test is that if cooked properly, the udders should have a tender texture with extremely crispy edges. The rolling joke is that if you prepare ubre asada and it is tough, then your udders suck…
What I always find exceptionally engaging are the narratives that accompany each dish in various parts of the world.
For me, it is never adequate to simply order from a menu without enquiring about what lies in front of me. Finding out how old a recipe is, different variations of the same offering and the best way to eat a dish have brought me some of the most unforgettable experiences.
Strange Treats in Slovenia
In Ljubljana, Slovenia, bear meat is one of the highlights for any foodie worth their salt. The capital city is known for its breathtaking Lake Bled, but a slight detour to some of the city’s markets can hold some welcome surprises.
Usually, an area will offer one or two weird dishes, but Slovenians pride themselves on package deals when it comes to unusual tastes. Butchers stuff their sausage skins not only with rich bear meat, but also deer. Believe it or not, the best part of the bear is the paw, as it becomes fatty and soft, after it is slow-cooked overnight.
These are then washed down with a glass of intense orange wine, which is a rather strange tipple, waking up your senses in record time. Just when I thought I was done, the locals offered me beer ice cream. This dessert helps you forget that you just savoured bear or deer meat.
There are days when I think that some of these escapades are the reasons I decided to become a vegetarian. But then I quickly remember that I have also had some rather hairy experiences as a travelling herbivore.
Hair Raising Herbivore Adventures
Istanbul was where I first encountered vegetarian haggis. Traditionally, this is a savoury dish made from minced sheep organs such as liver, heart and lungs encased in the lining of the animal’s stomach. For some bewildering reason, Istanbul, a haven for vegetarians, offers a vegan-friendly version of this Scottish dish.
Vegetables such as broccoli and brussel sprouts are mixed with oats, seeds and spices, then rolled up into artificial sausage skin. Although I have never tasted traditional haggis, I can confirm that this version is probably as unappealing as the meat-laden version.
I also blame confusion for the reason I landed up eating an insect burger in Osnabrück. As a vegetarian for a mere month, I had no idea whether insects were considered to be meat or not, so in that state of misperception, I took a bite of Germany’s first insect burger.
This stack is made up of squishy buffalo worms and local insects, along with the normal bun, lettuce, onions and sauces. The taste of a crunchy insect complemented by a juicy worm is one of those memories that framed my entire experience in Germany.
Eat Like A Local
When it comes to culinary tours, it is less about the taste and more about the fact that I tried something that I would never have conjured up in my wildest dreams.
Weird food is a window to a nation’s soul, and it is these untold stories that I relish the most. Reluctantly, I still believe that the best way to learn about a nation’s culture, history and identity, is to eat like a local.