Travelling is one of my favourite hobbies. I love getting out of my comfort zone and experiencing what other cultures offer. The sights and sounds of Beijing, Rome and Cairo give me new perspectives and make me a well-rounded person. My travels have brought me incredible dishes like Neapolitan pizza and Peking duck – but they’ve also introduced me to the world’s weirdest foods.
I’ll admit weird is a subjective term. What’s odd to me is a delicacy for someone else. Still, these eight weird food traditions around the world stand out to me.
I have a curious tongue and am willing to try just about anything you put before me – as long as it’s not poisonous. Iceland put my beliefs to the test with hákarl. Icelanders make hákarl from fermented Greenland sharks by letting them rot for about five months. The smell is horrendous. I took one whiff and didn’t breathe through my nose for at least an hour.
I first saw hákarl on “Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern” about 15 years ago. If Zimmern was brave enough to try it, so was I. I tried hákarl after touring the National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavik. The hákarl was bad enough on my plate. I can’t imagine how bad it is when they hang the sharks to ferment.
The hákarl itself was much softer than I thought it would be. I imagined it would be chewy. However, it’s as smooth as your typical fish. One of my friends even compared it to cheese. To this day, I can’t forget the horrific ammonia smell away from my brain.
Haggis is one of the weirdest foods I’ve ever encountered. Still, somehow it’s the national dish of Scotland. Why? It’s beyond me. Haggis is a pudding, but I didn’t see the Jell-O logo on the plate. The onion, oatmeal and spices were fun until they added sheep’s pluck. I cringed when they told me haggis typically entails sheep organs like the heart and liver.
I can’t explain why, but I enjoyed the haggis. Avoiding fermentation was probably a big boost for me. Eating the haggis reminded me of the ground sausage my mom made me for breakfast. I ate mashed potatoes with the haggis, which was more than acceptable. I sensed a meaty yet sweet combination with the pluck, oats and onion.
Next time you’re having a pint in Edinburgh, I recommend ordering haggis. Don’t knock it till you try it.
3. Banana pizza
Pizza is a dish you can find worldwide. I can drive around the city, eat pizza and sing Dean Martin songs. I cause controversy with my friends because I like pineapple on my pizza. Pairing pineapple with salty meats like bacon and ham create a terrific combination. Though, banana pizza pushes my limits of fruit on pizza.
Yes, you read correctly. Swedes put bananas on pizza despite the jeers coming from Italy. After some hesitation, I took my first bite. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I had to get my mind past the banana, tomato and cheese combination. The banana pizza reminded me of Hawaiian pizza back in the U.S. but was softer. I’d eat it again, but I won’t seek it out.
Banana pizza doesn’t compare to suströmming when considering Sweden’s weirdest foods. This dish contains fermented herring. Usually, I like neither fermented nor herring. However, I had to pinch my nose in Stockholm and give it a go.
People have eaten fermented fish for centuries, so I mustered the courage. After all, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Our informal tour guide told us to ignore the smell because it tastes better when you don’t inhale. He was right, and the experience was much better. I disliked the heavy salt content, but I liked the texture. Will I eat suströmming again? Probably not. Though, I’m glad I gave it a shot.
5. Japanese ice cream
After a few entrees and snacks, we need dessert. I remember my trip to Japan, where I had a couple of unorthodox types of ice cream. First, I’ll start with vegetable ice cream. I saw a pint of Häagen-Dazs carrot-flavored ice cream, and I couldn’t resist. They also had a tomato flavor, but I passed because carrots fit the ice cream better. The carrot ice cream was tasty. I love carrot cake, so it had hints of the fantastic dessert.
The other dessert I had was pit viper ice cream. I can’t begin to explain how weird the flavor was. I’m a big ice cream fan, so it takes a lot for me to dislike it. However, I couldn’t get on board. Experts say frozen food lasts two months in the freezer, but pit viper ice cream would easily last a few years in mine. I won’t touch it anytime soon.
6. Casu marzu
Another reason for my wanderlust is “The Amazing Race,” a reality game show where contestants race worldwide for a $1 million prize. The 33rd season took the contestants to Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea. The racers had to endure casu marzu. I wish I could’ve warned them what they were about to experience.
Corsica is a terrific tropical island getaway with mountains and beaches. However, be wary of the maggot cheese. Casu marzu contains sheep milk cheese crawling with insect larvae all over. The larvae supposedly help the cheese ferment. This cheese is another food where I had to hold my nose and be brave. I enjoyed the spicy bite, but casu marzu is easily one of the weirdest food traditions around the world.
7. Fried grasshoppers
When I was a kid, I heard grasshoppers singing in the summer. I never thought I’d eat a fried grasshopper on a stick in my adult life. Roasted insects are a delicacy, especially in Asian countries. I tried fried grasshoppers in Thailand – one of my favorite countries I’ve been to. Surprisingly, it wasn’t bad.
I was surprised to find out how healthy grasshoppers are to eat. These insects contain as much protein as chicken and beans. My primary takeaway from fried grasshoppers is how crunchy they are. Every bite tastes like a piece of jerky left too long in the dehydrator. I really enjoyed the fried grasshoppers with spicy chili powder on top. They’re one of the weirdest foods I’ve ever had, but I’d eat them again.
Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. I wish I had remembered before eating smalahove – the weirdest dish on this list. The word translates to sheep’s head in Norwegian, and it’s what I ate.
A few summers ago, I traveled to Bergen, Norway, to see a friend, and he told me about smalahove. He said it was a sheep’s head, but I was astonished to see the plate contained an animal head. Luckily, I’m a fan of lamb, so it was an easy transition for me. The meal tasted fine – I just had to get past the idea of eating a sheep’s head.
Finding the weird food traditions around the world
When I vacation, I imagine myself with my own Travel Channel show. Sometimes, I’m Samantha Brown. On other trips, I end up like Andrew Zimmern, eating the world’s weirdest foods.
I have to remind myself people genuinely enjoy these foods, and I am the one who finds them weird. I won’t go for suströmming again. Though, plenty of Swedes will compensate. These eight foods depict the weirdest foods and traditions I’ve seen thus far.
I look forward to more bizarre foods in my future travels.