Here at Backroads we like to find adventure in the great outdoors--cycling through rural countryside or hiking over mountain passes with the wind whipping through our hair. All of this is wonderful, but sometimes our most memorable adventures can be found right on a plate in front of us. Bugs, intestines, rodents. In many parts of the world, these are delicacies in the same league as lobster or caviar. So how 'strange' does it get? Who better to ask than our fearless, world traveling, eat-anything-that's-not-poisonous Backroads Trip Leaders!
1. Huhu Grub - New Zealand
Ever dream of hanging out with Timon and Pumbaa from The Lion King as they lift up logs and slurp bugs? Head to New Zealand and you can live out your hakuna matata fantasy! Here you'll find the famous huhu grub, or a huhu beetle larvae hatched from eggs that are left under bark or in the cracks of rotten wood. But before they grow into beautiful beetles, huhu grubs are offered up as bait for adventurous tourists.
"I had to drink a lot of 'scrumpies,' or New Zealand hard cider, to build up the courage to try one. We paid a dollar each and these lumberjack guys chopped up wood chunks to find the huhu grub. They handed them to us wiggling around and I thought, 'What have I gotten myself into?!' I ate mine in one bite--it was crunchy on the outside and kind of like mashed potatoes on the inside." - Annie Lovell, Caribbean Trip Leader
"They're not terrible if you're stranded on an island, but definitely a tad 'earthy' for a regular snack table." - Ben Boynton, New Zealand Trip Leader
2. Fermented Shark - Iceland
"As many weird bugs and brains as I've eaten, the shark remains the strangest somehow... something about the way that you can smell it from 100 meters away." - Sophia Gottlieb, Iceland Trip Leader
Fermented shark, or hákarl, is a delicacy so strange that even daring foodie Anthony Bourdain finds it... unappealing. Fermented shark was popular centuries ago in Iceland when people had to figure out a way to make their food last through long and brutal winters. The shark was left buried in the sand for 6 - 12 weeks as it fermented, then it was hung to dry for 4 - 5 months. When the pungent smell started to permeate, they knew that it was ready to be served. The smell is so potent that those sampling for the first time are advised to plug their nose and chase each bite with a shot of local spirit.
3. Fried Tarantula - Cambodia
"I approached the stall, thought about it, and backed away several times until finally I figured... this will make for the best story. I grabbed a tarantula and asked a bystander to take a photo. Now there was no turning back... It was a little bit crunchy, a lot greasy and otherwise pretty flavorless. The grossest part was seeing the shape and all the tiny hairs as I was eating it." - Emily Long, Backroads Trip Leader Alumni
The idea of eating insects can be just a crawl outside of our comfort zone. But it may be time to warm up to the idea! The US is one of the only countries in the world that does not consume bugs. Believe it or not, there's an entire industry revolving around the use of insects as a lean protein source. Crickets, for instance, are about 60% protein, are packed with vitamin B12, have more calcium than milk and more iron than spinach. Sounds like the next chia seed to me!
4. Guinea Pig - Peru
What many of us picture as an adorable childhood pet is actually a special delicacy in Peru. The Incas have been eating cuy, or guinea pig, for centuries. Initially, they were raised specifically for food until the Spanish arrived and started sending them back to Europe where the cute critters were taken in as pets. Today in Peru you'll find them at fancy restaurants, rest stops and even on Backroads trips.
"They're actually quite good for you! High in lean protein and lower in cholesterol than chicken, pork or beef. Peruvians often feed them to their young because of all of the nutrients they provide." - Quinnen Donahue, Peru Trip Leader
5. Duck Embryo - Vietnam
"I broke open the shell and started to peel it off of the embryo and instantly regretted my decision... but at this point I had an audience, I couldn't back out. I tried to choose the least obtrusive place to bite in... I felt a feather... or a bone... and I couldn't take it. I'm glad I tried it but I think I'll stick with non-fertilized chicken eggs from now on." - Josh Rasmussen, Maine Trip Leader
Okay, what exactly are we talking about here? The partially developed duck, or balut, is a fertilized duck egg that is starting to develop before it is boiled, sprinkled with salt and eaten straight from the shell. The eggs are usually incubated between 14 - 21 days depending on cultural practices, so you can see the baby bird's beak and feathers when you crack the egg to scoop it out (yum!).
We may not all run out to find some tarantula for lunch, but we can open our minds a bit to what constitutes 'strange' food. How much of our perspective is just culturally conditioned? After all, at one point Americans were disgusted by the thought of eating lobster and raw fish. Now we serve them on silver platters!
What's the strangest thing YOU'VE ever eaten? Share in the comments!