When I’m traveling, have a rule that I’ll try anything once. Unfortunately, this includes food. I also have a rule that, as a guest, I won’t refuse what I’m offered and I try to eat what I’m given the same way the locals do. As you’ll read, this has definitely gotten me into some “interesting” culinary experiences. Bugs, snakes, random parts of animals. You name it, and its probably been in my mouth.
These are the standouts from the crazy food I’ve eaten around the world
11. Meal Worms, crickets, and…”stuff”…
Where: Thailand, Mexico
The Story: I was walking down the street and some vendor said, “do you want to eat some bugs?” I replied “not really, but let’s get this over with…”
The experience of eating bugs: Not that bad, actually. They’re crunchy and the legs get stuck in your teeth, but beyond that there’s not much to them. Then you start thinking about the fact that you’re eating creepy critters and get a little nauseous. Definitely only trying these one time…unless money is involved.
The Story: I was traveling by motorbike with an awesome Spaniard who was at a pro at peer pressure but horrible at speaking Vietnamese. On one adventure, we stopped at a roadside restaurant to refresh and refuel. Right as I walked in, I went to the restroom and this fella started ordering as best as he could. The result? A table fully of frogs. I think it was intentional though…
The experience of eating a frog: Oddly…it tasted like chicken. Dark meat chicken. Except it was slightly green. So all in all, it was the meat equivalent of Dr. Seuss’s book “Green Eggs and Ham”, except it was green chicken and rice.
9. Pig Intestines and “Mud Cutters”
Where: Chiang Mai, Thailand
The Story: This was completely by accident! Street food in Thailand is amazing and insanely addictive. In any city you visit in Thailand there is always a street lined with food carts – some with noodles, some with rice, and some with delicious grilled meats on tiny skewers. At the time of this experience, I was comfortable enough that I started eating things without even asking what they were…unless the food had a weird flavor or consistency. That is how I found out I was eating pig intestines. An oddly shaped string of meat with an interesting after taste and a questionable circular ring of meat on the end. I took a couple bites then asked the vendor what I was eating. A very funny game of pointing at body parts to communicate commenced. After pointing to my stomach and my backdoor I figured it out…pig intestine and sphincter. Yummy.
What it was like: Not bad actually. The thing about Thai food is they could season rocks and make them taste great, and if they can’t season the food into something good then they’ll just add a handful of chilis and burn your taste buds off. But at the end of the day, unless it’s a life or death situation, I’m not freely choosing to eat anything’s intestinal tract. Not a second time anyways.
8. Pig nose and ears, grilled and served over rice
The Story: Riding a motorcycle solo across Laos is interesting because no one speaks English and Google Translate works as well as a Spaniard on siesta – which means it doesn’t work at all. I couldn’t cook my own food and I wouldn’t risk eating anything raw (vegetables, fruit) because my stomach had definitely not adjusted to the environment – and if I suddenly got sick, I was a 3 day ride from the nearest English speakers or medical care.
The result: I had to stop whenever I saw a smoking grill, point at the grill, hand them money, and accept whatever came. And the only thing that ever came was rice, pig nose, and pig ears. How did I know it was pig’s nose? Because…it was sliced but still perfectly shaped like the little piggy’s nose, with little hair follicles sticking out for decoration. Somebody there had to be eating a lot of bacon…but it damn sure wasn’t me. Some little piggy definitely went to the market, but I didn’t get jack from it…except it’s nose.
How was it: It was like chewing on a slightly bacon flavored car tire. The funny thing is it digested like car tire as well. I would have some to eat on the road just before sunset, sleep for the night, and wakeup feeling like the little piggy bits were still in my stomach. Needless to say, I won’t be eating this again if I don’t have to
7. (The Whole) Chicken soup
The Story: For a period, I worked with lower level Iraqi soldiers and got friendly with them. One day, they invited me back to the lower level enlisted “chow hall.” Now keep in mind, Iraqi food is delicious and some of my favorite…but low ranking Iraqi soldiers don’t have the privilege of spices, high quality ingredients, or even first cut bits of whatever they’re eating. I should have realized this upfront but I ended up learning it the hard way.
As we sat down, someone delivered what looked like a delicious bowl of chicken soup…with vegetables. I dug in happily because at this point I had been living off of military rations (known as “Meals Ready to Eat” or “MREs) and the occasional pop tart. The chicken was delicious but there wasn’t much of it in the soup. The vegetables, on the other hand, were “interesting” to say the least. The flavor was a bit off. Some of them were oddly shaped but firm like boiled carrots. Others seemed like tiny, crunchy translucent onions that popped and oozed when I bit into them.
I gave up and asked the soldiers I was dining with “what kind of vegetables are these”? They looked at me confusedly and said “no vegetables…just chicken.” Interesting. Very interesting. Not interesting enough to try again. I stuck to the MREs and pop tarts after that.
How was it: I’m still kind of traumatized and very careful to ask what’s in my soup before I dig in…just in case I’m “allergic” or something.
6. Guinea Pig
The Story: Guinea Pig is actually a loved food down in Peru. I’ve heard guinea pig, or “Cuy”, as its called in Spanish, spoken of like Americans might talk about their mom’s homemade apple pie. So, I had no choice. On an off day in Cusco, I hunted down a restaurant known for making delicious guinea pig and ordered up.
How was it: Imagine dark meat chicken with a slight fishy flavor and the smell of beef. Yeah, I wasn’t a fan of it either. Not to mention that the poor little guinea pig was delivered the way you imagine a whole roasted pig being delivered with an apple in its mouth – except it wasn’t nearly as appetizing. This little guinea pig laid on its belly spread out with its mouth open, bearing its buckteeth and its claws clearly visible, scratching into the tray it was delivered on. I made it through half of a leg before I tapped out, threw a napkin over little guy to hide him from view, and ordered a Lomo Saltado and Pisco Sour. I recommend trying it once. But just once.
The Story: During a motorcycle ride through Vietnam and Laos, my buddy Mark and I stopped in the entrancing mountain town of Sappa. Now, in this area the mountain people play by different culinary rules. Dog is believed to be great meat to eat in the winter as it “warms the body up from the inside”. Additionally, its believed to be good luck to eat dog in Vietnam during the first half of the month. We learned about this when Mark and I were on a guided hike and joked that Fido (a pup we passed that was chained up) was on the menu tonight. Our guide admitted that yes, Fido was on the menu, but in Vietnam they view dogs the same way Americans view pigs – and that it was just a matter of perspective if Americans view dogs as pets instead of livestock. The lady had a point, but I still wasn’t eating Fido…not intentionally anyways.
Fast forward to that evening. Mark and I were eating street food like usual and anyone who has backpacked Asia knows that meat skewers are the best, tastiest thing you can eat in Asia. They’re $.25-$.50 a piece so you can try plenty of them, which is exactly what we were doing.
At home, I’m a damn good chef. I know food and I know ingredients, so I was puzzled when I couldn’t place what kind of meat I was eating. It was darker, like beef, but too oily and didn’t have the flavor of beef, which ruled out the normal options: chicken, beef, and pork. I was scared to ask but I had to know, so I asked the vendor what we had just eaten. He confirmed it. We ate Fido. To this day, I still haven’t told Mark he ate dog. Mark, if you’re reading this, sorry bro.
How was it: Not bad actually, just like oily beef with a different, gamier flavor. I will absolutely not be eating it again (intentionally) though – I’ve had too many good pups in my life to betray them like that.
Where: Thailand, Khao San Road
The Story: This one was more of a gimmick. Vendors wander around the backpacker heavy Khao San Road and proposition backpackers, who have literally just consumed a bucket of alcoholic beverage, to eat these creatures that were never meant to be eaten by people. But, I’ll eat anything once and my buddy Alec peer pressured me so…I ate a scorpion.
How was it: This is cliché, but…it tasted like chicken. Extremely burnt, very crunchy chicken. Once was absolutely enough.
Where: Thailand, Khao San Road
The Story: Same as the Scorpion – Vendors wait for crazy westerners to buy these to eat to fuel their Insta-fame filled dreams. Unlike the scorpion, tarantulas are actually eaten normally but have to be specially prepared to remove their protective spines/hairs. If the tarantulas aren’t prepared right the hairs can get caught in your throat and will have to be surgically removed.
How was it: Very, very crunchy. And terrifying. Not gonna happen again. Nope.
2. Snake wine
Where: Vietnam, Dalat
The Story: During a friendly game of headsup at a hostel, a guy runs in with a bottle of whiskey…with a snake in it. A snake! Then, he says the most terrifying thing imaginable, “who wants to try?” My rule (try everything once) kicked in, so I had to try it.
How was it: So you’re wondering what alcohol tastes like that has had a venomous animal sitting in it for who knows how long…well, let’s take a closer look. That snake is venomous and could represent death, right? Also, that alcohol is still fermenting…right? So the only way to describe the smell of this snake wine is, “it smelled like fermented death.” And it tasted like fermented death too. I only took one sip and I couldn’t get the taste out of my mouth for 15 minutes. That poor (or stupid?) guy drank the whole bottle. Once again, once was enough for me
1. The Winner – Rat
Where: Thailand (keeping the city a secret)
(Sorry, I don’t have a picture of the rat I ate, because like any sane person, I run when I see a rat)
The Story: On another street food excursion I made the mistake of stopping at a smaller vendor with no customers. I bought a meat skewer, took a bite, and was stopped in my tracks as I started playing the meat guessing game with the vendor. The meat just didn’t taste good, it tasted old. The meat had a tough consistency and came in very small portions on the skewer. Something didn’t seem right. It almost seemed like the guinea pig I had eaten before. The way the meat was cut, it came from a smaller animal. I asked the vendor as many logical animals as I could think of. Not beef. Not pork. Not Chicken. Not Dog. Not horse. Not water buffalo. At this point the vendor seemed to get anxious and stopped playing the guessing game, which had me worried. What else could it be? I lost my appetite and left. As I walked home the last and only option that I hadn’t guessed ran across my path…a huge rat. I wanted to throw up.
How was it: I honestly can’t tell you because I couldn’t remember. The second I realized what I might have eaten I felt insanely nauseous. That is the only time that a food (or the thought of it) has made me want to throw up. Every night around 10:00PM when the old quarter is lifeless and there is no car traffic, bags of trash sit on the curbs and sidewalks raided by tens of rats. The rats run so free and plentifully that I chose to walk in the middle of the street instead of the sidewalk to avoid stepping on one. The rat I potentially ate was one of those trash raiding street rats and by far the worst food I’ve ever eaten abroad.
Now keep in mind, I’ve eaten a lot more other stuff that would give my doctor a heart attack but I’ve probably repressed the memory. Just for fun, here are a few more pics from my culinary adventures….
Have a question about travel and misadventures? Just email me at Carlos@ABrotherAbroad.com and I’ll answer in the most entertaining way possible