Unique foods around the world are an interesting topic because each food gives some insight into the traditions and practices in the location. This list highlights seven of the most unique foods around the world, from fermented shark and eggs to eating kangaroo, reindeer, and the eyes of a tuna. Each unique food is explained from food preparation to why it’s unique to the location and how you can enjoy the meal when you visit.
Guinea Pig in Ecuador
The first unique food on this list is unique because many people consider this animal to be a family pet, not a delicious dinner option. Guinea pigs are typically purchased at a pet store, although they can be legally consumed as a protein if you choose, but in the mountains of Ecuador, guinea pigs are bred for meat and used for medicines and around the house. Guinea pig is prepared by boiling and then deep-frying, much like one would cook a chicken.
Called “Cuy” in South America, guinea pig is a local delicacy that is eaten on special occasions and is a local traditional meal. To experience this unique food in Ecuador, you need to visit one of a few restaurants that serve Cuy on the menu, like La Hornilla, a restaurant in the town of Chaltura. Cuy is deep-fried multiple times at different temperatures once it is skinned and is served with bones and all like a spatchcocked chicken, that is spread open. The meat is moist and tender, very similar to fried chicken.
Kangaroo in Australia
Food unique to Australia is kangaroo, which is an animal that comes to mind when many people think of Australia, but maybe not in terms of a dining option. Kangaroo is considered game meat in Australia, much like bison or venison. Kangaroo is widely available at supermarkets with other game meats such as emu, camel, and crocodile. Kangaroo meat is unique because it is a traditional meal for indigenous people, and has become more mainstream and legal for everyone to consume across Australia.
Kangaroo is eaten in Australia because it is not farmed, which means the meat is antibiotic-free with a high protein and nutrient profile. In Australia, the kangaroo is plentiful enough to make it a sustainable meat source option, but some choose not to consume kangaroo due to growing up with a TV star, Skippy, and many can’t see themselves eating it. There are a few ways to consume Kangaroo, from kangaroo mince to making things like meatballs or burgers to the popular kangaroo steak, which may be available at local restaurants.
Hakarl in Iceland
Hakarl, also known as fermented shark, is an Icelandic delicacy that has become more of a tradition than a dietary staple. Hakarl is the fermented meat of the Greenlandic Shark. The meat is poisonous when fresh, so it is killed and then buried to leach the poison out of the meat, then cut up and dried to create what is known as Hakarl, almost like a shark or fish jerky. This dish has a tradition in Iceland that goes back to the fact that winter in Iceland is long and cold, so they would dry the shark meat to have a protein source that lasted the winter months.
Hakarl is consumed by eating a square on a toothpick and chased with a shot of Brennivin, an Icelandic moonshine. To eat Hakarl in Iceland you can go to a few places, either the Reykjavik Flea Market where you can sample the dish for free, although without an alcohol chaser. This is a nice option for those that want to visit this location anyway, or a cheaper option if you don’t drink alcohol. For a more complete experience, visit Iceland Street Food and Beer, where for around $7 you can sample Harkarl and chase it with Brennivin. The flavour profile of Harkarl is that of dried fish but isn’t particularly enjoyable.
Reindeer in Finland
This next food is unique because the animal is a popular staple in Finland, as reindeer are only native to northern Europe and Asia. Eating Caribou would be similar to eating reindeer. This unique food is considered iconic because it is one of the healthiest meat proteins a person can eat. It is high in B-12 as well as omega fatty acids and is a very lean protein. Among other unique foods on this list, reindeer may be considered more mainstream as it is a common meal in Finland and is comparable to eating deer or elk in other parts of the world.
Reindeer is often on the menu throughout Finland and is typically prepared by sauteeing it and offering it with potatoes and a lingonberry sauce. The most expensive option is a reindeer steak, while it can be also offered as a pizza topping or as a sausage. Reindeer is a common meal that is available throughout the country and no matter the season. When you look for reindeer on the menu, it may be listed as “Poronkäristys.”
Tuna eyes in Japan
Eating tuna in Japan is a common dish, most often seen as raw tuna or sashimi, or included in sushi dishes. Tuna eyes, that is, eating the eyeballs from tuna is more of a unique kind of food that you can order in Japan. The eyeballs are a way to use more of the fish for dishes in restaurants and are typically offered in places that have multiple tuna dishes on the menu or in bars as bar snacks. Eyes are available both raw and cooked, with cooked being a better choice to reduce the risk of consuming bacteria.
If you want to eat tuna eyes in Japan, the best place to go is a bar, as cooked tuna eyes are a popular bar snack and can be paired with a shot known as “tuna tears” for a well-rounded experience. The eye of a tuna is about the size of a tennis ball, and when cooked becomes hard on the outside and soft on the inside, much like eating bone marrow. Another way tuna eyes are prepared is braised in a soy-ginger sauce or sauteed with sesame oil and ginger. The taste is on the bland side, like eating mussels or hard-boiled eggs.
Century Egg in China
It seems like a lot of unique foods are also fermented foods specific to a region, and Century Egg falls into this category. Century Egg is either a duck, chicken, or quail egg, that is added to a mixture of black tea, lime, salt, and woodfire ashes. The mix sits for seven weeks to five months, not a century, to let the egg ferment and absorb the liquid. The result is a dark black looking egg white with a bright yellow-orange egg yolk. The texture is very jelly-like and there is a strong fermented odour. Century Egg can be used in soups or rice porridge and eaten on its own as a snack.
A great place for enjoying Century Egg is Yung Kee Restaurant in Hong Kong, where Century Egg is on the menu as a starter. This is a great place to opt for when trying this unique food because they use the traditional process to create the Century Egg, rather than using other means to expedite the fermenting process. Once patrons move past the scent of the egg, the texture and the eating experience is quite nice. It’s a smooth velvety snack and the dish here adds pink ginger on the side to give it a kick.
Haggis in Scotland
The last unique food on the list is Haggis, which is a very traditional meal in Scotland, but can be difficult to try elsewhere. This dish is made using sheep pluck, that is the heart, lungs, and liver mixed with suet, oatmeal, and seasonings prepared inside a sheep stomach. The stuffed stomach is tied closed and boiled for three hours. Haggis is often on the menu at local Scottish restaurants and can be offered for breakfast as well as dinner.
Haggis is rare in other parts of the world because it is difficult to get the sheep ingredients to make the dish, but in Scotland Haggis is a popular menu item and can even be purchased ready to eat at the grocery store. There are vegetarian options available in Scotland as well that mimic the flavour and consistency without the animal products. Haggis is enjoyed in a few ways, mainly as part of a traditional breakfast or as a main dish with a side of potatoes and turnips. Of course, it can be enjoyed with any beverage, but for something extra special, try a Scottish whiskey, or it pairs nicely with red wine or a dark beer.
What one may consider a unique food is another location’s standard or traditional staple. Enjoying the local fare is a great way to learn more about a new place and add some adventure to your next trip. When planning a vacation, be sure to consider the local unique foods and try one or two before you leave, as it makes for a great memory, photo, and experience to share with your friends at home.
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About the Author:
Cory Lee is a wheelchair user, travel addict, and accessible travel writer. On his blog, Curb Free with Cory Lee, he hopes to inspire others to roll out of their comfort zones and see all the beauty our world has to offer.