Popular Food Network and Travel Channel shows featuring famed food adventurers like
have made it cool to eat like a local. We asked our famed travel bloggers
, hunting through the smoke and blinding lights for some local food at a budget price.
At Stall 34, blazing flames were clouding the sky in smoke and the aroma from the barbecued meat skewers was too tempting to pass up. My friends ordered several brochette de viande or meat skewers (the only item that we could read in French) right off the sizzling grill but I was craving for something new and exciting.
I scrolled through the menu, which was written only in French, and randomly picked a dish.
"Cerveaux de moutons s'il vous plaît!" The cook looked at me and smiled. Clearly, I had no idea what was coming.
Soon enough a dish was produced: it looked like a lightly sautéed chunk of mincemeat, but in the dim lights, I could hardly make out what it was and the cook didn't speak any English. I was too hungry to care. I took a bite on the tender meat and almost threw it up. It had a soft, tofu-like texture and a strong gamey taste. No, it wasn't beef. Neither was it lamb. It had a subtle hint of herbs. Bull testicles? Pigeon?
It was only when I returned home and checked up on the translation of the word did I solve the puzzle. It was sheep brains, and apparently it was a delicacy in Morocco.
I'm comfortable with the implications of being a carnivore but still it's unnerving to look your meal right in its still squirming face.
I'm not sure what I was expecting upon being invited to a Vietnamese snake restaurant. The building was just another generic store front on a dark street in the suburbs of Hanoi
. I would never have found it (or sought it out) on my own. We were the only foreigners there yet dozens of groups sat in their own private areas, all feasting on the same thing: cobra.
The snake came out nearly immediately. “Who will eat the heart?” the server asked, passing around our very alive, very alert, and very poisonous entree, “Vietnamese Viagra!”
I laughed nervously and downed a shot of rice wine. Next to me, my boyfriend Michael raised his hand to volunteer.
Do snakes feel fear? I flinched when they brought the knife out. It was just a quick hand motion and the beating heart was outside the body, still attached, still pumping. Michael bent over and ripped it with his teeth. Vietnamese Viagra? No way I was kissing him now.
“How did it taste?”
In the confusion afterwards the snake was bled out, the blood mixed with the wine and handed out in thumb-sized cups. We toasted and drank. The wine overpowered any taste but the act itself felt primal. Next up, wine with venom and bile. This shot tingled on the way down. I tried not to think about it too hard.
The snake disappeared into the back to be cooked into an (ultimately delicious) 6-course meal. The rest of us, who were clearly having a better night than him, went back to drinking wine. Bulls Balls in Brazil
I saw them for the first time at a grill house or churrascaria in Foz do Iguaçu, the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls
. The restaurant chef accompanied me and explained the different parts of the cow on the massive grill.
With a chuckle, he proclaimed, “bulls balls”!
“Testicles? No way!”
I glanced at them and made a beeline for the juicy-looking tenderloins. But when I returned to my table I was horrified to see the person next to me sitting with an enormous testicle on his plate. Seeing me recoil in shock, he grinned and asked me if I’d ever tried it. I shook my head, trying to regain my cool and appear uninterested.
His grin grew wider, he cut a slice from the testicle and handed it to me.
I shook my head but no words came out of my mouth. The sight of his knife slicing through the testicle made me squirm in my seat. I looked at it on my plate and thought, “Get over it. It’s just a meatball!” I put my fork into it (ouch!) and raised it to my mouth. I munched on it twice and swallowed it quickly. The only thing I remember was a salty flavor, which I swiftly washed down with a big gulp of beer!Having the Guts to Try Something New, Buenos Aires
One hungry afternoon in Buenos Aires
, my friend and I caught a whiff of grilling meat and followed our noses to a street vendor selling the usual selection of choripan sausage and other snacks. Although delicious, choripan is pretty greasy and very fattening so I thought I’d brave something called morcipan. It was cheaper, darker and less greasy; vegetarian sausage I assumed, without stopping to ask either my friend or the vendor.
One bite was all I needed to realize something wasn’t quite right, but it tasted enough like black beans that I kept chewing. And I mean chewing. They were the chewiest black beans I’d ever eaten.
At one point I was yanking a very stretchy piece of “black bean” with my teeth trying to rip it out of the bun until the food actually snapped apart, whipping my head back. Annoyed, I turned to my friend and asked him why they made their vegetarian sausages so chewy in Argentina.
After nearly choking on his own food he finally explained what was wrong. This was no vegetarian dish, it was congealed pig blood and intestines. Let’s just say from then on I stuck to the fattening choripan. Mexican Fried Critters
It would appear that bugs are the last bastion of "extreme eating" nowadays. And I'd say that I'm a traveler willing to try (almost) anything.
Which is how I found myself in Puebla
- the literal epicenter of Mexican cuisine - this past summer with a mouthful of multi-legged critters. The good chefs at El Mural de los Poblanos
an upscale restaurant in the heart of the city - serve some of the most traditional fare in the entire country.
As an "appetizer", we started with gusanos - worms fried table side and served in corn tortillas with salsa, guacamole and ground worm powder. They're crispy, crunchy and well ... fried. Once I got beyond the fact that I was eating worms, they were surprisingly tasty.
But the real prize was the escamoles - fried ant larvae served with all the same fixin's as the worms. It goes without saying that, among the dozen travelers in our group, few opted to taste this admittedly terrifying delicacy.
I knew if I was gonna do it, I was going all the way - a heapin' helpin' of ant eggs with a dollop of salsa and guac spread liberally on a fresh tortilla. It all combines into a buttery, nutty, and slightly spicy mess of flavors. To be honest, it's still one of the best things I've ever eaten in Mexico!