Weird and Strange Food Around the World |


Weird Foods: Vegetable

Did you know that animals were the first life form? There were animals for hundreds of millions of years in the seas. The land was bare rock. Only much later did plants, the higher life form, arise.

  • Poke Salad (USA): Poke is an American vegetable. Poke Salad
  • Beets on a Burger (Australia): I'm an Aussie currently residing in Canada and was astounded to find that no-one here puts beets on burgers - any real Aussie burger has pickled beets (beetroot) on it, in addition to a fried egg, plus the rest of your regular fixin's.
  • Collard Greens (US South): Collard greens - soul food at its best! Popular in the rural south and pretty much wherever there are black folks with Southern roots. Similar to turnip greens, but much stronger taste and aroma. If prepared correctly, have oodles of bacon fat and "white meat" (pork belly). I personally love them, but don't like to be in the kitchen while they're cooking... smells like the whole family has gas & everyone went to the kitchen to relieve the pressure.
  • Kim Chee (Korea): Fermented cabbage. The cabbage is soaked in a tub containing salt and red pepper. It is usually left for several weeks before serving, but can be stored for months in clay pots buried underground. Takes on a hot vinegar taste after fermentation
  • Petai beans (Malaysia): Petai beans smell like methane gas. Petai.html
  • Kava (Fiji): Passed around in a large "salad bowl" for all to share, this drink has a slight numbing effect, if you can get past the taste of wet cement. It is crushed kava root and water, strained which gives it a white, slightly milky appearance. Some say it is a drug, but you would have to drink so much of it to feel an effect past your tongue tingling, that you are probably better off just having a beer. (I couldn't help but think that maybe some Kool-Aid may spruce it up).
  • Poi (Hawaii): Mashed taro root. Taro (Hawaiians call it kalo) is poisonous in its raw form due to calcium oxalate crystals, so the Polynesians smashed taro into paste. Hawaiians love strong tastes, so the bland, starchy poi is often eaten as part of a full meal to balance and cleanse the palate between dishes. Hawaiians sometimes encourage mainlanders and kids to put sugar and water into it to make it more palatable. Fresh poi should be relatively tasteless, packaged and old poi tends to be slightly tangy. (I've tried this. Like unflavored glue. - andreas)
  • Three-fried Beans (US South): You talked a few times about the South loving fried food but I think the pinnacle of this obsession is something I had while driving through Arkansas. This restaurant sold what it called Three-fried Beans. This was ball of refried beans, battered, and then fried again. Just think about it. First you have the refried beans, I don't know if they made or bought pre-made, which is beans fried and then refried. Next you batter them and then fry them again? The batter was kind of sweet and it was actually pretty good.
  • Dried bananas (Brazil): They're black, wrinkled, dry and sweet, about the size of nana's feeble finger. No refrigeration necessary. Mmmmm!
  • Fried Green Tomatoes (US South): Fried Green Tomatoes (just like the movie!). How can anyone think of something like that, eat an unripe fruit? Yet I have to admit that it wasn't bad at all! (We also ate this in Tennessee. Slice up a green tomato, dust it with corn meal, and fry in butter. - andreas)
  • Cactus Apples (US Southwest, Mexico): A red or purple fruit found growing on beavertail cactus plants. Remove CAREFULLY, roll it around in the sand then skin it with a sharp knife (try not to get stuck by the needles) and slice into disk-shaped sections for eating as a finger food. The purple ones taste like cranberry and the red ones taste like pear. Notes: The juice leaves bright stains. You may want to spit the seeds out. Family gatherings in the outdoors often turn into cactus apple hunts. Kids are always encouraged to help hunt and then eat some. Do not eat more than three at a time. You will get constipated.
  • Jackfruit (Vietnam): I ate jackfruit in Jacksonville, Florida. I bought it in an Asian market and then took it into a Vietnamese restaurant, where they recognized it and everybody smiled and nodded, so I guess it's a Vietnamese fruit. In many ways it's similar to durian, with the weird lobey yellow items inside a frightening, huge, spiney pod, but it's a different pod, bright green instead of brown like durian, and the spines are not as lethal seeming. I guess they're more like nubs, or nubbins, than spines. And the texture of the part you eat is very different from durian. Not as soft. More juicy than custardy. More structural integrity. Sleek and shiny rather than flabby and noisome (but I mean flabby and noisome in the best way: I like durian a LOT). The most interesting thing about jackfruit is that the lobey yellow things are in a latex matrix, and if you try to just reach in and grab them, the latex gets all over your fingers and you can't believe how sticky it is. The Vietnamese restauranteurs, when they saw us trying to eat our jackfruit, laughed and then disapeared into the kitchen and came running out with a little dish of vegetable oil. You have to dip your fingers in oil to avoid getting the latex everywhere. So you dip your fingers in oil and then you reach into this thing that looks like yellow innards and you pull out from among these sortof pale butter-colored anenome frond things the yellow lobe things, and you get the seeds out of the lobes and eat the lobes. O boy! They're great! Like eating flowers. You can get the eviscerated pods frozen in Asian store freezers. I've made smoothies with them and they're okay. I think you can eat the seeds; you boil them or something.
  • Patatje Oorlog (Holland): Patatje Oorlog = "Chips War". Fried potato chips with mayonaise, tomato ketchup, raw onions, and Indonesian peanut-sauce. When you eat this, war breaks out in your stomach.
  • Fried Dill Pickles (USA South): A down-home Southern treat is fried dill pickles. It's got two of the major food groups: fat and salt. This just might be the thing to serve to house guests who are overstaying their welcome. Perhaps you could make it for a sick acquaintance who you really hate but feel obliged to do something for. From: Susan Hattie Steinsapir.
  • Dulse (Maritime Canada): Dried purple seaweed sold in Atlantic Canada at convenience stores. Should have bits of green algae, small stones, flotsam, and so on, adhering. Eaten as is with relish by the locals. Grotequely disgusting. Probably poisonous. Possibly could be used with caution as a garden fertilizer. From: Robert Hughes.
  • Durian (Southeast Asia): Why is this the longest section in the document? Because I love the whole idea of durians. More than anything else, they gave me the idea, the motivation, and the strength to start this list of weird foods.
  • A fruit as big as a football, covered with tough spiky skin. The pulp is pale yellow, with shape and consistency of raw brains. Smell has been compared to rotting flesh, old gym socks, or sewage. Yet the taste has been called so exquisite that a European explorer of the 1700's claimed it was worth the journey to experience it; "the King of fruits." Many believe it aphrodisiac and hold durian-eating parties. Most hotels, and so on, forbid it on the premises. In Malaysia, a friend of mine witnessed someone on a bus grab another person's durian and throw it out the window, after another passenger threw up.
    In USA cities with an Asian neighborhood, you can find the entire bizarre fruit frozen, or you can pay considerably more (I paid about $8.00 for a pound) and get a plastic box of durian flesh removed from the husk. When thawed, the consistency is like flan or custard--in fact, it has the same pale yellow color--surrounding large pits in the whole fruit. Eat it with a spoon or follow recipes for various desserts. I think it resembles tapioca pudding flavored with cooked onion. Weird but not nasty. There is great variation with season, location, variety, individual fruits, and, I hear, even individual lobes within some fruits.

    1. Eating durian is like eating pesto or other garlic dishes; you do have to plan the social occasion around its persistent odor. Don't create a negative experience by neglecting this aspect. You wouldn't give a first date a garlicky salad dressing, would you?

    2. Asian markets often have cookies, crackers, candy, and so on, flavored with durian, and I bought a small bottle of flavoring extract just for fun. The cookies (like ice-cream-cone wafers sandwiched with durian-flavored frosting) were amazingly smelly when I first got them, but the flavor gradually faded away as they got stale.

    3. In Malaysia they don't even allow you to carry one in a rental car. Special stickers on the car, kinda like no smoking ones, tell you will be fined for having one in the car! From: Gudrun Achtenhagen.

    4. Durians--there are many many varieties. Some more pungent, others more fragrant and others thoroughly insipid. BTW it is eaten fresh as a fruit, with coconut rice (lemak) and also fermented as a side dish. From: Chong Angela.

    5. The way I made myself to start eating durian was that I forced myself to eat the whole good clove durian. You will feel disgusting to eat it at the beginning. But once you have tried the whole good clove, you will fond of it. From: Keith Lo.

    6. Reading the past few articles just reminded me of the way I reacted to certain strong smelling cheese when I was visiting my friends in Europe... the same way that some of you reacted to the smell of durian. :) From: Karen Khim Hwa Yeo.

    7. Of all the durians you should try is the "sampa durian" or wild durian. These are usually found growing in the wild and not in some plantation. When I was serving with the army, the training areas are littered with many sampa durian trees. These durians are smaller, more pungent and sweeter. Durians cannot be plucked. You have to wait for them to fall of the tree. When they fall, don't be under them.

    8. The platoon usually hunt for fallen durians when they go to training areas. First you smell their presence and try to locate them. Finally you see them, pick them up and pry them open. There may be some maggots and worms already eating it, but what the heck, we eat the non-infested pulp. It is all worth it. When the military exercise ends, the training grounds are littered with empty durian shells. A sure sign that the Singapore Armed Forces have been here--Jin Ngee, Chia.

    9. Durian is the King of Fruit. You should all be so lucky to have access to Durian. If there are gods, the gods eat Durian. I would rather eat Durian than pizza. However, to keep all in perspective, I would rather have sex than eat Durian. But Durian is definitely second on my list. From: Alice Ramirez.

    10. Ah, yes, the peculiar joy of Durian candy. After some months of reflection, I realized exactly what it tastes like: Imagine eating sweetened coconut while continuously inhaling natural gas... From: Dan Cohen.

    11. When I lived in the Philippines, it was described to me as "like eating pudding in an outhouse, " and I never heard a better description. From: Carl A Pforzheimer.

    12. I always thought China Town in London had bad drains until I discovered the durian! A group of us clubbed together and bought one once (too expensive for one person,) we had a whole tube compartment to ourselves on the way home and our host made us store it in the garden overnight! We ate it the next day and while it smelt disgusting the taste was pretty amazing--very rich and quite yummy. Only problem was for the next few days all 'burps' tasted like old drains (or what I imagine they'd taste like!]. From: Linda Garthwaite.

    13. When I lived in Singapore a bunch of people from work took me out at the height of the fresh season (I'm thinking around May or so) and between 8 of us we downed 13 of the beasts.

    14. They kept warning me about being careful to not get to "heaty". Never did figure out what that meant. From: Jim Parent) This is another interesting aspect of durians. Many people believe them to be aphrodisiac, and this puts a certain edge on the parties where people gather to indulge communally in an "orgy" of durian-eating. This would also account for the warning signs prohibiting durian in hotel rooms.--Ray Bruman

    15. Durians! January and July is durian season in Malaysia and Singapore! The fruit is now found all over stalls in the markets and if you are in Malaysia, makeshift stalls on the highway!

    16. Here we never get it frozen. Goodness! I've never heard of frozen durians. It's always fresh.

    17. How to pick one? These are just general pointers:

    18. Always pick one up to shake. Yep! shake the fruit. Now if you hear like rocks knocking inside, leave it. There might be maggots in there that has gotten in there before you do.

    19. Ask the seller to pry one open for inspection. Just a glance would do. flesh should be yellowish like custard with lots of milk. The smell must be overpowering. Look for again tell-tale signs for maggot infestation. That is black spots, certain larvae eggs and other unpleasant stuff.

    20. Sir Stamford Raffles who founded Singapore didn't like it a damn bit.
    21. The nation that has banned durians is Singapore. It is only banned on buses and the subway due to its overpowering odor.
    22. Durians cannot be plucked from the tree. You have to wait for it to drop from the tree. When it does, you better not be there. The fruit usually drops at night for reasons no one knows.
    23. Durians are fattening. So not all fruits are healthy. Anyway to SEA peoples, eating durians is almost equivalent to eating meat.
    24. Thai durians are the largest in size. They have more flesh and are the most expensive.
    25. Durian plantations are often robbed in Malaysia. During seasons such as this current one, armed men often keep a vigil over their precious investments dropping at night.
    26. Wild durians are more tasty than plantation grown durians. There are some pockets of rainforests in Singapore that grows durian trees. So it is open season for enthusiasts who venture to these places for the hunt.
    27. The durian is crowned as the King of Fruits by peoples of SEA.
    28. After eating durians, your "durian breath" will linger for up to 6 hours. Durian breath is so bad, it ranked higher than garlic in terms of unpleasantness.
    29. Durian is made into many forms besides durian ice-cream. There is durian candy which is called durian dodol, durian custard which is much sweeter and durian cake, much highly sought after by durian enthusiasts.
  • Fufu (Ghana): Many West Africans have strong loyalty to their native fufu. It is made from pounded yam and is eaten in slimy balls without chewing, normally with a spicy peanut sauce. It is a strong identity issue, notably in Ghana.
  • Tempeh (Japan): Made from fermented moldy soy beans (in other words, rotten tofu) and pressed into firm blocks. Tempeh is not really mouldy or rotten, although a mould is used in the fermentation. Looks like a flat square cake of beans stuck together with a white adhesive. There are sometimes harmless mould growths (tiny grey circles) on the surface of a block, which could be off- putting to the uninitiated.
  • Tempeh (Indonesia): A type of soya-bean tofu with muscles. Indonesian tempeh contains Soya beans as well as the curd, which is all then fermented in a rolled sausage shape, inside a palm-leaf. Much firmer than normal tofu, it is dense and dry, holds its shape and resembles a nougar (nougat) candy bar. Normally, slices are cut off and then often cut into julienne strips. They get used in Indonesian stir-fries and various other dishes. Sometimes they're the main feature in a vegetable dish. Tempeh are good in a spicy dish, but on their own have not much flavor really.
  • Okra (Africa, USA South): Okra is a strong contender for Least Favorite Vegetable or Ropiest Mucus (vegetable division.) Okra is the source of many jokes. We used to call them "slime pods". Saturday Night Live even had an "Okra Cola" parody. To me, they resemble something left over from a rather ugly chest cold. Guess how the Japanese eat okra? They don't cook it. They eat it raw and slimy. That figures. My Japanese wife buys frozen whole okra, about 8 ounces I guess, thaws the pods under cold running water and chops them into bite-sized pieces, then plops them into a bowl and stirs in hefty amounts of lemon juice and soy sauce till it "looks right" (3 or 4 tbsp each I guess.) She also stirs in a lot of chopped green onions (about 6 or 8.) Using chopsticks she whips this into the most glistening frothing blob of goo you can imagine. Then she refrigerates it for several hours to let the flavors mix, and eventually serves it cold as a side dish.
    The flavor is fresh and green-garden-vegetably with a lemon bite. The pods are still crunchy like wholesome raw veggies, and they make an intriguing contrast to the slime. I like them so much I just eat them slime and all.
    Rather than trying to gulp quivering spoonfuls of the stuff, I delicately grasp each pod-piece with chopsticks and stretch out the slime till it gets thin and breaks, kind of like hot pizza cheese. Then I've got a mini-bite package that pops into my mouth with no mess and chews up individually instead of seeming like it's still connected to the rest of the stuff in the bowl.
    The most typical Southern US way to prepare okra: battered and deep fried. Actually, people in the South will batter and fry dang near anything but doing so with okra is one of their best inventions. Yummy! Its also very easy to grow. My Father had a harvest one year where the plants topped 10 feet tall and were just covered in pods.
    The slimy texture is similar to other Japanese foods such as raw seafood, but most notably reminiscent of "natto", which is fermented soy beans. Natto is brown, is just as slimy as okra, and smells raunchy from the yeast-beasts who already romped in it. To make it even more gruesome, perhaps so it reminds her of oysters slithering down her throat, she cracks a raw egg on top. I won't go near the stuff myself. There's no accounting for taste. From: Dan Wright.
    Callaloo (in Trinidad): boiled okra + spinach (my brother makes sandwiches with this)
  • Marmite (Australia/New Zealand, UK): See also Vegemite. Sandwich spread made of yeast extract, pungently smelly and salty. This topic seems to cycle round quite frequently. Best to look at the FAQ's of both soc.culture Australian and New Zealand groups for the detailed answers. But in vague summary: The grand prototype is Marmite from the UK. that has been produced since way back when... Marmite is from the French, meaning a small pot. Brit expatriates took their love of this stuff to the Antipodes and local versions were made there, after imports were affected... by war I think. Australia invented a new name for their product, whereas the NZ product kept the British name (but made by a different company... Sanitarium NZ. They are all somewhat similar in color and flavor, made of yeast extract culled from brewery wastes, and quite salty. To my taste UK Marmite. The original tastes sharp, Vegemite has earthy undertones. It is also less "glistening" and more satiny in texture, perhaps because of vegetable extracts added, and the NZ Marmite has a perceptible sweet edge to it. Masterfoods Promite is even sweeter. Each product has its adherents, usually comprising a fair percentage of the population of the nation of origin. Finally, the best and most popular usage is with lashings of butter on bread, toast and biscuits. My Mum took it as a hot beverage to help combat morning sickness.
    Be very, very careful what you say about Marmite where a Brit might hear you. Real British men can spread Marmite like peanut butter and still enjoy it. In fact, some of us spread Marmite AND peanut butter in equal quantities on the same slice, but we may be the exception. Marmite and jam, or jelly in USA-speak is more common. The best use for Marmite is on Marmite Soldiers. Take a slice of toast, thinly spread with butter then Marmite and cut up in to strips. The strips must be narrow enough to be dipped into a decapitated soft boiled 2.5 minute egg. Breakfast of Champions. Tastes much better if your mother makes the soldiers and boils the egg for you. It ain't called The Growing Up Spread for nothing. Opinions, even within the Isles, are divided. You either love it or loathe it.
  • Vegemite (Australia, New Zealand, UK): Sandwich spread made of yeast extract, pungently smelly and salty. Oddly, it's an American company's product but a true national symbol of Australia.
    I used to work for the company that makes Marmite and the yeast used to make the yeast extract was obtained from the local breweries. The makers of Marmite try to remove the "beery" taste from their product, whereas, the makers of Vegemite don't. This is what makes the greatest difference in the tastes of the two products. See also Marmite.
  • Iceberg Lettuce (USA): Carefully bred and most popular variety sold in stores... but why? It is STILL the most popular variety of lettuce seed sold for USA home gardening, which boggles the mind even more!
  • Peanut Butter (US): As a Canadian living in New Zealand, I can tell you why New Zealanders and Australians gag when North Americans talk fondly of peanut butter and jelly, preferably Welches Grape Jelly, sandwiches--"jelly" in New Zealand and Australia means "Jell-O" and they call "jelly" jam--there's no distinction between jam with seeds and the strained, set variety--it's all jam to them. They eat "jam" doughnuts [they're not good at doughnuts down here] instead of jelly doughnuts. So whatever you do, never order anything with jelly in the southern hemisphere, unless you want Jell-O.
  • Mountain Potato (Japan): A root that is eaten raw and grated, often with raw tuna and a raw quail egg. When a mountain potato is grated, it secretes a translucent slime that is the exact consistency of mucus, yet is totally without flavor.
  • Natto (Japan): Fermented beans. Even many Japanese dislike it. The guidebook warned about it. But it was served with breakfast at the Youth Hostel in Tokyo, of all places. A strange honey-like syrup forms on the beans, so faint threads of it dangle from your chopsticks. Vile.
  • Poutine (Quebec, Canada): My vote for the most unsavory dish is a concoction they call 'Poutine' which is grease-impregnated French fries called Frites or Chip by the locals, soaked with fat-laden gravy topped by cheddar curd cheese which melts from the heat of the French fries and gravy into a sticky and stringy mess.
    Gentlemen and Ladies: I am responding to comments about the most disgusting fast food place. You are obviously not acquainted with Quebec's venture into TMDFFP--Poutineries--a unique perversion of the humble chip shop. As far as I can tell, they exist only in la belle province. We are not talking south of France. Simple recipe: French fries, very greasy, topped with generic brown gravy which might be served in a proto-BBQ chicken resto, or a restaurant where they don't know the difference between grilling and BBQ. Add to this fresh cheese curds. The curds melt over the gravy and fries producing a greasy gooey mess which, I am aware, sounds absolutely delightful. For something truly exotic add a dollop of a meat based tomato spaghetti sauce. Voila--Michigan poutine.
    Traditional poutine "real poutine" is actually, what I have been told by my acaidian teachers, is potatoes, hollowed out a bit and stuffed with cheese and meat and deep fried until it turns grey. Tasty! Even better I live in New Brunswick and they have CANNED poutine at my local grocery store. EEEEWWW! You are talking about Fast Food poutine that they make at Mc Donalds and Burger King in French areas of N.B. and in Quebec. It is just gravy, probably made from beef from the hamburgers, fries and cheese curds I made it once it turned out fine but add the fries and cheese curds to the gravy so they won't get too soggy.
    Apparently poutine used to be a meat and cheese pie in a mashed potato crust. It simply degenerated into what we see today : The mashed potato crust turned into French fries, the game meat by instant gravy, and the cheese by curd. Just goes to show what can happen to real food. Of course, this might be an urban legend. I don't think poutine used to be anything else. I'm a reporter who has investigated poutine, and I once actively went looking for its origins. There are several theories, but the most likely have the dish originating in the area around Arthabaska, Quebec, in the heart of a dairy region. Cheese curds are produced in quantity, and potatoes are a staple. The dish has been around for about 25 years and has spread across Canada and into the USA Quebec poutine is not to be confused with an Acadian dish called Poutine Rapee, which is made with grated potatoes shaped into a ball around some meat and boiled.
  • Sweet bread (Philippines, Indonesia): Not sweetbreads, the offal dish, but bread which is sweet. Foreigners like me get used to it, but it's one of those annoying items adapted from Western influence to local tastes. It looks like standard square white bread, though only about 8 or 10 slices with no end-bits/heels. However, unlike 'Western' bread, this stuff's very sweet. For a Westerner, it's very annoying as it tastes sickly but looks okay - no near yet so far. Filipinos often coat this bread in condensed milk to eat it. A more popular topping is a thick layer of another destroyed Western favorite - mayonnaise. Pinoy mayonnaise is sickly-sweet too! Boo-hoo!
  • Pease Pudding and Mushy Peas (North England): As the name suggests, this highly avoidable delicacy is made from large marrowfat peas. The peas are cooked in water until they completely dissolve, resulting in a green, gooey mush. The resulting swamp-food is used as a sort of vegetable and sauce combined. A very vexing habit in parts of England is in takeaway chip shops, where a big splash of mushy peas is added amongst the fish and chips, which are wrapped in a bag and usually eaten with the fingers. Just imagine it as trying to eat soup with your fingers.
  • Frites and Mayo (Holland): French Fries and mayonnaise. I worked with Dutch colleagues who, though as cosmopolitan any anybody, have their home favourites too. A standard favorite, which I got used to, was frites and mayo. Frites are potato fries which are eaten with mayonnaise on the side. I really liked that and developed it further, using Heinz salad cream, like a vinegary mayonnaise. Excellent! A Dutch item which used to frustrate me was their cold cuts. Whereas your average American or Brit, when confronted with plates of fresh bread slices, various cold meat slices, Edam cheese slices, salad leaves, tomatoes and mayo, will inevitably take n' make a big sandwich, grabbed in both hands, a typical Dutch person will lay down a bread slice on their plate, top it with cheese, cold meat etc and then eat the open assembly with a knife and fork. It seems such a waste of effort! I used to make them laugh by making DIY sandwiches.
  • Ugali (Kenya): White, opaque, almost tasteless substance served in a slice or lump. Similar to solidified wallpaper paste. Best enjoyed if almost starving. Probably similar to poi.
  • Ramps (USA South): A very strongly flavored member of the onion family. The first fresh green vegetable to appear after the winter in Appalachia, it is gathered and ceremonially eaten. This can leave such a powerful flavor on the breath that kids do it in order to be sent home from school. Wonderful ramp stories are told in the American folklore collection called "Pissing in the Snow, " edited by Vance Randolph.
  • Tofu (Japan): Soybean curd, sometimes called "bean crud." Bland, innocuous, healthful and politically correct, it still nauseates a lot of suspicious customers In Chinese, cho do fu or tso do fu literally translates as "smelly tofu". Fermented tofu. Smells like an outhouse.
  • Seaweed (Japan and Others): All forms of seaweed are edible and many are tasty and nutritious. But, many people are repulsed by the idea.
  • Jalapeno Peppers (Mexico): Hot peppers from the town of Jalapa. The word jalopy derives from the French word chaloupe, which is (was) a kind of sailing ship.
  • Miso (Japan): Japanese travelers get very homesick for their familiar food--even more than most other nationalities. And this fermented bean goo soup is one of the principal foods that makes them sentimental.
  • Grits (USA South): Cereal made of hominy, which is blanched white corn meal.
  • Gari (West Africa and Brazil): Grated cassava root. Somewhat like poi.
  • Fiddlehead Ferns (USA Northeast): These are the sprouting, curled tops of new ferns, which resemble the head of a violin. They are eaten as a springtime vegetable. Unusual, but is it so weird? Here's an article in the October 8, 1994, Vol. 146, no. 15, Science News.
    Just as undercooked meat or fowl can make a meal sickening, so, too, raw or lightly cooked ostrich fern may cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Though harvested commercially for years in the northeastern United States and in western Canada as a seasonal delicacy, Matteucia struthiopteris seems to be the common element in several outbreaks of food poisoning this past may, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC in Atlanta. At one time, native Americans in eastern North America considered this fern a spring vegetable, one adopted by Canadian settlers in the 1700s, the CDC notes. Nevertheless, in New York, one restaurant received complaints from 40 people who ate fiddleheads sautéed for 2 minutes, while no one who ate similarly harvested ferns cooked 10 minutes at another eatery experienced symptoms. Likewise three outbreaks occurred in western Canada, two at restaurants that also cooked the ferns just briefly. Health department officials tested uncooked ferns for bacterial and pesticide contamination but found neither. Nor did they track any other possible causes, the CDC reports in the Step. 23 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. They conclude that the ferns may contain a toxin that adequate cooking--steaming for 10 minutes or boiling for 15 minutes-- destroys.
  • Ambuyat (Brunei): This is a dish that is very popular here, in Brunei. The natives of the area use every part of the Sago palm tree. One interesting part is that they will take the center of the trunk, plane it into sawdust, boil the sawdust in water for several hours, until it has the same appearance and texture as rubber cement, and serve. It is eaten with a kind of forked chopstick. You are supposed to roll it on, like pasta on a fork, dip it in some peanut or other flavored sauce, since it is almost tasteless by itself, and swallow it. It is useless to chew and you won't be able to breath as long as it is in your mouth. You must eat it while it is hot before it dries into a hard plastic. It actually isn't that bad, and they say that you won't gain weight from it since it is mostly water. It not only seems like you are eating glue... you are, they also use the same stuff to stuck roofing materials onto the top of their houses.
  • Gingko Seeds (Japan): The seeds of the gingko tree, native to China, are a delicacy. I had them in a yakitori restaurant, where they were threaded with a pine needle and roasted over charcoal. Very tasty. What's weird is how people learned they were edible, because the ripe fruit of the gingko smells pungently like vomit. This repulsive flesh has to be stripped off the seeds, which are boiled before roasting.
  • Habanero Peppers (Mexico Yucatan Peninsula): Green when unripe, bright orange or red when ripe. Hottest pepper known, coming in at over 300,000 Scoville Units. The "Scotch Bonnet" is closely related, if not the same pepper. They are both Capsicum Chinenses. In response to the description "much hotter than jalapenos, " Dan writes: Sure, just like a forest fire is "much hotter" than a summer's day. I have a habanero pepper plant, and they're best treated like plutonium.
  • Patatas Korv (Sweden): There is "patatas korv" (potato sausage). This is ground potatoes and ground pork, seasoned with salt and pepper. Some people also add diced onions. We steam ours in a "waterless cooker" but usually the pork-potato mixture is stuffed into sausage casings and then boiled. Either way it is delicious. This is definitely Scandinavian. And there are also potato dumplings. Ground potatoes, mix in enough flour to hold it together, make a ball of it with a ball of ground pork or sausage. Put them in a big pot of boiling water and boil. Eat with lots of butter. The leftovers (you make a big bunch of them so you have plenty left over!) are very good (perhaps even better) fried and, again, eaten with lots of butter. I really enjoy these but you sort of have to grow up with them to really enjoy them. They are heavy. My uncle Hjalmar called them "bombs".
  • Indian Ice Cream (India): Among the Tanaia of S central Alaska and (particularly) the Indians of coastal British Columbia, Indian ice cream is made using the soapberry plant (Shepherdia canadensis). The sour bitter tasteless fruits contain a (soapy) saponin that allow it to be whipped into a foam resembling soapsuds. They usually add sugar and cream to this. Definitely an acquired taste; the saponin gives it a very bitter aftertaste. They also use the plant medicinally to treat cuts, swellings, stomachache, constipation, heart problems, arthritis, gallstones, and tuberculosis. The soapberry berries will not whip if there is even a trace of grease.
  • Baby Octopus in Soju (Korea): You are given a bowl of live baby octopuses and a plate which is covered in soju (Korean alcohol). You pick one octopus up and wipe it in the soju which puts it to sleep and then eat it. More fun near the end of the meal when there is less soju on the plate or the octopus doesn't go asleep and starts to fight as you're eating it.
  • Raw Beef and Onions (USA): Another Christmas staple at Grandma's house. It was raw ground beef, close to 100% lean, spread on dark rye bread and topped with slices of raw onion. This went on for decades and, believe it or not, nobody ever got sick. I don't know where this originated; it was common holiday fare in my east-central Wisconsin hometown.
  • Matzoh (Jewish): I grew up eating matzoh with butter and ketchup. That tangy/sweet with butter just tickles the taste buds. My family is not Jewish but my husband is. When he found out I liked butter and ketchup matzoh, he thought it was the grossest thing he ever heard of!
  • Romergrod (Norway): Notice that you didn't mention Romergrod (with slashes through the o's)... I had it in Norway - it's some kind of wedding porridge. I still remember this clogging, mucus suffocating sensation as I tried to eat it (no option except to eat it as we were being treated by my friend and her Norwegian relatives. ) We tried dumping lots of sugar in it, too, without much success.
  • Vinegar Pie (USA): I imagine that it goes back to the days when apple cider could only be preserved as vinegar. There is a restaurant on I-85 in South Carolina that advertises it but I have seen it all over the South.
  • Fried Food (USA): Fried pickles, fried squash, fried eggplant, fried okra, fried green tomatoes, and (but of course) fried ice-cream in a corn flake batter.
  • Ube Ice Cream (Philippines): This purple concoction is what makes a lot of Filipinos homesick until they find it in their own local Asian Market. Ice cream made with purple yams. Tastes like heaven!

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