When was the last time you tried something new or broke out of your comfort zone? It’s easy for us to sink into a routine, especially when it comes to our food choices. But, like food, life is better when it isn’t stale. Trying out different cuisines is an easy way to escape from the norm and break up your culinary status quo. Especially if you’re a picky eater, this is a way to challenge yourself to experience something new. Even if you don’t end up loving it, at least you’re attempting to expand your horizons – that’s decidedly not stale.
To get you started on your delicious adventure, here are six exotic dishes from around the globe that are sure to excite your taste buds.
1. Phoenix claws
If your favorite part of a chicken is the savory, seasoned skin, then you are in luck. Phoenix claws are popular in China and a favorite among dim sum fans. They are braised chicken feet – skin, cartilage, and bones – but in typical Chinese fashion, the term “Phoenix claws” is a romanticized metaphorical substitution called a metonym. The feet are fried, braised and simmered in sauce, which allows the chicken feet to become tender and more jelly-like.
Even if the sight of dismembered feet puts you off, just close your eyes and allow yourself to experience flavor like you never have before.
Unless you or your close friends are South African, chances are you haven’t heard of a melktert. It’s “milk tart” in Afrikaans, but it is different from its Portuguese cousin. There is more milk than an egg in a melktert, making it lighter and milkier than in a Portuguese “Pastéis de nata.” Aside from the flour, sugar and a varying amount of cinnamon, the high milk-to-egg ratio is representative of when Dutch dairy farmers settled in South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope in the 17th century.
While it isn’t the most intimidating dish, melktert is definitely a treat that is harder to come by. Find yourself some South African friends and ask them to hook it up.
3. Century egg
We’re not going to sugarcoat it: this is definitely the most adventurous item on this list. But if you’re up for the challenge, it could be the most rewarding.
The century egg is an East Asian dish that’s also known as a hundred-year egg, thousand-year egg and millennium egg – no matter which one you prefer, just know that this egg takes a while to prepare. Not only is this chicken, duck or quail egg preserved for a couple weeks to multiple months, it is also soaked in a mixture of clay, salt, ash, calcium oxide and rice hulls. The result is cheese-like yolk and a dark jelly where the whites used to be – and it tastes like savory, salty goodness.
In the past, some have said that these old eggs were soaked in horse urine; while they do have a strong odor, this is totally false (and a pretty gross rumor). They’ve been eaten for over 600 years, so people seem to like them. Will you?
What would a list of exotic dishes be without some bugs?
These aren’t just any old’ bugs, though. They are fried grasshoppers, found only in certain regions of Mexico, like Oaxaca, and collected only during the summer months when the grasshoppers are young. In addition, it’s only after they are thoroughly washed that they are toasted up on a clay surface called a comal with various herbs and spices, including agave worm-infused salt.
Chapulines have been described as tasting sort of like potato chips – crunchy and yeasty – and are popular as an add-on for tacos across Mexico. Plus, they are packed with protein, so why not throw a couple on for your next taco night? ¡Que delicious!
The Japanese love their fish. The island nation is such a fan of fish, specifically sardines, that they’ve figured out how to turn them into candy treats.
Tazukuri literally translates to “making rice paddy,” since sardines were used to enrich rice fields back in the day. The little sardines are first dried and then toasted with sesame seeds before getting sautéed in a sake-soy sauce-honey-sugar reduction. They are typically eaten during Japanese holidays, specifically the Japanese New Year.
Next time you’re planning a celebration, try setting out a couple tazukuri among the snacks – we’re sure it’ll add a little excitement to the party.
If your bubbe and zayde indulged you with this comfort food as a child, then you already know what’s what. For everyone else, it’s about time you welcomed this sweet noodle dish into your world.
What’s that? Don’t you like the idea of sweetness and noodles? Don’t knock it quite yet. Kugel, a staple in Jewish cuisine, is a casserole made with egg noodles, cottage cheese, sour cream, sugar and a crunchy top layer (typically crushed corn flakes). It’s not as sweet as a dessert, so it’s often found on dinner plates with a little brisket and some savory knishes. Find some at your local deli or whip some up at home, and get ready to feel a little verklempt.