Once you’ve done a bit of traveling, you can be forgiven for finding American cuisine a bit … boring and tasteless. This is especially true when it comes to the variety of meats available at most restaurants. Usually, we’re forced into choosing between four options: Chicken, beef, pork, or seafood. If you’re lucky, you may be offered lamb, bison or duck. Frankly, we deserve more. The most nutritious, tasty meats are often those which are repulsive to most Americans. Luckily, traveling abroad provides the perfect opportunity to set out on a food safari. Take the opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and try some of these unusual eats. You won’t be disappointed—they’re called delicacies for a reason.
Yak (Nepal, Mongolia, and Tibetan Regions of China)
Yak meat is the perfect meat to start your food adventure. It doesn’t have a distinctively strong flavor and tastes similar to beef. You’ll find it most often served in Mongolian or Tibetan stews and dumplings. On my travels, I’ve had yak prepared in Western styles, such as steak, on pizza, and as jerky. It’s a bit tougher than beef and will require a bit of extra chewing, but most yak are served a diet of grass, which is more than can be said for most mass-produced American beef.
Duck tongue (China)
I was recently offered duck tongue in a bar in Chengdu, China. When it arrived I was taken aback: it came served alone and wasn’t flavored with anything else. It was absolutely clear that I was eating tongue. Thankfully I got over my initial repulsion and was pleasantly surprised. Duck tongue has a sharp salty flavor and a crunchy consistency that pairs perfectly with beer. It may take a few bites to crunch through the cartilage, but that’s part of what makes this my new favorite bar snack.
Alpaca (South America)
Alpacas are adorable—and tasty. The meat is more lean and tender than beef and is considered one of the healthiest meats in the world. It’s high in protein, low in cholesterol, and is most often compared to venison or lamb. Because it takes on the flavor of the food it’s cooked with, it can come served in a stew but also stands well alone as a steak. This meat belongs on every foodie’s bucket list.
Eating an insect is an easy way to impress your friends. For the most part they don’t taste too bad, provide lots of protein, and look absolutely disgusting. You can find insects served in all areas of the globe, from roaches to scorpions to caterpillars. But if you want to actually enjoy what you’re eating, I recommend crickets. You can eat them plain – they too make a great bar food – but I found my favorite cricket dish in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where it came fried, salted, and served in a soft taco. It’s crunchy and easy to eat alone or with most any food.
Duck intestines (China)
A hot pot in Szechuan, China, will never disappoint the adventurous. It is the spiciest thing you’ll ever eat, and there are always a variety of fun new meats on the menu. My most recent hot pot adventure involved duck intestine. It has an unusual consistency – long and slimy – and if overcooked it can be impossible to chew. But if cooked right it is amazing. It tastes more like a long mushroom or thick noodle than meat, and nicely soaks up spicy hot-pot flavors.
Horse has been part of the diet of Europeans for centuries and has only recently become taboo as domestic horses became companions and workers. Horse meat is most often associated with Central Asia, and can also be found served in Europe and South America. It too is leaner than beef and the flavor is most often associated with venison. While it isn’t the tastiest of the meats on this list, it’s worth trying as a tender and sweeter alternative to beef.
Rocky Mountain Oysters/Criadillas (USA, Canada, Spain, and Mexico)
Are you ready for this, gents? Rocky mountain oysters are bull-calf testicles. This tasty delicacy is most often battered and deep-fried and served with cocktail sauce, which makes it the perfect hors d’oeuvre or bar snack. They can be found at festivals and at some restaurants in the Western U.S. and in some parts of Canada. While some say Rocky Mountain oysters taste like chicken, I would compare the strong flavor to hot dogs. In Mexico and Spain, Rocky Mountain oysters are called “criadillas” and can come served as a side dish or as the meaty part of a taco.
Guinea pig (Peru)
Travel to Peru is not complete without a taste of guinea pig, known locally as cuy. Guinea pig is such a major part of the Peruvian culture that a famous painting in a Cusco, Peru cathedral portrays Jesus and the twelve disciples dining on it at the Last Supper. Peruvians eat millions of guinea pigs each year, and you can find it sold on a stick on street-food stands, or confit in the fanciest hotel restaurants. I tried it in a restaurant where the meat was removed from bones and served with vegetables and quinoa. I loved it. It was lean and flavorful, similar to rabbit.
Camel Hump (Middle East and Africa)
Camel hump is considered a true delicacy in the Middle East, served at special occasions rather than eaten daily. The flavor is similar to that of veal or lamb: tender but fatty, and comes served in stews or as a burger.
Pig Brain (China and Singapore)
This creamy white delicacy often comes served in a soup or hot pot and will make even the most adventurous Western foodie squirm. Its consistency is similar to tofu and, like tofu, doesn’t have much flavor alone but soaks up the surrounding flavors and spices. For those of us that have lost a few brain cells, this dish is the best; the Chinese believe it’s the one thing that can improve your intelligence.
Made Man’s Grill Spectacular 2014