Top 10 lists are so fun! As I mulled over what to make my list about, I kept thinking about the, ahem, unique foods I’ve been able to try over the years. If you’ve even visited another country, you’ve probably tried something your taste buds hadn’t met before. Some foods may make them dance a jig, others will make those little flavor-tasters revolt and force you to get it out. We’ve all been in both places!
(Sorry I can’t find images for all of these–you’ll just have to use your imagination!)
Here are my Top 10 Most Unique Foods:
- Cow Hoof—I’ll never forget the day we were invited to the village chief’s home in rural Nigeria to share a meal. He had prepared a feast! Most of it was unidentifiable, but he was quick to point out the cow hoof that we must try. We couldn’t offend him, so we all took a piece of the chewy, stringy hoof. The flavor wasn’t horrible, but the texture was. I think I managed to swallow it, then chased it with a swig of Malta (an awful, awful soda the locals loved).
- Popcorn McFlurry—If there is a McDonald’s in your vicinity, I’m sure you would nod your head in agreement when I say Mickey D’s really does like to cater to their local customers. The main staples are still usually there, but there are always some “special” items on the menu we wouldn’t ever even imagine. We were intrigued by the popcorn ice cream, but were immediately disgusted. They just shouldn’t mix. I like salty and sweet, but this wasn’t that. At all. It was only gross. Later, Starbucks rolled out a Caramel Popcorn Frappuccino. What’s with all the popcorn?!
- Pea Popsicle—I’m stealing this one from my husband. Before we were married, he was in China on a hot summer day. Before jumping on a bus, he quickly grabbed a popsicle, not paying attention to the flavor(and he couldn’t read characters yet). Yep, peas. He was already on the bus and a bite in before he figured out he was about to get a serving of vegetables in frozen dessert form. And, since he was on the moving bus, there was no option but to finish it! Come visit for other fun flavors like corn, green bean, red bean, or BBQ!
The locals sure love their veggies…but in ice cream, too?!
- Frog Legs and Stomach—I had just finished teaching my 6 little first graders when their parents asked me to dinner—at their home. It was a bit abrupt, but I accepted the invitation to learn how to make dumplings. Once everything was cooked, we sat down to eat. I noticed a bowl of boiled frogs. The kids were already digging in, using their chopsticks to pop open the belly and extract the purple/black stomach, then gobble it up. I was about to lose the dumplings I had just eaten. Yet, the parents encouraged me to try some. I couldn’t. Not the stomach! I managed, in broken Chinese, trying not to offend, to finagle my way out and settle for just a leg.
- Jackfruit—I imagine to some Asians or someone growing up in an Asian culture, this fruit is as common as apples and oranges to us. But for me, it’s crazy! It’s ginormous—on average, 2-3 times the size of a watermelon. And the insides look so interesting! While with some friends were visiting us, I decided it was time to try. A vendor was selling small packages of them (perfect—so I didn’t have to buy the huge, whole fruit!) on the street. The texture was smooth, yet firm. The flavor reminded me of cantaloupe, but in a weird way. It was a bit hard to chew, and in the end, that’s what turned me off. It’s cousin, the stinky durian, however, I can’t bring myself to try. My nose and mouth are too close.
Look at those ginormous things!
Don’t mind my daughter about to poke her eye out with the mega-long toothpick. She enjoyed the fruit, though!
- Mangosteen—Another fruit I had never seen before coming to Asia. Its dark, thick, purple skin protects the fragile white fruit inside. The fruit is arranged just like a clove of garlic. It’s sweet and juicy, and quite refreshing on a hot day! I love introducing this surprising fruit to others.
They look a little weird, right?
But the sweet, soft fruit inside is worth the risk! Also, every time I eat one, I marvel at how amazing God’s creativity is!
- Pig Skin Jelly—Texture-wise, this was a tough one. The skin is boiled with different spices and herbs, then a thick jelly forms and is cut into slices to eat cold. The Chinese believe eating the skin will help our own skin, so they eat it semi-regularly. If it’s at the table, I try to avoid it, but sometimes they nearly force it in your mouth, ya know? My mantra: big bites, and swallow fast. No need to draw out the torture.
It’s as wibbly wobbly as it looks!
- Eggs on Rocks—We recently took our visiting family members to a vinegar factory (every province is famous for something…we make vinegar!) After walking through the rooms with decade-old vats of vinegar and burning our nostrils, we were ready for lunch. At the restaurant, our Chinese friend ordered, and surprised us with this dish that came with a presentation. The waitress came to our table with a large pot full of smooth, hot rocks. She then poured raw, whisked eggs into the pot, covered with a lid for 30 seconds, then removed the lid, stirred, and done. The hot rocks cooked the eggs! So random, but pretty tasty.
Fluffy eggs cooked by hot rocks! Who would’ve imagined…
- Band-Aid Tofu—Asians love their tofu. Our first year here, we had the same opinion about tofu as most Americans—weird and flavorless. Turns out, we just don’t know how to cook it! Add flavor, add sauce, cook it differently, or process it differently and you’ll actually probably like it. My son’s absolute favorite Chinese dish is band-aid tofu and cucumbers. The tofu is flattened out into thin sheets and resembles the ridges on band-aids. Add some cucumbers, vinegar, salt, and garlic, and it’s delicious!
- Lamb Testicles—Yes, for real. Before we were married, I came to visit my husband in Beijing. We did all the touristy things, and one of those included a food street that was made famous for its outlandish things-on-a-stick. We’re talking snakes, squid, baby sharks, eels, scorpions, silkworms, and our choice—lamb testicles. I have no idea why we chose those except maybe they weren’t an entire animal on a stick, so somehow it seemed “better.” It was spiced well and cooked over a fire. The flavor? Just like a hot dog. Scary. So, so scary. (I now only eat all-beef hot dogs!)
So what about your eating adventures? I know we’ve all eaten weird things, good or bad, forced or voluntary. Share them in the comments! I truly enjoy learning about other cultures and the foods they love, and how others have journeyed through other countries’ food culture.
We’re sweltering over here in China. I know it’s been hot in various places in the world, but for our city, it has definitely above average this summer. So, we’re playing outside early in the morning, staying inside as much as possible during the day, then crawling out of our cocoon after dinner for a quick walk. Also, we’re eating lots of ice cream. I’m not a big fan of the ice cream choices we have here. Besides the aforementioned veggie options, their “milk ice” and attempts at normal things just don’t cut it for me (except occasionally when I can find a Magnum bar!) Call me an ice cream snob, maybe. So, today we attempted to make our own! It’s not perfectly smooth like my beloved frozen custard, but the flavor is waaaaayyy better than anything I can buy local! Have you tried making your own ice cream? What are your tricks?
Definitely cover your bowl! It will splatter! I learned the hard way!
I forgot to take other pics, so here’s the finished product! Creamy and delicious!
Pour a little of my homemade chocolate sauce from last month, and you’ve got a date with dessert.
Homemade Ice Cream (No Churn)
Ready in 4 hours
Slightly adapted from The Kitchn
*Note: I started with this recipe, but I think my kitchen was way too hot to help the cream to whip correctly. So, I had to move to plan B.
1/2 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup milk
dash of vanilla
1/2 cup kosher or rock salt (although, I had neither, and table salt seemed to work in a pinch)
Fill the large bowl about halfway with ice. Stir in 1/2 cup salt. Nestle the smaller bowl in the ice. Try to get almost completely buried in the ice. Fill the smaller bowl halfway with ice cream mix (use at most 1 pint of mix).
Use the hand mixer to beat the mix for 10 minutes. You may find it helpful to half cover the bowl with a towel, to help prevent spattering. The mix should get very cold to the touch, although it will probably not start transforming into actual ice cream. (Note: If you don’t have a hand mixer, then you can use a whisk, but you will need to whisk for at least 15 minutes. Great upper arm workout!)
After you have aerated and chilled the mix for about 10 minutes, cover with a towel and place the entire set of nested bowls — large and small — in the freezer. Freeze for 45 minutes.
Remove the bowls from the freezer. Draw a spoon across the top of the ice cream mix. It’s probably the consistency of loose pudding, especially on top.
Mix again with the hand mixer for 5 minutes.
Remove the small bowl from the large bowl, and cover the top with plastic wrap touching the surface of the ice cream. Freeze for an additional two hours, or overnight, before serving. However, the longer it freezes, the harder it will become. Simply let it sit out for 5-10 minutes if it’s too hard to scoop.
• Remember, as always with homemade ice cream: The more fat in the ice cream, the creamier it will be, regardless of churning method. A custard ice cream with all cream and egg yolks will turn out less icy than a milk-based mix.
• On ice: You need 4-6 standard ice cube trays.
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