Fear of the foreign, the unknown, scares many of us, but there’s nothing like digesting a weird food to really make hairs stand on end. Why is that? Maybe because this particular experience is invasive, it travels far beyond that protective outer wall and attempts to make friends with our taste buds. However, the missionary, and any adventurous traveler for that matter, will have to be prepared to overcome this difficult wall if they want to accomplish their goal of international relations. Food means a lot to people after all, some recipes being centuries old with each generation adding their own culinary spark. Still, there are some dishes that even natives think a bit strange and will take an extra helping of daring on your part.
In Asia, where I’ve spent 5 years, there seems to be no shortage of opportunities to test one’s gastronomic mettle. From China we have Pidan, or “Century Egg”. Rest assured, despite the name the egg has only been fermenting for several months, if that does indeed help. I had the pleasant experience of trying this awhile ago in Yokohama’s Chinatown. The taste started out like a normal egg followed by something else that refused to leave my tongue even an hour after many glasses of water and soda.
Next door in South Korea, why not try Sannakji? I stood in one of the many outdoor markets as a hearty, smiling woman pulled my octopus from the water tank and proceeded to slice and dice it right in front of me. Within minutes it was wriggling on a plate accompanied by a small pool of red tangy sauce. If you do decide to try it, just be careful as the tentacles still wriggle around your silver chopstick.
Cross the sea that shall remain nameless and enter Japan. Here you’ll find fugu, a puffer fish that, if not professionally prepared, could kill you. For obvious reasons, I have not yet taken the challenge but am told that the poison of the fish is actually what gives the meat that tongue numbing sensation the connoisseurs seek. On the other hand, specially trained cooks are necessary to properly remove the poisonous glands and mistakes have led to over 20 deaths since 2000. To dine or not to dine, it’s your choice, just remember to say grace.
In the future, make sure to come back as we explore some new entries on other continents. As a missionary and traveler, I am still faced with culinary challenges from time to time and I hope to share a couple of my own victories and glorious retreats as well. Bon appetit!
Basashi, or raw horse meat, tastes just like you’d imagine…raw horse meat. Make sure there’s sauce and dip, dip, dip
Andrew Zimmern is a chef and foodie with an excellent show, Bizzare Foods: