There are some foods in the world that are simply too spectacular not to be tasted at least once over the course of a lifetime.
And while the most interesting culinary delicacies usually hail from remote locations in the farthest reaches of the globe, have no fear: We’ve sourced out a handful of the best delicacies and suggested exactly where you can enjoy these palatable treasures.
So, for the adventurous eater, here are our picks for the foods to try before you die.
Fried Spider (Cambodia)
Is this a cure for arachnophobia? Probably not, but in the remote town of Skuon, Cambodia, fried spiders are served as daily delicacies and are known to be among the best in the world.
The spiders (a species known locally as “a-ping,” which are about the size of your palm) are bred in holes in the ground or captured in the wild and killed. The spider is then breaded in a mixture of MSG, sugar and salt, and fried in oil with chopped garlic until the legs turn rigid, at which point the meat in the abdomen is no longer runny.
Eating spider is not dissimilar to eating lobster or crab, only you won’t need a nutcracker to get past the exoskeleton. You’ll find some good meat inside the legs, but the best stuff is considered to be the white meat inside the spider’s head. Locals are also divided as to whether the abdomen meat (which contains the spider’s eggs, organs and excrement) is a real delicacy or downright inedible.
What’s not to love about a poisonous fish? You’ve probably heard stories about the inherently lethal qualities of this exotic Japanese delicacy, and we’re here to tell you that these stories are all true. The Japanese blowfish (or fugu) is so deadly that a misstep in the preparation can release a poison into the meat that is 1,200 times more deadly than cyanide; each fish contains enough poison to kill 30 adults.
The worst part: Death by tetrodotoxin is not a pleasant way to go. You’ll remain fully conscious, but will be paralyzed until you eventually suffocate.
That being said, eating fugu should only be done in the best restaurants in Japan, where it is served by specially licensed chefs — the only ones legally allowed to prepare it. Eating the fish’s liver and ovaries (where the poison glands are located) is strictly forbidden, but to complicate matters, one of the best parts of the experience of eating fugu is enjoying the unique sensation on the tongue provided by very small amounts of the poison.
And therein lies a nasty little catch-22: Enjoy the dish properly and risk death or play it safe and miss out on the experience.
In any case, you’re well-advised to try fugu only in Tokyo's best restaurants.
Century Egg (China)
Rest assured this name is a bit of an exaggeration. While these particular Chinese-style eggs have been preserved for periods of time ranging between weeks and months, none are kept for as long as 100 years.
To make century eggs, the Chinese take duck, chicken or quail eggs and sink them into a mixture of clay, ash, salt, and lime, then wrap them with rice straw and keep them in baskets or jars. Over time, the clay mixture hardens to a crust, while the acid introduced by the lime juice acts as a preservative to prevent the egg from spoiling. After a period of three or four months, the eggs are released from their casing and are ready to eat.
The experience of eating a century egg is more about how the egg looks than how it tastes. The egg yolk adopts a dark green color, while the egg white turns dark brown. The yolk itself has a strong, creamy taste, while the egg white tastes similar to when it’s fried up and served over easy.
Serving a century egg is done in different styles. The Chinese will eat these eggs as a side dish or as a topping for a regular omelet. The Japanese have also latched on to this prized dish, serving it as an hors d'oeuvre chunked with slices of pickled ginger or with tofu, soy sauce and sesame oil.
You’ll find the best century eggs at the Donghuamen Night Market in Beijing.
Odori Ebi (Japan)
A much safer Japanese delicacy (at least as far as the eater is concerned) than fugu is odori ebi, which roughly translated means “living” or “dancing prawn.” Odori ebi is a type of sushi that still contains live baby prawns that wiggle their antennae and legs as you eat them. The prawn is dunked in sake to intoxicate it before it’s dipped into a special sauce and gobbled down. It’s an incredible delicacy that you’ll find only in Tokyo.
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Iguana Meat (El Salvador)
Iguana meat is a delicacy from the forests of El Salvador that has recently been making its way onto an increasing number of North American plates thanks to the prevalence of immigrant communities in the USA.
Iguana flesh has a reputation as a cure-all meat, fixing everything from colds to sexual performance. While we can’t attest to its value as a curative, we can tell you it’s regarded as a different but pleasant alternative to chicken; it’s a bit stronger-tasting and tougher, but has similar taste characteristics.
Corn Smut (Mexico)
If the idea of eating mushrooms bothers you, then corn smut — or huitlacoche, as it’s known in Mexico — probably isn’t for you. Corn smut is a mold spore that attaches itself to maize and attacks the normal corn kernels, turning them into distorted, mushroom-like tumors. They are considered a delicacy in Mexican cuisine, where the spores are harvested while still immature and sold for more than the value of the corn itself.
When the spores are cooked, they have a flavor described as mushroom-like: sweet, savory, woody, and earthy. They’re often used to flavor Mexican dishes like tamales.
It could be because of its name that corn smut really hasn’t caught on as a delicacy in North American and European diets, but if you’ve ever had Mexican truffles, you’ve eaten corn smut.
Look for dishes flavored with or featuring huitlacoche in out-of-the-way Mexican communities, which still respect the value of traditional cooking.
There are a slew of delicious exotic foods you need to try before you die, but use this list as a starter's guide to some of the more interesting treats you can find around the globe. And remember, when it comes to food, there is always one rule of thumb to follow: Try anything once, because you never know what delicacies you may stumble across.