Balut is a popular street food from the Philippines and is generally centered around a living duck embryo that is boiled and then eaten out of the shell. It is usually accompanied by hot sauce or vinegar and is considered a hearty snack due to it being high in protein. The age of the duck embryo varies by taste but it is generally eaten around seventeen days old. The chick inside is not old enough to have a beak, feathers, or bones so it retains a soft texture. In some parts of Vietnam it is custom to wait up to 21 days until the chick starts developing bones, which turn soft when cooked. For me this is the one bizarre food in my blog that I dont think I would have the guts to try. When I asked one of my Philippino friends about Balut he said he would eat it as long as it doesn’t have feathers.
This Bizarre Food is not exactly a food but is a rare and unique Coffee. This coffee comes from the islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali, and the Philippines. It is usually very expensive and comes in small batches because of the way it is ‘made.’ The coffee beans themselves are eaten by a small mammal known as the Asian Palm Civet, and then passes through the digestive track. The civet is attracted to the sweet fleshy exterior of the ripe coffee bean cherry and the creatures stomach enzymes seeps into the beans making shorter peptides and amino acids that results in a smoother taste and a less bitter cup of coffee. The civet defecates the beans whole so they are gather washed and roasted in order to produce the final bean. The final product sells for about $160 a pound and is considered one of the finest coffees in the world because of it’s delicate flavor. Many companies have tried to replicate the process without using the Asin Palm Civet by synthesizing the enzyme in their stomach but these still dont capture the essence of the entire Kopi Luwak process. Needles to say, this is one bizarre process and I would like to hear the thought process behind the person who had the idea to make coffee from the excrement of a small mammal.
This particular Bizarre food comes from Norway and Scandinavian tradition. My first experience with Lutfisk was while listening to Garrison Keillor’s News from Lake Wobegon:
“Every advent we entered the purgatory of lutefisk, a repulsive gelatinous fishlike dish that tasted of soap and gave off an odor that would gag a goat. We did this in honor of Norwegian ancestors, much as if survivors of a famine might celebrate their deliverance by feasting on elm bark. I always felt the cold creeps as Advent approached, knowing that this dread delicacy would be put before me and I’d be told, ‘Just have a little.’ Eating a little was like vomiting a little, just as bad as a lot.”
Lutfisk is a cured fish that is made by using basic white fish and combining it with lye. This cures the fish in a way because the caustic nature of lye decreases the protein content in the fish and turns it into a gelatinous substance. Originally it was created by combining fish with the lye found in ash. Both the cold nature and the smell of the lye eroding the fish was also a deterrent to animals and to preserve the fish. It is traditionally eaten by those of scandinavian and Norwegian heritage mainly in the Midwest and canada. It is combined with many other small dishes such as rutabega, green pea soup or bacon and is rarely eaten alone.
This bizarre food is not the usual strange food from a small ethnic center from halfway around the world. This one comes from my good friend and roommate Josh Hillinger. Josh has the strangest tastebuds around and takes pleasure in creating the most ridiculous flavor combinations around. Many of his concoctions arise from being short on cash or bored with the usual accouterments. The dish he is most famous for creating is what he has called the Tamale, but he is really playing it fast and loose with that term. The Hillinger Tamale consists of a bag of Doritos crushed up, combined with a bag of instant ramen crushed up and then hot water is added. While this may bee 300% of your daily sodium intake it only costs about 1.50 and will kill your appetite, not because you are full but out of disgust. One of his other famous inventions is MSG margaritas made with a bag of pure MSG found at a local asian supermarket. Mustard Sugar came from an outing with friends at a local restaurant and because we didn’t get appetizers we had to satiate our apetites until the food arrived. This concoction came about as a game to combine some of the weirder flavors of condiments on the table. So there you go, bizarre most definitely, but food, maybe not so much.
Last year for my birthday I was looking for a new burrito spot with more than just the usual accouterments i.e. Super burritos and tacos. I happend upon La Oaxaquena in the mission district. Along with the usual favorites that a taqueria has this place had some unusual things on the menu including Venison Burritos, Cricket Tacos, and Tarantula Tostadas. It seems that us here in the states get used to our protein coming from the usual source of chicken, pork or beef, but in the mountainous region of Oaxaca, where livestock is harder to maintain, protein must come from other places including insects. Unfortunately I was too squeamish to try the tarantula, plus it wasn’t in season (because apparently there is a tarantula season), and I settled on the delicious Venison burrito.
This bizzare food was brought to light for me through my Philippino co-workers. They had originally described it to me as ‘Chocolate Meat’ which was coined because of the deep brown color the savory stew has. Unfortunatly there is no chocolate in this dish, but rather, the main component is Pork blood stewed with spices as well as chunks of pork.
This food resonated with me because of my experience with one of the staples of my favorite breakfast, the traditional Irish, and english, breakfast dish: black pudding or Blood Sausage. It’s main ingredient is also pigs blood, but it is cooked in such a way that it is in sausage form rather than in being made into a stew. It seems that when times are tough and food gets scarce many cultures use untraditional, but still nutrional, components of the animal that may be wasted in better time due to their grisly nature.