I’ve been traveling the world professionally since 2008. Since then, I’ve eaten thousands of unique dishes across 100 countries. But when it comes to food, most of us stick to the familiar and comforting dishes we grew up with. But have you ever wondered what lies beyond your culinary comfort zone? Exotic foods offer a delightful adventure for the taste buds, taking you on a journey around the world without leaving your kitchen. In this article, we will explore the top 10 exotic foods that will ignite your palate and introduce you to new and exciting flavors.
It’s important to remember that the word “exotic” is relative. It usually refers to something that’s not a part of the everyday culture of the person using it. Also, it’s important to note that, at one point, most non-Western dishes were considered “exotic” to Western palates. But as the world got more connected and travelers and invaders introduced foods to different corners of the globe, they became more normalized within countries from which they didn’t originate.
For example, sushi was once considered exotic. But now, it’s one of the most popular dishes in the world. Other “exotic” dishes I’ve tried include Korean silkworm larvae (beondegi), scorpions and centipedes soaked in mezcal (gotta love Mexico), raw octopus in Busan, ostrich meat in Kenya, grasshopper (chapulines) tacos, and even live ants in the Amazon!
But while these dishes may seem scary, they’re actually not, and many of them are excellent if you open your mind and give them a try! That’s what this article is all about–opening your mind to new possibilities and showing that they’re not as scary as you may think. Let’s jump into my favorite exotic dishes I’ve eaten around the world!
Our first stop on this exotic foods journey takes us to the beautiful country of Suriname, located on the northeastern coast of South America. Suriname is renowned for its diverse culinary scene, and one dish that stands out is the delicacy of crab brains. Yes, you read that right – crab brains! While it may sound unusual, locals consider it a true delicacy.
The brains of the crab are carefully extracted and cooked to perfection, resulting in a creamy and rich delicacy that is best enjoyed with warm bread or rice. The unique texture and flavor of crab brains will surely leave a lasting impression on your taste buds.
Next up, we head to the stunning country of Guyana, located on the northern mainland of South America. Guyanese cuisine is a fusion of various cultural influences, and one dish that captures the adventurous spirit of the locals is the tacoma worm.
These edible worms are found in the rainforests of Guyana and are highly sought after for their protein-rich content. I tried them both raw and roasted in the village of Moraikobai, located a few hours outside the capital, Georgetown. The raw ones were an acquired taste, but the roasted ones were surprisingly tasty! They are unique, with a slight coconut flavor, and may just become one of your new favorite exotic foods.
Our journey now takes us to the enchanting land of Iran, where culinary traditions date back thousands of years. In Iran, breakfast is not complete without a steaming bowl of kale pache. This traditional dish consists of lamb or sheep’s head and feet, slow-cooked with aromatic spices and served with bread.
While it may seem unusual to Western palates, kale pache is a staple in Iran because of its rich flavors and nourishing qualities. The tender meat and gelatinous texture make this dish a true exotic foods delight for adventurous foodies. It’s one of the first dishes I tried on my very first day in Tehran!
From Iran, we travel to the vibrant country of Ghana in West Africa. Ghanaian cuisine utilizes bold and spicy flavors, and one exotic delicacy that stands out is the Giant African Snail. These snails are larger than your average garden snail and are a popular ingredient in many Ghanaian dishes.
The snails are carefully cleaned, seasoned, and cooked, resulting in a tender and succulent meat with a unique earthy flavor. Whether enjoyed in a soup or stir-fried with spices, the Giant African Snail offers a taste of Ghana that is truly unforgettable. I tried this dish in a rich soup in Kumasi and fell in love with it! Explore the diverse culinary delights of Ghana with my curated list of 20 must-try foods in the country.
Our next exotic foods adventure takes us to the beautiful island of Dominica in the Caribbean. Here, locals savor the culinary delight known as manicou, sometimes called agouti. Manicou is another name for the opossum, a large rodent-like creature that’s actually a marsupial. I tried (and loved) this dish in both Dominica and Grenada!
Despite its appearance, the meat of the manicou is tender and flavorful, with a taste similar to rabbit or venison. The locals often prepare manicou by stewing or grilling it, resulting in a hearty and delicious dish that showcases the unique flavors of the Caribbean.
From Dominica, we make our way to the lively twin island nation of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean. Trinidad and Tobago boast a diverse culinary landscape, and one the exotic foods revered by locals is armadillo.
This armored creature may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of a delicious meal, but armadillo meat is surprisingly tender and flavorful. The locals often prepare armadillo by marinating it in a blend of spices, then slow-cooking it to perfection. The curry armadillo I tried in Trinidad is one of my favorite dish I ate on the island! It was rich, succulent, and packed with Caribbean flavors.
Our next stop on this culinary journey takes us to the picturesque country of Uzbekistan in Central Asia. Uzbek cuisine is known for its hearty and flavorful dishes, including somsas, barak, lagman, and hasib. But one of the exotic foods that showcases the country’s culinary heritage is horse meat. Horse meat has been a staple in Uzbek cuisine for centuries.
You can have horse meat in kebabs, stews, and sausages, and in a unique dish called norin. I had norin a few times in Uzbekistan, and I also tried horse meat in the national dish, a rice dish called plov. The meat was tender and lean, with a flavor reminiscent of beef but slightly sweeter. Horse meat is not only delicious but also a symbol of Uzbekistan’s rich cultural traditions.
We return to West Africa for our next exotic foods adventure, this time to Ghana. Ghanaian cuisine is a treasure trove of unique flavors, and one highly prized delicacy is the grasscutter. The grasscutter, also known as the greater cane rat, is a large rodent-like creature. Locals eat it throughout Ghana and in other parts of West Africa, and you’ll find it practically everywhere.
The meat of the grasscutter is lean and tender, with a flavor that is reminiscent of pork. Ghanaians often prepare grasscutter by grilling or stewing it, resulting in a dish that is succulent and bursting with West African flavors. I ate grasscutter a couple of times and enjoyed it quite a bit! You’ll even find vendors skinning and roasting them on the side of the road!
Our exotic foods journey continues in the breathtaking country of Kenya in East Africa. Kenya is famous for its abundant wildlife, and one animal that finds its way onto the dinner table is the crocodile.
Crocodile meat is lean and tender, with a flavor that’s similar to a mix of fish sauce and chicken. The locals often prepare crocodile meat by marinating it in a blend of spices and tomato sauce, then grilling or frying it to perfection. Whether enjoyed in a stew or as a barbecued delicacy, crocodile meat offers a unique taste of Kenya’s culinary heritage. Try some at Carnivore Restaurant in Nairobi—it’s excellent!
Our penultimate exotic food destination takes us to the enchanting country of Lebanon in the Middle East. Lebanese cuisine is famous for its bold flavors and diverse ingredients, and one dish that epitomizes this is sheep brains.
While the idea of eating brains may sound unsettling, sheep brains are a local delicacy in Lebanon. Locals and adventurous food enthusiasts enjoy it–I’m one of them! The brains are often sautéed with aromatic spices and served with warm bread or rice. I tried a sheep brain sandwich in Sidon that blew me away! The creamy texture and rich flavors made it a unique and unforgettable exotic foods experience in Lebanon.
Our final stop on this exotic foods journey takes us to the beautiful country of Ukraine in Eastern Europe. Ukraine is known for its rich culinary traditions, and one unique delicacy that showcases this is Bees. Yes, you read that correctly – bees! In certain regions of Ukraine, bees are considered a culinary delight.
They carefully collect, clean, and cook the bees to create a dish that is both sweet and savory. The bees are often enjoyed stir-fried, grilled, or even pickled. The unique flavors and textures of bees offer a truly one-of-a-kind culinary experience. Chef Ievgen at 100 Rokiv Tomu Vpered Restaurant in Kyiv prepares some outstanding bees that tantalized my taste buds!
As we conclude our journey through the world of exotic foods, I hope I’ve inspired you to step out of your culinary comfort zone and explore new flavors. From crab brains in Suriname to bees in Ukraine, each exotic food offers a unique and unforgettable experience for your taste buds.
So why not embrace the flavors of the world and ignite your palate with these top 10 exotic foods? Who knows, you may just discover a new favorite dish and a deeper appreciation for the diverse cuisines that make our world so rich and vibrant.