There are loads of blog posts out there talking about unique food challenges. In fact, I wrote one before we left the US almost 4 years ago. I should mention, we’ve eaten virtually none of those unique foods.
Where once we wanted to seek out these dishes, now, we are more interested in continuing to eat the foods that we love around the world. Many people limit the foods they eat because they are picky and don’t like a lot of foods. For us, that’s not the case. We like loads of different foods, so we have a lot of variety to choose from. The thing is, when we are in Hong Kong for 4 nights, I want BBQ pork and wanton mee. When I’m in Hanoi for 3 nights, I want pho bo and bun cha. I want the dishes that I’ve come to consider as comfort foods in those countries.
What Are These Unique Foods?
That said, in the last few months, we’ve eaten some unique foods, even without seeking them out ourselves. Now, this isn’t scorpion on a stick unique food. Instead, they are just foods that are a little strange, and ones we would not order ourselves.
So, how did we end up eating these unique foods? Many times when we travel, we are at the mercy of tasting menus or chefs who put all sorts of foods in front of us. We oblige. Most we end up loving. Some, we end up tolerating. Some, we eat to be polite.
What are some of the unique foods we’ve eaten so far this year?
Liver in Italy
I’m not opposed to liver in general. I grew up in a Jewish household, and chopped liver was a regular presence. I also know it is good for my iron poor blood. But, there was something about this last trip to Emilia Romagna where we ate a lot of liver. Sometimes three courses of liver in one meal.
The first liver dish we ate was a puree of liver, almost like a pate, at Eataly in Forli. It was fabulous. Creamy. Served with warmed bread and olive oil. But, I couldn’t eat a lot of it. That’s the thing. I can only eat a little bit of liver at a time.
At Amerigo dal 1934, we received a liver pate amuse bouche, a duck liver as part of a liver sampler, and passatelli, a well known pasta in Emilia Romagna, in a liver ragu.
At Taverna del Cacciatore we ate two meat courses with liver. I am not sure what it was about this trip to Emilia Romagna where liver was everywhere on the menu. Maybe it’s a seasonal thing, at the end of the winter season.
We saw fish maws on a few menus in Hong Kong, without really knowing what it was. Then, I Googled it. I probably shouldn’t have. I’ve eaten tripe before. Generally in some sort of spicy hot pot. I’m not opposed to it. I just don’t enjoy it.
Fish maws translates to “swim bladder.” It is, essentially, fish stomach. After you Google that, it has to be one finely prepared fish stomach to be enjoyable. We’ve been served fish maws a few times recently. The place where it was done the best was at our whisky pairing dinner at the Renaissance Harbour View Hotel Hong Kong. It was served in a soup with tomatoes and vegetables. Everything they do is very well done, but the fish maws were still a little too fishy for my taste.
Another dish we ate during our whisky pairing dinner was salted ox tongue. We’ve eaten tongue a handful of times. But, it’s not something we seek out regularly. This might be different if we were hanging out in Mexico with tongue tacos on the menu. But, we don’t live there.
When I saw ox tongue on the menu, I was not as put off as with the fish maws. I figured I would wholeheartedly give it a try. It was actually pretty good. Very moist. So moist it bubbled as I ate it. I wouldn’t say fabulous, but worth trying.
This is something we drank more than ate. Ricard is a French anise flavored liquor. When dining at the Ritz Cafe in the Galaxy Macau, we ordered their tasting menu. The tasting menu started with an aperitif of Ricard. I’ve never tried Ricard before. It was delivered to the table over ice, with a carafe of water. Our server suggested we pour a little water into the Ricard, which made the liquor cloudy. I am not a fan of anise, and don’t care for black licorice. Therefore, I was not a fan of Ricard. I will pass next time.
Green Herb Soup
This one was entirely tasty. While dining at Eataly in Forli, Italy, we met the owners of the restaurant that is tucked away upstairs, Guiliana and Moreno. Moreno insisted we try his herb soup, made from fresh spring herbs that he picks himself from the local hillsides. The soup was creamy, a little bitter, but with a dribble of olive oil and fresh cheese on the top. Honestly, this was not all that unique of a dish, other than it’s color. It was easily the most green dish I’ve ever eaten!
Most people wouldn’t add gnocchi to their list of unique foods, but in this case, it was an applicable title. At il Povero Diavolo, we ate a 6+ course tasting menu, which was closer to 9 courses, plus two more courses that Chef Giorgio prepared for us in the kitchen prior to dinner service.
This dish falls within our unique foods list for a few reasons. Beetroot gnocchi with mandarin and tarragon. The beetroot made the gnocchi glow bright red. The mandarin made it very tangy and sweet. The tarragon was a bit strong. Again, this probably doesn’t rate as a unique food on most people’s lists, but it was certainly one of the most shocking dishes we’ve eaten so far this year.
As I continue to count down the unique foods we’ve eaten so far this year, I wonder, in the end what the count will be between the unique foods we’ve enjoyed, and the ones we haven’t.
Deer carpaccio, at Corte San Ruffillo in Emilia Romagna falls squarely in the category of dishes I truly loved.
We have not eaten a lot of deer, or venison, as it is often referred to. I remember the first time I ate venison as a child. I was about 10 or 11 at a Mother’s Day brunch. Venison was on buffet, and I picked some without knowing what it was. My parents picked on me, telling me I was eating Bambi. I stayed away from venison and deer for a couple of decades after that. Childhood trauma.
When Sara and Chef Emmanuelle served us deer carpaccio, I thought it was a chance for me to overcome my childhood trauma. I am so glad I did. It was slightly gamey, but it was tender, fresh, perfect. I loved it. So, strike one in the category of unique foods I actually really enjoyed!
Until late last year, we had never eaten abalone before. It was one of those things we often saw on so many Asian menus, but had just never ordered. We tried it for the first time when dining on Cantonese at Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons Hong Kong.
More recently, we tried it again at Man Ho Macau. Both times I did not dislike the flavor of the abalone, but I also did not like it. Frankly, I did not form a strong opinion either way. Abalone is a little chewy, but otherwise does not have a strong flavor. It is not fishy, nor does it taste like seawater. I just don’t understand what the big deal is.
I’ve eaten a little eel in the past, mostly involved in sushi rolls. It’s never been something I’ve sought. But, when we dined at Spring Moon at the Peninsula Hong Kong, we ate some amazing eel. It was breaded and fried, sweet and tasty. One of the unique foods we’ve eaten recently that I totally loved!
Pad Thai Foie Gras
Two phrases I never thought I would type together: Pad Thai and foie gras. But, when researching a story I was writing for JW Marriott Magazine, we found ourselves at Namsah Bottling Trust, which is actually only a few blocks from our Bangkok apartment. Their fried shrimp in spicy sauce is simply amazing.
Their Pad Thai foie gras, a little less so. Liver is just such a hard thing to cook with. I think if they had seared it, and then sliced it and added it to the Pad Thai, it may have worked. Slicing it, and then cooking it, seemed to dry out the foie, and make it seem more like liver. A bit too much like liver. See above.
I love Korean BBQ. It’s something we’ve had a few times outside of Korea. But, having Korean BBQ in Seoul, now, that’s an experience. During our last visit, our friend Catherine took us to a very traditional Korean BBQ joint. She introduced us to some of the best Korean BBQ pork. So good we ordered it twice.
She also ordered pork skin, unlike any pork skin we’ve tried to date. This was thick, like collagen. Catherine promised us that if we ate enough of the thick collagen pork skin that it would eliminate our wrinkles. I tried to eat as much as I could, for the good of the wrinkle elimination. But, it was a bit too chewy for me. Maybe I will grow old gracefully and accept my wrinkles.
Fish Noodle Soup
This seems innocuous enough, fish noodle soup. I generally prefer my noodle soup to be beef, like pho bo, or shrimp, like tom yum, or pork, like wanton mee. But, I’m not entirely opposed to fish noodle soup.
So, on a Saturday morning, we made our way out to Klong Toey market, one of the largest, and most traditional markets in Bangkok. It’s only a short ride from our Bangkok apartment, but we had yet to venture over there. We met up with some fellow food travel bloggers, both of whom have so much more knowledge on Thai food than we do: Mark from Migrationology and Dwight of Bangkok Fatty (A funny title for Dwight’s blog, as since we first met him over a year ago, he doesn’t seem to get any fatter, yet, we have. And, I would venture that he eats as much as we do.).
This fish noodle joint is famous, and traditional, sitting at the corner of the Klong Toey market. When Mark and Dwight suggested we head out for fish noodles, we were hesitant. But, we were wiling to trust our fellow food travel bloggers. Both Mark and Dwight speak way more Thai than we do, and before I knew it, our meal was ordered. Mine was pretty good, Eric’s was pretty fishy. I expected that our fish noodle soup would included bits of fish, and fish balls, and mine did. What I was not expecting was true fish noodles. Eric’s noodles were actually made of fish.
It was all edible, decent, but a little too fishy for me. Eric too.
It’s only April, but yet we’ve eaten a dozen unique foods so far this year. With trips coming up to the Czech Republic and France, and a return to Hong Kong, who knows what we will eat in the future.
If you like the photos you’ve seen in this post, definitely check out our Food Travel Instagram Feed, which includes photos of ALL the tasty (and sometimes not so tasty) foods we’ve eaten!