In a whole world full of edibles we’re bound to miss out on the full culinary picture unless we travel and try new dining experiences. That’s part of the great appeal of a cruise holiday – you don’t just take back memories of elephant rides, helicopter tours and tribal ceremonies with you when you return home. You might even take back an entirely different palate too. So, what strange culinary delights does the great wide world have to offer?
Bird’s nest soup, China
Gazpacho soup? Pfft. Borscht? Meh. Chinese swift’s nest soup – now that’s some exotic slurping. Roughly comparable to caviar on the scale of luxury delicacies, this clear broth is a rare and expensive dish in Asia and has long been eaten for its supposed aphrodisiac qualities. (Why is every other delicacy always an aphrodisiac?)
The best part? Swifts make their nests mostly from gluey saliva – creating a kind of tasteless gelatine which is often served with stock and other soup ingredients. Harvesting the nests is tricky business, since swifts tend to build them high in cave walls – so expect to pay up to £60 or more for a bowl.
Bragging rights: Be prepared for some funny looks, followed by an initial hurdle of disbelief and then a gentle wave of admiration from fellow culinary adventurers. Accompanied by persistent funny looks.
A Baltic cruise is a great opportunity to get your teeth into some fresh herring caught along the coast. It’s also a chance to try some not-so-fresh herring too – two-month old fermented herring, to be exact.
Literally “soured herring”, surstromming is a real favourite in Sweden and is often eaten right out of the tin. The fish is simply caught and barrelled before spawning season and left to ferment in its own lactic acid during transit. The briny contents are too salty to properly decompose, and the chemistry going on inside these fishy barrels creates a sour, pungent fish dish. So pungent, in fact, that it tends to be eaten outdoors.
Bragging rights: Possibly no bragging necessary, if your friends and family can still smell this delicacy on you when you return home.
Sadly we’ve lived with quite a narrow culinary range here in Britain for a long time. Things are changing rapidly of course, especially given the way the world’s connected in the online age – but we’re still at the point where opening up a can of worms at work is generally seen as a bad thing, whether it’s a figurative can or an actual one.
Not so in places like Thailand – the locals love a worm-based snack. Wander the streets of Bangkok on your next luxury cruise and you might well come to market stalls selling all manner of many-legged cuisine. Crunchy locusts, giant water beetles, chewy crickets and scorpions… or how about a fluffy fried moth chrysalis, or more rare and expensive bamboo worms?
Bragging rights: Environmentalists might be aware that replacing meaty dishes with plentiful bug cuisine could drastically reduce our carbon footprint. How about telling your green friends that you’re ahead of the curve?
It’s the famous Japanese puffer fish dish – a delicacy because it’s prepared by only the most skilled chefs in the country, and with good reason. If the fish’s poisonous organs aren’t removed properly and its dietary build-up of tetrodotoxin contaminates the meat, the dining experience could end fatally for an unlucky diner – the toxin is twelve times more powerful than cyanide.
Fortunately the preparation of fugu, sashimi and chirinabe restaurant dishes is strictly regulated in Japan, and only exceptionally skilful chefs are allowed to lay it out on the cutting board.
Bragging rights: “You know that poisonous Japanese puffer fish that can kill you if it’s prepared wrong? Yeah, I ate that on my tour in Japan.” Ultimate bragging rights.