Student Life

From China to Syria, unusual savours around the world

A true test for the world-traveler is whether they are able to adapt to the local culinary customs. Horror stories of total body evacuation by oral or rectal means are far too common. It is natural for the body to react this way to a new diet, but once the problem is solved, the mind requires much more persuasion.

Food is one of the most obvious ways in which cultural differences are expressed. If you are what you eat, then what you eat can say a lot about a culture, from French to Chinese. In my travels, some of the most grueling difficulties I’ve encountered have stemmed from food. A host can be easily insulted by a foreign guest’s facial expression. Sometimes the best way to go about a meal is to just close your eyes and swallow hard—and yes, I am aware of my choice of words.

Here are a few of the most gruesome dishes I’ve come across:

Calamares en su tinta

This Spanish delicacy is quite literally the translation of “squid in its own ink,” and resembles something you would find in The Little Mermaid’s Ursula’s dark cauldron.  

Calamares en su tinta is made very simply. Once the squid has been cut and fried, onions and tomatoes are added into the still-sizzling pan. After seasoning, the ink is added.  The result is an awful sight: squid tentacles swimming in a pitch black liquid sauce.

Taste aside, the dish will leave its consumer with black residue all over their faces and tentacles stuck between their teeth.

Syrian mystery desert

Syria has some of the most wonderful food in the world; however, it was in a bazaar in Aleppo that I came across one of the most disgusting desserts that I have ever tried.

A couple of friends and I approached a stand selling these bizarre things with curiosity in our eyes, but complete ignorance as to what was about to besiege our taste buds. It proved to be, as one of my friends has put it, “One of the worst things I’ve ever put in my mouth.”

I can only hazard a guess as to what the contents of this so-called delicacy were. In its core lay a stalk of ginger covered in a hardened, salted, gelatin substance, somewhat similar to the tapioca balls in bubble tea. It was difficult to bite into one of those things and hold a smile on my face for the poor man behind the small stand. We thanked him kindly, then quickly walked away, finding the nearest garbage bin to dispose of whatever we hadn’t yet swallowed.

Chicken feet in China

A typical dish served at dimsum, chicken feet can be found anywhere from a rural village in China to the bustling streets of New York City’s Chinatown.

Chicken feet taste like the cooked skin of a chicken, which doesn’t sound too bad. However, it’s the appearance of the claws that will deter you from, well, swallowing. Just thinking of the nail at the end of the thin talon that scrapes against your tongue makes it  hard to swallow whatever skin is left on the bony limb.

I’ve tried it once, just to be able to say I’ve tried it, and actually quite liked it, but my mind could only stomach about a square millimetre of chicken feet.

Ayran

This Turkish refreshment is yogourt-based, with a little bit of water and salt added to it. The clash of yogurt with salt makes many foreigners steer clear of it. This, indeed, was my first instinct with ayran, but by the end of my stay in Turkey, I was dying for a refreshing glass of the stuff at every opportunity, and even had a local teach me how to make it. 

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