5 Foreign Dishes We Desperately Need In Our Food Culture
Most people wholeheartedly agree that food is good. It's just that I can't help but feel that we're not expanding our scope of dishes. There are all sorts of outlandish dining experiences out there that we completely gloss over in favor of our familiar Fatburgers (or steamed kale, if you're a creepy healthy person).
These foreign dishes and delicacies need to be a woven into our global culture the way hamburgers are, if only for the purpose of teaching us a lesson or two about life with every bite. These things'll grow some hair on your chest.
Whether you like it or not.
Have you ever felt proud of eating, say, a really spicy chili dish, or one of those huge Man Vs. Food platters of heart attack every other restaurant seems to have on the menu these days? Well, friend, I'm sorry to say that your culinary bravado means jack shit until you've tried the specialty of Cambodia's Skuon area: fried freaking spiders.
Much like lobster and oysters in Western countries, spiders entered the Cambodian menu out of necessity. During the many years of oppression courtesy of the Khmer Rouge, food was scarce to the point where the people of Skuon started to take longing gastronomic glances at the huge, eight-legged monstrosities scuttling about the area. One extremely brave barbecue party later, they found that the arachnids taste pretty danged awesome with garlic -- and the rest is history.
"Buy six and have free nightmares forever!"
Why You Need It:
To conquer yourself.
By now, everyone should be more or less aware that current meat production methods are unsustainable as fuck, and there's a very real chance that we'll soon be joining the two billion people on planet Earth who are already snacking on insects for that sweet, sweet protein. So unless that guy who grows burger meat in a test tube figures out to make that shit real cheap and delicious real fast, or someone magically invents tofu that tastes even moderately acceptable (hahahahaha!), it's better to get ready for that inevitable day.
After all, it's not like arachnids and insects necessarily taste bad. In fact, people who have tried fried spider describe the taste as a cross between chicken and cod. All you're really fighting is your own antipathy towards putting deceased horror monsters in your mouth, and that instinct should be easy enough to conquer by watching a few clips of feral wild boars before your next platter of bacon. Besides, I know you. You're not about to get your ass kicked by yourself. That guy is a wimp.
So ask yourself: When insect cuisine inevitably becomes a staple of our lives, who would you rather be? The person who borderline pisses himself when it's time to consume a cockroach, or the one who gleefully beer-batters a tarantula?
Why, yes, there's a recipe.
All Sorts Of Scandinavian Horror Fish
Although these days, their main export is pretty much all the pop music since the 1990s or so, Sweden has a rich history as a European superpower and Viking Central. As such, this famously neutral and unassuming country has a fair few traditions that belong to an age when trolls were fought with swords instead of a ban hammer.
It was a simpler time -- one we could learn much from.
One of these traditions is surstromming, an inexplicable fermented canned herring product that -- and I'm speaking from experience here -- tastes like acid and stinks of death. It is customarily eaten outdoors, because otherwise the cloud of perished fish that will fill the room once you pop the can open will peel your wallpapers, cause your furniture to run away, and hack your Netflix to only play the wailing of the ghosts of the fish subjected to this atrocity.
Of course, surstromming is far from the only terror-fish dish hailing from Scandinavian countries. There's also hakarl, cured bits of rotten shark that you've probably bumped into if you've ever googled "disgusting dishes" on a boring afternoon.
Lick the monitor and you can taste the ammonia.
I've eaten enough shark to vouch that it tastes like piss-soaked rubber boots even without any extra chemicals. As such, the absurdly fishy ammonium tang of hakarl stands head and shoulders above its competition in the Awful Taste Olympics. Gordon Ramsay has failed to eat a single bite on his own damn TV show. Anthony Bourdain, a man with some authority on the subject of eating things, has named it the single worst thing he's ever eaten.
And now I want you to eat some.
Why You Need It:
To vanquish your enemies.
Imagine, if you will, a world in which every bar and dining establishment carried a few cans and/or packages of these culinary horror shows. They wouldn't sell them, oh no -- not even to those dicks who try to prove their manhood with shots of 250,000-Scoville chili vodka. No, that shit would be used for ending bar fights. Instead of every altercation turning into an inebriated windmill-punching contest, they'd be interrupted and turned into a contest of true toughness: an improvised Fear Factor eating competition using one of these dishes.
Pictured: an alternate way to end a bar fight with fish.
So you're sitting at the bar, minding your own business, when suddenly a drunk frat bro stumbles upon you and starts threatening to beat your ass. Wordlessly, the bartender will walk up and hand you both a small portion of hakarl or surstromming, as the rest of the bar gasps and falls into stunned, pre-duel silence.
And you will look your opponent squarely in the eye, bringing the fermented terror to your lips as he holds nervously to his own portion and breaks into terror sweat. He will witness this.
He will witness this.
Durian is a well-known Asian fruit that enjoys something of a cult following in the Western world thanks to its taste, which some find succulent and not unlike a rich cheesecake. However, the fruit has one major drawback: It stinks like a dead man's socks. That have been filled with elderly cheese. That has already been eaten once. As Felix Clay has pointed out, this peculiar scent is enough for many Southeast Asian countries to ban eating durian in public spaces.
What, did you think that was a joke?
Why You Need It:
To conquer nature.
Look, we all know that humanity-at-large has done a bang-up job of showing nature who's the boss. Just ask the nearest over-logged rainforest. But what have you, specifically, done to show your local flora who stands perched atop the food chain? Have you wrestled a strangling vine into submission? Have you cut down a tree? Hell, you haven't even pissed in the woods lately, have you?
Let's face it: Nature thinks you're a pussy. The only way you'll prove it wrong is by tackling the vilest fruit it can provide and consuming its strength and knowledge.
Wait, did I say "strength"? Because I'm fairly certain I meant stench.
Revel in consuming your ass-stank fruit. Rub it on your face, it's fine. You will come out smelling like you've mud-wrestled a zombie in rat poop and rotten onions, but that's all right. For the spiky and sizable durian is also known as the "king of fruit," presumably because no other fruit would fight it. And as you are no doubt aware, the only way to assert dominance over nature is the same way you assert dominance over everything: You fight and defeat its overlord. Congratulations! By eating the durian, you are now the king!
What? Sure, you can call yourself the king of fruit if you like. No, you won't get a pineapple crown. It's ... it's just an initiation rite thing. Jesus.
Sometimes, you come across a foodstuff that is a perfect example of several rights making a big-ass wrong. Consider milk, for instance. Now imagine you find out we're talking about horse milk (if you think people wouldn't freak out about that, you've clearly forgotten the 2013 horse meat panic). Now imagine said milk is also carbonated and alcoholic, thanks to the very specific yeasts in mare's milk going apeshit over a few day's fermentation process. Yeah, it's fermented too. I probably should have led with that.
Now imagine your mouth full of this sour, bubbly alien milk that can get you drunk, and you have a fair idea of what airag, a traditional Mongolian fermented milk drink, tastes like.
Why You Need It:
To ready your spirit.
You have already conquered yourself, nature, and your fellow man. It is time for you to step past the final line and conquer the world. However, in order to do this, you must prove that you're patient and humble enough to deserve that honor. And there are few better ways to prove it than making your own airag, Mongol-style.
Hey, if it was enough for this guy ...
To make proper airag for the needs of an entire family, you must first milk a dozen mares. Then you have to place it in a specially-made animal hide bag and stir it, oh, roughly 1,000 times a day until it's ready. Then you have to drink it. It will be difficult. It will take time. It will sure as shit taste horrible, if only because it's your first batch ever and there's no way you won't fuck the process up in an unexpected yet darkly hilarious way. But it will all be worth it, because that way, you'll reach the final hurdle, which is ...
So it turns out that the Icelandic people, the lovable maniacs that they are, aren't satisfied with just scary-ass fish dishes. Some of them also consider raw puffin hearts something of a delicacy. For reference, this is a puffin:
Shown here a-huffin'.
As you'd imagine, consuming the fresh, raw heart of a bird that looks like a Disney cartoon sidekick doesn't exactly enjoy worldwide popularity. Gordon Ramsay (yep, him again) once caught some heat for for "sky fishing" puffins and wolfing down a heart.
Still, hey, you already beat his hakarl score -- surely you're not going to let a grumpy-ass Scottish chef beat you on this, your final challenge?
Why You Need It:
To ride with me.
Look, I realize this is pretty lame as final tests to join a world-conquering barbarian horde go. Still, precious few cultures endorse culinary rituals in which you consume the raw heart of a wild animal, and I'm pretty sure it's an obligatory initiation rite for a proper horse general. I watch Game Of Thrones, kid; be glad I won't force you to choke down an actual horse heart.
So, here you are. You've stalked the puffin, caught the puffin, and all you have to do is to gut the puffin and consume its fresh, beating heart. So you grab your trusty knife and ...
... and you, um ...
... and you damn well pat it on the head and let it go. What the hell were you thinking? Did you really think I'd make you tear the heart of a damn puffin out and consume it? Look at the little guy. Look at it:
Aww. I want to take it home, name it Puffy, and teach it to host awful reality shows on bygone rap credentials. Anyway, here's your saddle and sword. Just follow me or whatever.
I, uh, never said I would be a very good warlord, did I?
Pauli Poisuo is your chieftain, in whose name you shall forever wage war (unless puffins are involved). Pledge allegiance on Facebook and Twitter.
Now that you've embraced the fried spider, it's time to accept other aspects of foreign cultures we need to adopt right now. Learn what Kummerspeck means in 9 Foreign Words The English Language Desperately Needs and try not to gorge yourself with fried spiders when you're done. But if you are eating them in a Spanish restaurant, make sure to sprinkle some spider crumbs on the floor. It's considered a compliment. Find out why in 5 Foreign Rules Of Etiquette That America Desperately Needs.
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