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10 Delicacies From Around the World To Try

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Food brings us together. Whether your tastes trend toward traditional or experimental, there’s universal comfort in joining around a table for a meal. Seasoned travelers know that sampling the local cuisine is one of the easiest ways to experience native culture firsthand. You may not speak the language or know your way around town, but there’s always someone ready to share a bowl of their favorite treat. Sure, it’s increasingly easy to find a McDonald’s no matter where you land, but why not try one of these unique gastronomical experiences?

1. KOPI LUWAK // INDONESIA

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Can't face the day without coffee? Visitors to Indonesia can indulge their caffeine craving with a hot cup of kopi luwak, the most expensive coffee in the world. Why so pricey? Cats, of course! Wild palm civet cats, also known as luwaks, eat the fruity flesh of coffee berries but don’t digest the seeds (what we call coffee beans.) The civet droppings are collected by local farmers to be washed, roasted, and processed as coffee. Why is this "cat-poop coffee" so special? One theory holds that civets eat only the best cherries, creating a natural selection for quality. Others believe that a fermentation process occurs in the luwaks' digestive tracts, which reduces bitterness and improves the natural flavor. But not everyone agrees; Tim Carman, a food critic for The Washington Post, tried kopi luwak a few years ago and claimed that "It tasted just like … Folgers."

2. POZOLE // MEXICO

Mexican cuisine continues to be one of the most popular choices in the U.S., so a trip to Mexico might seem like a chance to double-down on well-known favorites like enchiladas or quesadillas. Go looking for authentic Mexican meals, however, and you just might find a steaming bowl of pozole, a soup with significance dating back to the Aztecs. Pozole begins with hominy (a type of dried maize) and meat (typically pork), includes a variety of mouth-watering spices, and is topped with fresh ingredients like lime and radish. Historically, pre-conquest Aztecs may have used freshly sacrificed human flesh in their pozole in lieu of pork, but there's no need to worry about that these days.

3. SMALAHOVE // NORWAY

Steaks can be found nearly everywhere, but adventurous carnivores should consider a trip to Norway to track down a hearty plate of smalahove. Literally translated as "sheep’s head," smalahove is in fact half a lamb’s head (split down the middle with an axe, naturally) that has been torched, dried, smoked, and boiled, then served with potatoes, rutabagas, cream, and butter. The brain and other organs are removed, with the exception of the tongue, eye, and ear, which are generally considered the best morsels. The hearty meal is a Norwegian holiday tradition and is typically consumed the last Sunday before Christmas. (It’s also customary to serve it alongside aquavit, a strong Nordic spirit, perhaps for folks who need a bit of "liquid courage" to face down this intimidating dish.)

4. CARNE ASADA WITH CHIMICHURRI // ARGENTINA

Grilled meat is a staple around the globe, but Argentines take particular pride in their steak traditions. Their outdoor cooking style, known as asado, has a rich heritage and rigorous rules to follow (absolutely no gas, briquettes, or lighter fluid allowed, only wood and hard lump charcoal!). Done properly, asado is an all-day process, where each cut of meat gets plenty of time to slowly roast—Argentines generally prefer their steaks medium-to-well-done.

While the steaks are grilling, Argentine chefs have time to whip up some chimichurri, the country’s "go-to condiment." A tangy uncooked sauce prominently featuring parsley, garlic, oregano, and red pepper, chimichurri complements nearly any entree, but particularly shines with carne asada.

5. HÁKARL // ICELAND

Speaking of Scandinavia, perhaps no dish has earned quite so fearsome a reputation as hákarl, an Icelandic delicacy first cooked up by the Vikings. Even celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, no stranger to unusual flavors, described hákarl bluntly as "the single worst thing I've ever put in my mouth."

The Vikings found a plentiful supply of Greenlandic shark in the waters around Iceland, but soon discovered that toxins in the shark meat made it poisonous to consume. Their solution was to behead the shark, then bury the carcass underground for six to 12 weeks to allow liquids to seep out and the rotting meat to ferment. (Some modern Icelanders cure the meat in a plastic box rather than underground). After the fermentation process is complete, the shark meat is cut into long strips and hung up to dry for several additional months. The final product, diced into deceptively mild-looking white cubes, is famous for its fiercely pungent ammonia aroma.

6. TRUFFLES // FRANCE AND ITALY

If the odor of rotting shark doesn’t make your mouth water, head south for a famous treat with a much different reputation. By weight, the European white truffle is one of the world’s most expensive delicacies—they can sell for as much as $3600 a pound. That steep price tag is due to the difficulty of finding and harvesting the small treats; truffles grow underground, near the roots of trees, and farmers often need to employ specially trained dogs to sniff them out. The fruit of underground-growing fungi, truffles generally aren’t eaten on their own but are a rich, aromatic addition to any number of dishes, including pasta, eggs, sauces, and even cocktails. Of course, truffle dishes can be found worldwide, but travelers in southern Europe should be sure to sample a few straight from the source.

7. KAPENTA FISH // ZAMBIA AND ZIMBABWE

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Kapenta (also called matemba) are tiny freshwater sardines, originally native to southern Africa’s massive Lake Tanganyika but later introduced into other lakes in the region. Despite averaging just 10 centimeters long, kapenta are surprisingly rich in protein and iron, and are an important dietary staple for lakeside regions in Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique.

Typically kapenta are caught at night, then sun-dried the next day. Dried fish are wonderfully versatile and can be used in any number of contexts, from a basic stew to this sweet curry sauce. Zimbabweans living close to Lake Kariba also enjoy fresh kapenta, pan-seared and served with sadza, a maize porridge. Scoop up some sadza to dip or roll in the fish and sauce, and prepare to get a little messy—locals don't use utensils for this dish.

8. VIRGIN BOY EGGS // CHINA

Boiled eggs are enjoyed internationally, but folks in the Dongyang province of China have a unique preparation method. Every spring, local vendors collect urine from local elementary schools, specifically from boys under age 10. The eggs are boiled in the urine; after an hour the shells are cracked and they are cooked for another full day.

Although modern science ascribes no nutritional value to this practice, Dongyang residents claim that virgin boy eggs bestow a wealth of health benefits, including improved circulation and resistance to heat stroke. They sell for just 25 cents each on the street (four times the cost of a regular boiled egg) and are so popular they've been dubbed an "intangible cultural heritage" for the region.

9. BALUT // THE PHILIPPINES

Travelers to the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, and other southeastern Asian countries will also find plenty of street vendors selling eggs, but with a much different spin. Balut are duck eggs, or more specifically, a mallard duck embryo sold in the shell. Fertilized eggs are incubated for 2-3 weeks (18 days is considered ideal), then boiled alive, sometimes with salt or vinegar added for flavor. The duck embryo is eaten whole; enthusiasts swear by the variety of savory flavors and textures all in one small package. Balut translates to "wrapped," and comes from the idea that the perfect example should be "wrapped in white"—surrounded by pleasantly chewy boiled egg. Pro tip: if you're interested in the flavors but squeamish about the embryo, order penoy, a duck egg that didn’t develop into balut and is entirely yolk.

10. PAVLOVA // AUSTRALIA

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Visitors to Australia no doubt expect lots of shrimp on the barbie, and perhaps a kangaroo steak, but what about something to cool down after a hot day? Beat the heat with a slice of pavlova, a creamy meringue pie with a crispy crust and topped with any variety of fresh fruit.The story goes that Australian chef Herbert Sachse was inspired by Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova’s visit Down Under in the 1920s and strove to create a dessert as light as the iconic dancer. There’s another side to the story, through—neighboring New Zealand also claims the dish as their own. Hey, everyone just wants their slice of the pie, right?

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Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
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There’s a reason most of us only cook turkey once a year: The bird is notoriously easy to overcook. You could rely on gravy and cranberry sauce to salvage your dried-out turkey this Thanksgiving, or you could follow cooking advice from the experts.

Brining a turkey is the best way to guarantee it retains its moisture after hours in the oven. The process is also time-consuming, so do yourself a favor this year and let Alexa be your sous chef.

“Morton Brine Time” is a new skill from the cloud-based home assistant. If you own an Amazon Echo you can download it for free by going online or by asking Alexa to enable it. Once it’s set up, start asking Alexa for brining tips and step-by-step recipes customized to the size of your turkey. Two recipes were developed by Richard Blais, the celebrity chef and restaurateur best known for his Top Chef win and Food Network appearances.

Whether you go for a wet brine (soaking your turkey in water, salt, sugar, and spices) or a dry one (just salt and spices), the process isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. And the knowledge that your bird will come out succulent and juicy will definitely take some stress out of the holiday.

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Why Your Traditional Thanksgiving Should Include Oysters
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If you want to throw a really traditional Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll need oysters. The mollusks would have been featured prominently on the holiday tables of the earliest American settlers—even if that beloved Thanksgiving turkey probably wasn’t. At the time, oysters were supremely popular additions to the table for coastal colonial settlements, though in some cases, they were seen as a hardship food more than a delicacy.

For one thing, oysters were an easy food source. In the Chesapeake Bay, they were so plentiful in the 17th and 18th centuries that ships had to be careful not to run aground on oyster beds, and one visitor in 1702 wrote that they could be pulled up with only a pair of tongs. Native Americans, too, ate plenty of oysters, occasionally harvesting them and feasting for days.

Early colonists ate so many oysters that the population of the mollusks dwindled to dangerously low levels by the 19th century, according to curriculum prepared by a Gettysburg University history professor. In these years, scarcity turned oysters into a luxury item for the wealthy, a situation that prevailed until the 1880s, when oyster production skyrocketed and prices dropped again [PDF]. If you lived on the coast, though, you were probably still downing the bivalves.

Beginning in the 1840s, canning and railroads brought the mollusks to inland regions. According to 1985's The Celebrated Oysterhouse Cookbook, the middle of the 19th century found America in a “great oyster craze,” where “no evening of pleasure was complete without oysters; no host worthy of the name failed to serve 'the luscious bivalves,' as they were actually called, to his guests.”

At the turn of the century, oysters were still a Thanksgiving standard. They were on Thanksgiving menus everywhere from New York City's Plaza Hotel to train dining cars, in the form of soup, cocktails, and stuffing.

In 1954, the Fish and Wildlife Service tried to promote Thanksgiving oysters to widespread use once again. They sent out a press release [PDF], entitled “Oysters—a Thanksgiving Tradition,” which included the agency’s own recipes for cocktail sauce, oyster bisque, and oyster stuffing.

In the modern era, Thanksgiving oysters have remained most popular in the South. Oyster stuffing is a classic dish in New Orleans, and chefs like Emeril Lagasse have their own signature recipes. If you’re not looking for a celebrity chef’s recipe, perhaps you want to try the Fish and Wildlife Service’s? Check it out below.

Oyster Stuffing

INGREDIENTS

1 pint oysters
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
4 cups day-old bread cubes
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Dash poultry seasoning
Dash pepper

Drain oysters, saving liquor, and chop. Cook celery and onion in butter until tender. Combine oysters, cooked vegetables, bread cubes, and seasonings, and mix thoroughly. If stuffing seems dry, moisten with oyster liquor. Makes enough for a four-pound chicken.

If you’re using a turkey, the FWS advises that the recipe above provides enough for about every five pounds of bird, so multiply accordingly.

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