Cooking With Confidence
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Musings

Eat Weird Food

by Nick

For 26 years of my life, I thought beets were a very strange and gross food. I had a distinct memory of not liking them and so I just continued not eating them. They were ugly and weird and I wanted nothing to do with them.

As I started learning more about food and cooking, I finally ran into a beet salad and was convinced to give it a shot.

It was freakin’ delicious.

I sort of hated that I had wasted so many meals not eating beets just because I was supposedly sure that I didn’t like them.

If I would’ve been open to eating weird food, I would’ve learned this much sooner and been better off for it.

In short, I think everyone should be eating more weird foods. If you’re not eating weird food, you’re not eating well.

Weird is Relative

Weird is a very relative term. What’s weird to you (maybe chicken feet?) might be one of the most popular snacks in another part of the world (China). Meanwhile, something that Americans think as completely normal (hamburgers) aren’t really eaten at all in many countries in the world. In fact, McDonald’s doesn’t even serve hamburgers at all of their international locations.

So keep in mind that there is probably no food in the world that’s weird to everybody.

Weird is Safe

It’s human nature to be opposed, at first, to new foods because they could be poisonous or harmful. Unless you are out foraging in the wilderness though, this probably isn’t a concern. Even the weirdest thing you can find in your local supermarket or farmers market is probably 100% safe or at least not any less safe than say, cantaloupe.

As long as the food smells like it’s supposed to smell (some things are supposed to smell rotten) and isn’t expired, it’s probably fine.

If it’s really your first time with the new food, I recommend doing some Internet research before biting in. Not only will this give you some tips on preparation, but will also tell you if those chicken livers you bought are supposed to be brown, green, or red. (hint: brownish red).

If you are worried that you might be allergic to something, then obviously you need to take extra precautions. If you’re allergic to clams, you should probably stay away from oysters. This is another place where a bit of research can go a long way!

Of course, you have to use your brain here. If you’re traveling abroad, you might want to start slow on the “try weird foods” idea or you could quickly find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. But if you’re at home and see a strange new veggie at the market, push fear aside and toss it in the cart.

Weird is Tasty

I can almost guarantee that I can find a food that you’ve never had before and would consider strange that you will actually end up liking. If you think about it, your own supermarket probably sells thousands of different items and you most likely toss the same 40-50 things in your cart every week.

Even if you’re a picky eater, say you only like 10% of the food in the world, there are still most likely dozens or hundreds of things in the supermarket that you always shop at that you’ve never tried, but would probably like.

If you’re like me, this is even more dramatic. I’d say I like 90% of the food I’ve tried assuming it’s prepared correctly. That equates to a lot of stuff out there that I haven’t had that I would consider darn good eats.

Weird is Close

If you’ve ever watched Bizarre Foods then you might have the impression that to try something weird or new you need to fly to Africa and hike for days to find some sort of new, truly bizarre food.

This might be true if you’re interested in making good TV, but it’s not really true for most people who just want to try something new.

I can pretty much guarantee that there are Asian or Latin markets in your town that offer some interesting options. At a minimum, there are probably many things at your normal store that you’ve never tried.

While it’s easy to try new foods while you’re traveling, travel isn’t a necessary component of trying new foods.

Weird is healthy

This applies mostly to Western diets, but of the food that is considered normal and safe typically isn’t healthy. Think burgers, pizza, fries, any anything else you can order from your car.

If most Americans ventured away from their comfort zone and tried a few new vegetables or meats every week, they couldn’t do worse than what is “safe”.

In fact, a lot of the things that are seen as weird are just because there is no marketing for that product. When was the last time you saw a commercial for rutabaga

If you vary your diet, and avoid just frying everything, you might actually stumble across something healthy that tastes pretty darn good.

My Weird Favorites

Over the years, I’ve made some stuff that was way out of my comfort zone here on the blog. In some cases, I maybe had eaten the food a few times, but had rarely cooked with it myself.

Here are five of my favorite weird dishes I’ve made over the years.

Chicken Liver Pate – I had eaten this in a few restaurants, but making it at home was dumb simple and costs about a buck. It’s really good.

Beef Tongue Tacos - A very traditional Mexican taco filling that is completely lost on most Americans. I tackled it from scratch and it ended up being one of my favorite taco recipes.

Cold Borscht - This post was the start of my transformation from a beet hater to a beet lover.

Kimchi Stir Fry – When described, kimchi sounds pretty NOT sexy. It’s fermented cabbage. But you don’t need much else to make a good stir fry.

Salted Cod – One of Betsy’s friends is from Jamaica and came over one day and showed me the ropes of some traditional Jamaican food. It was delicious and I ended up with a plate of food that I had never had before.

What is Weird for You?

Have you eaten something different recently that surprised you? Do you have your eye on something that you want to try? Do you think it’s fun/important to try new stuff?

Leave a comment!

Purple Cauliflower photo from bradlauster.

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28 comments on “Eat Weird Food

  1. I do think it’s fun and satisfying when you surprise yourself. My sweet potato story is just like your beet story – was convinced I didn’t like them until I tried them the right way. Not that sweet potatoes are weird. But I have overcome being weirded out by, in chronological order, fish, crustaceans, bison, sushi, and fried oysters, just off the top of my head. My remaining frontiers are raw oysters (which I frankly have no interest in at this stage), eggs (not a weird item, but a longstanding textural aversion I would like to eventually overcome), and offal of any kind (I would like to learn to appreciate items like the ones you mention here, but the mental barrier is pretty high). Maybe I sound like a wimp, but I am fairly open minded, especially when I am someone’s guest. I just need someone to cook me these things to force me!

    1. Nice renee! There’s no rush in trying new stuff. If you’re feeling ambitious one weekend or something, just go for it! Your list is already pretty solid. :)

  2. Frankly, there’s not a lot that I won’t eat, but I’m a little averse to weird-ish seafood, though I eat it occasionally, can’t say that it does not gross me out a little bit.

    Nick, have you ever tried chicken or turkey hearts? They make a wonderful stew with some carrots, onions and maybe raisins if you’re into them. In my neck of the woods hearts are no big deal, every market has them (and they’re VERY cheap, two or three times cheaper than, say, chicken breast). I do have a lot of friends or even family members who just won’t eat them on principle, because they’re weirded out.

    1. I’ve definitely had both in gravies, and when I was a kid my dad used to go pheasant hunting and we would fry up the hearts (delicious), but I’ve never had them in a stew. I’ll check it out! Thanks for the idea.

      1. I love giblets and prefer them to the hearts, but have to limit my diet for health reasons. Oh, well. When I make them, I simmer them in water with celery, onion, sale and pepper. They make a heavenly broth (I use as a basic chicken broth) and then chill the giblets and eat them as a high protein snack.

  3. Chicken hearts, livers and gizzards are lovely broiled, with a touch of seasoned salt.
    My favorite way to try something new is to actually grow it in my garden. Like kohlrabi, (which I had never heard of, much less eaten), I discovered is not only delicious and sweet raw, but the leaves are also edible, and the plant itself is a beautiful wonder to behold. Especially the purple one. Kolibri kohlrabi; the name alone makes me smile, now that I have discovered it.
    I agree that the supermarket has a lot of excellent foods worth trying.

  4. I am gonna try purple cauliflower next! From the farmers market. :) It was your picture that got me started.
    In this day and age, we are so blessed with abundance, it is hard to sample everything.

  5. I love rutabaga’s! I lived in Eastern Canada for a while and they had them for every meal, usually mashed. I was totally in love. When I returned home, no one knew what I was talking about, but when my grandma found some and made them for me, I basically ate them for every meal for days. If you haven’t tried them, you have gotta do it! Yum(:

  6. About beets, I always did like beets, whether hot and thickened (I believe they’re called Harvard Beets) or cold with vinegar, garlic and sliced red onion. And now that I do smoothies, they are used raw with other veggies for a healthy drink.

  7. It’s worth noting that eating different foods can also be good for species diversification. So much of what is grown in the world (bananas, etc) are huge mono-crops. When we show interest in purchasing different types of foods (red bananas, different types of grains, whatever), it helps encourage a diversity of crops to be produced.

  8. Well. It’s not a res banana. However no one I’ve talked with eats bananas with sour cream with cinnamon stirred in. Some honey if need it sweeter, usually I use truvia

    Eat up!!!

  9. last year i was in iceland and tried the fermented shark. it was the worst thing i’ve ever eaten and the taste lingered for two days. also i had a mink whale burger. that was out of this world good.

    1. I tried the fermented shark in Iceland. I brought some home to Minnesota because I figured some of my Scandoovian friends would like to try Viking food. Only one did. We all agreed that, while is smelled like Mr. Clean, it smelled better than it tasted.

      One friend gave a small piece to her dog, who took it between it’s teeth, dropped it on the floor and began to roll in it.

  10. I like the term ‘intrepid food explorer,’ we have a lot of fun at our house trying things we haven’t before, or trying them done in a different way than we are used to seeing them. We’re exploring middle eastern cuisine, and really love stopping by the local Asian supermarket to see what new things we can find!

    1. I had haggis a few years ago in Scotland. I thought it was pretty good actually. I could tell it was important to get the spices balanced right.

  11. I travel all of the time for work and get tired of the same old restaurants. Does anyone know a good web page that recommends restaurants for adventurous eaters? Thanks

  12. I write a weekly column for the Twin Cities Daily Planet about my adventures in ethnic grocery stores so I come across so-called weird foods all the time. I have a few rules of things I don’t try (no canines, no felines, no primates, nothing that might kill me) but I’m fairly open. I’ve always loved trying new foods, even a a small child. I find myself having a bit of contempt for people who won’t even try something, especially when the only reason is that the name of the food sounds weird.

    That said, I grew up on oxtail, tongue, chicken fat, lamb curry and cold borscht and traveled the world with my parents, so perhaps I have an advantage.

    If anyone has any suggestions of weird food that I could try that would be available locally, please let me know.

  13. How does one get accustomed to the “foreign” tastes of weird food? I tried octopus at a very trendy restaurant and my tongue made me spit it out (amusing my buddies who loved it). I also love most shellfish but don’t find fish (including salmon) appealing. I really want my palate to grow and am hoping there is a procedure that can help me. Or does being 57 years old make me a lost cause?

    1. Hey Griz, it’s definitely not a lost cause! :) Stephanie’s comment below is great advice. Just because you disliked one preparation of a salmon dish doesn’t necessarily mean you dislike all salmon. Keep trying it in small doses.

      For me it’s a lot about texture. I would think about textures that you like in food (crunchy? creamy? etc.) and then try to find those foods prepared in that way. So while you may not like baked salmon, maybe salmon cakes would appeal to you with their crispy crust or salmon lox with are cured and salty (almost like beef jerky).

      Hope that helps! In short, just keep trying stuff! Good luck!

  14. You don’t have to love, or even like, everything. If you want your palate to ‘grow,’ as you’d like, just try things. Try everything. I’m in my 60s and still trying new foods whenever I get the chance. You are a brave soul so try something and if you don’t like it, that’ OK. But, don’t make generalizations. If you don’t like baked salmon, you might like lox and bagels or salmon sushi. If you kinda don’t like something, that fine, but try it again a few years later or in a different way.

    I’ve known people who claim they dont’ like lamb because their spouse bought some lamb, cooked it up (without know how to cook it) and it was terrible. That doesn’t mean that lamb is terrible it means that badly cooked lamb is terrible.

  15. Borscht Soup Today is the day, I’m making this because I trust you and because my husband grew a bunch of beets. He tells me “they have a earthy taste.” My response, “yes they taste like dirt.” We have tried several other ways of cooking them and look forward to fixing your soup.

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