Gastro Obscura

Our partnership with Atlas Obscura has brought such curious eccentricities to these pages as the feces fountain in Chicago and a natural mummy in Tuscany. Today we’re looking at a section of the Atlas that’s a touch more appetizing but no less adventurous — at least for the first time traveler. Join us now for a foray into Gastro Obscura, as we investigate nine of the most eye-catching, unusual, and fascinating foods throughout the world.

Pig’s Blood Cake Stick

Pig's Blood Cake Stick
Left: Courtesy of Mrbar82 / Used with permission. Right: Courtesy of Xstyle / Used with permission.

Bathed in pork-soy broth, wrapped in peanut flour and finished with cilantro, pig’s blood mixes divinely with sticky rice to create a chewy, mochi-like substance, a particularly satisfying treat in the fluorescent shine of a Taiwanese night market. Truthfully, Taiwanese street food deserves several spots on this list. The ice cream burrito? Stinky tofu? But for us it’s this it’s this meaty popsicle that takes the blood cake.

And it’s eye-catching, sure, but pig’s blood is no mere novelty in Taiwan — to the point that a rumor about a USDA ban caused a minor international incident that resulted in a scolding from the President of Taiwan. Turns out, pig’s blood was always perfectly legal in the States.

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Sheep Brains

Marrakech, Morocco
Sheep Brains
Images courtesy of Wandering Wheatleys / Used with permission

The thing you can’t help but notice about sheep’s brain… it looks exactly like people brain — at least, the way they look in horror movies and high-fever nightmares. But it doesn’t taste like brains. Or maybe it does, if meaty, buttery, fatty, seasoned and chopped, rich and aromatic is exactly how you expect brains to taste.

Even if the flavor isn’t for you, the search for the dish should be an appealing one at the iconic Jemaa El-Fna square in the heart of the city’s medina quarter. The party gets cooking at dusk, when the square undergoes a significant transformation from a snake charmer and orange juice vibe to one of fragrant food stands (not only sheep brains) and ecstatic live music.

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Deep Fried Beer

Texas, USA
Deep Fried Beer
Image courtesy of Wikiphoto CC

Wrapping Guinness in pretzel dough and deep-frying it into a sinful ravioli, one man reached the pinnacle of Texas State Fair food, even improving upon the deep-fried Coca-Cola (which also debuted at the Texas fair) from four years earlier. So yes, deep-frying things that shouldn’t be deep-fried is certainly a State Fair tradition. And if these are the types of culinary delights that make you want to get on a plane or gas up the car for a long road trip, you can’t go wrong with any of them, with the Minnesota State Fair another headline-grabber.

The Texas State Fair begins in September and lasts nearly a month. Congratulations if you survive.

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Pumpple Cake

Philadelphia, USA
Pumpple Cake
Image courtesy of The Flying Monkey Patisserie

A dessert steeped not in long-standing history or deeply embedded culture, but in cake. And that’s good enough for us. Not to terrify you, but the Pumpple Cake has been called “the dessert equivalent of a turducken.” To create it, an apple pie and a pumpkin pie are taken from their families and baked into a vanilla and chocolate cake, respectively. That should have been enough, but the two pie-in-cake creations are then fused together with buttercream. Again: this is not a Philly food tradition like cheesesteaks or scrapple. The Flying Monkey Patisserie in Philadelphia is, as far as we know, the only place serving this sugary Frankenstein.

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Image courtesy of Wubylil / Used with permission

Mimicking the traditional American omelette almost identically, the Japanese twist is to wrap the egg around a hunk of fried rice and then, sometimes, to pan-fry the thing in ketchup or add rich Japanese mayo. The omurice falls into a type of Japanese cooking called yoshoku, one that originated during the increase in foreign influence of the Meiji Restoration. You can thank the movement for other more or less well-known favorites like katsu, Hayashi rice, and deep-fried oysters.

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Beschuit met Muisjes

Image courtesy of Glenn Ederveen / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Dutch tradition following the birth of a newborn? Eat some biscuits with mice! Not really mice, actually, but sugar-coated anise seeds, sprinkled (blue and white for boys, pink for girls) over a beschuit, which is a dry, twice-baked bread. It’s believed the little candy seeds are called mice for their stems, poking out like tails.

You can easily make your own beschuit met muisjes, as it’s easy to find the two ingredients at grocery stores around the Netherlands. But if you want someone to serve this picturesque celebratory cookie to you on a platter, you’re going to need some pregnant Dutch friends.

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Image courtesy of L_Quick / Used with permission

Some compare it to a lasagna, others a casserole, but the Peruvian favorite is really something all its own, defined by its layered presentation and served cold. Ingredients include mashed potatoes, most often stacked between chicken, tuna, or shrimp and flavor-blasted with lime juice and aji amarillo. It won’t be hard to find no matter where you are in Peru.

And if you’re persistent, you’ll also come across different delightful variations. Causa is built for it. You might say the modifications are the most fun part of the dish, as chefs — both amateur and professional — make their adjustments simply by stacking more food. As Gastro Obscura puts it, “diners can find causas rising from their plates like royal wedding cakes.”

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Amarula Brigadeiro

Amarula Brigadeiro
Image courtesy of Doceslamour / Used With permission

The brigadeiro is like Brazil’s brownie: ubiquitous, beloved, delicious chocolate. Made from condensed milk, cocoa powder, butter, and covered in sprinkles, what’s not to like? But just because it’s perfect doesn’t mean innovation stops — especially when there’s an opportunity to add alcohol. Inventive desserters have given the treat an adult update, injecting the treats with butterscotch-flavored Amarula Cream liqueur. Again, what’s not to like? Certain Brazilian bakeries serve the alcohol-infused chocolates, or you can get cooking yourself with an eyedropper.

The thinking goes that the chocolates got their name when supporters of a Brazilian candidate for president (a brigadier turned politician) used them to win votes in 1945. The brigadier didn’t win, but you can’t help but think that the addition of butterscotch liqueur would have put him over the top.

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Hot Horse Burger

Hot Horse Burger
Images courtesy of Hot Horse

“Hot Horse” in Slovenia. Not bashful about their product. The definitive English-language review of the mini-chain seems to be this giddy article, in which a Vice writer explains that the “meat was chewy, though not in a bad way, and the seasoning was on point.” Besides that, the most unique flavor is the ajvar, a sauce made from red peppers and olive oil enjoyed throughout the Balkans on other meats besides horse.

The mini-chain also serves hot dogs and is by all accounts a very average fast food experience except for the shock value, for some palettes, of the meat. Nor was eating horse particularly popular in Slovenia before Hot Horse, not that it was taboo. The restaurant simply came about when the future owner married a horse-butcher’s daughter. And the rest was horsetory.

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