I think it is difficult to talk about whether a food is unique or not because some foods which are unique in one country are not unique in another. For example, one food that I think unique is raw horsemeat (basashi). Americans don’t eat horsemeat and most Americans think raw meat is gross, it is very rare to see restaurants in America that will serve raw meat. But in Japan some bars and izakayas serve horsemeat and I have had it a few times. For an American it is unique but for Japanese people it is not so strange.
In fact, Japan has a lot of dishes that are not commonly eaten in America such as octopus, eel and tiny quail eggs. I like all of these dishes; I especially like to eat quail eggs at yakitori restaurants.
Another dish which I have had that many might find odd is grasscutter meat. Grasscutters are animals that look like big rats. They are about 60 cm long and weigh about 8.5 kilos and are sometimes eaten in West Africa. I’ve eaten grasscutter meat. The meat was cooked in a sauce that I ate on top of a mushy yam dish called fufu. Most Americans probably find the idea of eating a big rat strange, but the meat was not that different from chicken, beef or pork.
Interestingly sometimes a dish may seem unique because of what part of a thing is being eaten. In America, eating brains is considered disgusting; it is something only zombies do. But, when I visited Mali, a common dish was a whole boiled sheep’s head. This includes the sinuses, brain and eyes. I’ve tried the brains and sinuses but not the eyes. The brains were mushy and the texture was a bit strange but the taste was not that strange. The sinuses were a bit crunchy.
In terms of drinks most local cultures have a local alcohol made from local plants. In Togo there are three major alcoholic drinks. Tchouk, which is sometimes called millet beer, is similar to beer. It is brewed in big plastic barrels and usually served is a round bowl called a calabash. I don’t like the taste as it is too bitter for me. Another is palm wine; palm wine is made by fermenting the sap of palm trees. It is not bad. However, the best alcohol is made by distilling the palm wine into a drink called ‘sodabe’. The appearance is similar to vodka or shochu but the taste is very unique. These drinks are unique for Americans because we don’t usually drink things made from palm sap.
Sometimes a dish is unique not because of the food but in the way it is prepared. One example is peanuts. In America we always eat peanuts either roasted or ground into peanut butter. I found it interesting that in West Africa, boiled peanuts are not as crunchy as roasted peanuts. I actually prefer the taste of boiled peanuts, I don’t know why but they taste better to me.
I actually really like trying new dishes even if they seem a bit strange to me at first. I think eating new and different foods is a way to learn about other cultures and ways of life. Even if a food seems strange or gross to me I will always make myself try it just to see how it tastes. I recommend trying many dishes from around the world so that you can discover new delicious things.
gross (adj.) – disgusting or very unappetizing
mushy (adj.) – soft in texture and having no firm shape
crunchy (adj.) – having a hard texture and making a loud sound when chewed; not soft
ferment (v) – to go through a chemical change that results in the production of alcohol
distill (v) – to make an alcoholic drink more pure or concentrated by heating and cooling it
grind (v) – to crush or break (something) into very small pieces by rubbing it against a rough surface or using a special machine