My absolute favorite thing to do in another place is visit grocery stores. I mean it. New city, new state, new country–it’s my very favorite thing to do. I am endlessly intrigued by what’s the same and what’s different. Even when it’s inconvenient, I really try to stop in and least spend five minutes looking at the strange and the familiar.
It’s often pretty easy to do, especially when traveling on a budget. The best way to avoid spending crazy amounts of money is to buy groceries and cook for yourself on a trip, especially one that’s longer than a day or two. It makes sense, especially if you’re staying in a hostel with a kitchen or couch surfing.
My travels have found me staring longingly at different regional delicacies–aisles of pasta in Milan, smoked, braided cheese in Prague, and of course, miles of bread in Germany. But what really intrigued me were the somewhat less palatable choices. Unlike one of my best friends who recently consumed pig anus in France–cheerfully, willingly, and lived to tell the tale–I’m not THAT adventurous with food, but I’m always excited to try something new and vaguely scary. Not pig anus scary, but I’ll probably step over the line for something a little unusual.
- Raw bacon
Okay. So this isn’t super surprising for anyone outside the U.S., apparently, but before I lived in Europe, I NEVER would have even considered eating bacon raw. I knew that it was cured and smoked and vaguely preserved, but there was absolutely no way. My brother came home from Israel one summer boasting that he had eaten raw bacon with a Russian family and survived, and my whole family FREAKED out. We don’t keep kosher or anything, and the weirdest thing wasn’t that they were eating it in Israel, but that it wasn’t cooked.
In Germany, it’s pretty common to add raw bacon to the various spread of meats, cheeses, and jams to add/spread on tiny bread rolls for breakfast. It took me a while and several times of asking “Are you SURE it’s safe!?” before I finally tried it, and I have to say, it’s not bad. I still prefer it in its greasy, fried glory, but I did it and lived to tell the tale.
Note: I probably would not eat American bacon raw. The meat standards for the E.U. are much higher. That’s all I have to say about that.
Another German pork product, mett is ground, raw pork seasoned with salt, pepper, and other spices. There are many Germans who refuse to eat it. I, for one, rather liked it, to the point of actually buying some to keep in my fridge much to my German roommate’s dismay.
It’s really good. The fact that it was raw didn’t bother me, though I tried not to think about it when I visited the farm with the fifth graders and stopped by the Schwein.
- Fish jerky
Iceland is home to all sorts of unusual foods: fermented shark, which I’ve heard is one of the foulest tasting things on the planet; whale meat, which is ethically questionable but still widely consumed by Icelanders; and skyr, a very thick yogurt similar to Greek yogurt, but thicker and more full of protein.
I didn’t try the shark or whale meat, but Andrea and I ate skyr every single day. I also tried fish jerky, which is exactly what it sounds like: pieces of fish, dried in cold air and naturally fermented.
There were so many kinds at the store that I didn’t know which to get, but luckily our couch surfing host had a bag and offered me a piece. I ate it plain. It was really dry and salty but all in all, it wasn’t bad. Kinda like chicken.
So, not SUPER adventurous. But getting there!