We at Regent Holidays pride ourselves in never approaching the new and untried with anything less than an enthusiastic open mind. However, there has been the odd occasion on our travels where the prospect of certain local culinary offerings has seen us dig extremely deep to muster up the courage to take a bite. Whilst some dishes tickle our tast buds and have us reaching for more, others have us reaching for the nearest, strongest digestif. Here are some of the stranger foods we have encountered…
Despite being not much more than a slab of lard, Salo is not just one of Ukraine’s favourite dishes but also as important a cultural cornerstone as vodka is to Russians. Made from cured pork fatback and usually seasoned with black pepper, garlic and paprika, it is typically served raw as a snack to be consumed with vodka. Regent Holidays’ last trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway saw us being offered a slice by our Ukrainian cabin mate before the train had even left the platform and the accompanying vodka was much needed!
If you ever find yourself at a Kyrgyzstani feast and your host offers you sheep eyes, do not be offended, for this is considered a great honour and means they’d like to you to return one day. Along with the eyes, the guest of honour can also be expected to be presented with the sheep’s (which has been boiled whole in a kazan) head and the choicest cuts of meat. With a fatty texture and taste, the eyes may not be the most appetising part of your meal but at least you can rest safe in the knowledge that you must have made a good impression!
Though a largely favourless delicacy, the sea cucumber has that innate ability to make you shudder at the thought of its gelatinous and slippery texture. Looking more like a giant slug rather than its vegetable namesake, it’s hard to imagine what possessed early chefs to go through the effort of preparing the slippery sea cucumber (an extensive process that takes several days) as a dish. Still, it’s an enduringly popular delicacy in China and can be found in many recipes such as the famous Confucian dish “The Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea Gamboling around the Arhat”.
This national delicacy is a staple in the town of Struga, which is situated on the shores of Lake Ohrid where eels are prevalent. Seasoned with parsley, garlic, pepper then coiled into a spiral and baked, the result is something akin to a giant, slimy, fish sausage.
Horsemeat is a common dish all over the world from Mexico to China, but no country goes as crazy for it as Kazakhstan. Horse is probably as ubiquitous here as roast beef in the UK or sausages in Germany; horse steak, horse sausages, boiled horse, smoked horse, horse liver and horse fat all frequently appear in Kazakh dishes – in fact it’s arguably more difficult to find a recipe without horse in it. One particularly mouth-watering dish is kurydak, made from diced horse heart, liver, kidneys and other organs served with onions and peppers.