'Beef' burger is one third horse ... so what?

A butcher shop in Paris. In France, eating horse is perfectly acceptable.
A butcher shop in Paris. In France, eating horse is perfectly acceptable. Photo: Reuters

So I was going to respond to Amanda Vanstone this week, highlighting the way she misconstrued most of my points from last week in order to score a few cheap ones for herself, but then I remembered that British supermarket chain Tesco sells horse.

Horse! There's been a small kerfuffle over the last week in the UK after Irish food inspectors discovered that a sample of supermarket chain Tesco's "beef" burgers contained 29 per cent Phar Lap. Cue the inevitable "I could eat a horse" tabloid headlines and general handwringing about unwittingly dining out on an animal most people wouldn't like to dine out on.

Thing is though, horse is perfectly edible, and in places like France and Japan it's on the menu. (Of course there it's labelled "horse", not beef.) I've never eaten horse, although I probably would, as I figure that if you're OK with eating one non-endangered animal, you should be OK with eating them all. And I've never owned a horse.

Salty ... whole scorpions on a stick in China.
Salty ... whole scorpions on a stick in China. Photo: AFP

Still, the Tesco debacle has got me thinking about all of the things I've eaten on my travels that I once would have considered strange. (Not a huge achievement given when I grew up Chinese food only came in sweet and sour.)

Here's a quick rundown of the strangest.

Goat's head, Morocco

You can see them stacked in rows at the markets of Jemaa el-Fnaa in Marrakech, with their bared teeth and wild, beady eyes. It's generally one between two, a goat's head served whole to hungry diners. It's all up for grabs: cheeks, eyes, brain, tongue... All the good stuff, ready to be greedily consumed. I'm still not at the point where I'd think to myself, "Mmm, I'm craving a boiled goat's head tonight", but it wasn't too bad.

Century egg with cold kidneys, Singapore

Sometimes called thousand-year eggs, or preserved eggs, but they all come out the same: black and gelatinous, with a dark green yolk. In Singapore's Chinatown they're served with sheep kidneys that have been boiled and then chilled. This dish both sounds and looks horrible, but tastes surprisingly fantastic. Probably not one to serve at your next dinner party though.

Guinea pig, Peru

I've written about this one before. The most disturbing aspect of guinea pig consumption is that they're served whole, head and all, sometimes in poses that look like the little fellas were flash-roasted while in the process of running away. Still, once you get past that and taste the dark, gamy flesh, it's a winner.

Insects, Thailand

Fried insects, I've found, go from tasty to disgusting in order of their size. Little crickets are genuinely good, with a slightly nutty flavour and a bit of crunch. Grasshoppers are next, and they're OK, although getting large enough to taste individual bits in your mouth. Once you get up to the big flying cockroach things, you can leave me out.

Snake penis whiskey, Vietnam

Most people have seen big jars of whiskey with coiled snakes preserved inside throughout South-East Asia, but the one I tried in Hanoi was extra special. Rather than a whole snake, the jar was filled with small snake penises. The guy who served it to me, lacking the English words to explain the benefits his whiskey would provide me, just pointed at my crotch and gave me the thumbs up. The taste was pretty bad – but then, I don't really like normal whiskey either.

Warthog, Kenya

African animals, while beautiful to look at, are also deceptively tasty. If you can accept that it's OK to view animals for their beauty by day, and then consume animals for their deliciousness by night, then make sure you take warthog for spin. It's like pork, only better. And then there's springbok, which makes the tastiest biltong around. Oh, and ostrich, which is barbecued meaty perfection. And kudu. And zebra.

Cow's head tacos, Mexico

This is a specialty in the state of Oaxaca, where roadside stalls have whole cows' heads laid out on benches, and the chefs tear bits off it, chop it up and serve it in a large, crackling tortilla. The whole heads are a little disconcerting; however, like most of the food in Mexico the tacos are excellent, perfect for streetside dining on a warm Oaxaca night. Grab a few beers and you're set.

Scorpion, China

Most visitors to Beijing end up at the tourist-friendly Wangfujing Snack Street, where you can sample anything from pork dumplings to sheep's testicles to deep-fried starfish. One of the classics is whole scorpion, skewered, deep-fried and salted. They don't taste of much at all – except salt.

Hotdogs, everywhere

Well, I don't know what's in them. Do you?

What's the strangest food you've eaten on your travels?

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