Soft shell crab

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During my recent trip to Bali I ended up in a Spanish tapas restaurant called Cuca which was awarded by Tripadvisor as one of the top 10 restaurants in the world. My friend and I decided to order the chef’s tasting menu and saw dish after dish arriving at our table. At one point we were presented with a tempura fried soft shell crab along with a dipping sauce.

Soft shell crab is not a separate species of crab, but rather a crab that has just shed it’s skin leaving with a soft outer shell. It is at this point that the whole animal can be eaten, including its outer shell. The crab meat was very nice and a little sweet and the tempura coating gave it a nice crunchy texture. I do think, however, that the eating the shell is mainly an aesthetic thing as it doesn’t really add much flavor. It’s just interesting to get to eat a whole piece of crab, rather than a spoonful of shredded meat.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 7

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Lobster chips

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I always like finding new flavors of potato chips in the supermarket. It’s a little like Russian roulette. Sometimes you get something amazing, but usually it’s just a big disappointment. This time around I found what looks like lobster flavored chips. At least I think it is by the look of the picture.

I was prepared for a fishy seafood taste, something which I don’t enjoy all that much, but I soon found out there wasn’t any. Not a single shred of evidence to convince me that this was lobster flavor. The potato chips themselves were just fine, but still it was a huge disappointment. I can’t wait for the next one to arrive.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 5

Fermented shark

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I’m sorry for the absence on my blog for the past week or two, but I have a very good excuse. I was on holiday. To make up for it I’ve written up a post on the item with probably my highest Fear Factor to date. I gave this one a nine, so obviously it can’t get much higher than that. The item is the famous, or rather infamous, fermented shark known as “hakarl” from Iceland that has put fears in the eyes of viewers of Anthony Bourdain shows worldwide. I believe he thought it was the worst thing he ever tasted. Yikes!

I’ve been writing about my experience in Iceland over the past few weeks, so you might have seen me mention a food tour of Reykjavik that I did. This particular company was the only one to include hakarl, so naturally I booked my tour with them. The shark was served as one small cube in a mini paper cup as that’s probably all anyone ever eats. The flesh was pure white and it actually didn’t smell that strong at all unless you put your nose right over it.

There were four of us there, my friend and I and a mother and teenage son from America, and we each reacted completely differently. My friend had hated it when she tried it before (she lives in Iceland), but this time found it slightly less revolting, the teenage son found it quite edible, the mom damn nearly puked and has a video that I can only assume must be floating around YouTube, and then there was me.

I took a deep breath, dug in, was surprised at the taste and texture, chewed, swallowed and was left thinking: “Was that it?” I seriously can’t see what all the fuss is about. It certainly didn’t taste rotten to me. It was even a little sweet. I would go as far as saying I actually enjoyed it. I guess the myth has been busted, at least as far as I’m concerned. Although later I did hear that there are different varieties with different strengths, but I’m choosing to ignore that and stick to my victory.

Fear Factor – 9 / Taste Test – 7

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Dried fish snack

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During my stay in Iceland I joined a food tour of Helsinki, which is where I tried the infamous fermented shark (I’ll follow up on that another time). Whilst hopping from one restaurant to another we also stopped by a little mini market. I thought perhaps our guide wanted to give us an opportunity to buy a drink, but she had something else in mind. She ended up buying a bag of dried fish snack known locally as “hardfiskur”.

I’m no stranger to seeing dried fish around. It’s all over the supermarkets here in China. Though I haven’t tried any dried fish here yet, I did try some dried squid, which was rather chewy. As I didn’t like that all too much, my expectation for the dried fish was quite low. To my surprise, however, I actually liked this Icelandic variety. It was not chewy at all, but crispy and crunchy, which is always preferable over chewy. The taste of fish was there, but not overpowering. I actually went back for seconds, and bought some more to take back home.

Fear Factor – 4 – Taste Test – 8

Whale steak

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Some of you may remember my review of whale bacon at a bar in Tokyo. That still leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. It might have just beaten the good old durian to the title of “worst thing I ever put in my mouth”. There are not many places in this world where you can eat whale, as it’s illegal in most countries, but Iceland is an exception.

I know, whales are precious animals, and many people think they should not be eaten, but please do understand that Iceland is a land with minimal natural resources. The only mammal that lives there that was not introduced by settler is the arctic fox. I’m a strong believer that people eat what they have, and well in Iceland they have whales. These days of course it’s less necessary to eat whale as you can get all kind of goods imported, but it’s still readily available.

On my last day in Iceland I did a food tour of Reykjavik. We were served all kind of beautiful dishes such as lobster soup and skyr, and then at one restaurant a plate of grilled whale steak came out. You can imagine I was somewhat hesitant to try it, but at least this was the meaty part and not the fatty part.

It was indeed a thousand times better than the whale bacon, but that does not mean I liked it. On the contrary. The meat was extremely gristly and chewy, something which I have hated since childhood. To cap it off there was this weird fishy yet not fishy flavor to it. Safe to say I didn’t finish. I think my whaling days are over.

Fear Factor – 4 / Taste Test – 3

Tomato flavored seaweed snack

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A common snack in China and other parts of East Asia is dried seaweed. Not the kind you roll your sushi in, but similar. This seaweed snack is a little crispier, which is always a good attribute to any snack. They come in small packs, and are so light there are hardly any calories in it. Finally a healthy snacks to nibble on.

Instead of going for a plain pack of seaweed I opted for a tomato flavored one, adding to the oddity. The texture if the seaweed changed as I was eating it. It started out crunchy, but soon turned chewy in my mouth which made for an interesting play in textures. At first there was indeed some tomato flavor, but that unfortunately soon faded. I think I would have preferred plain ones anyway.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test – 7

Dried squid snack

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They sure love their dried fish here in China. In the supermarkets you can find whole isles full. I’m not the biggest fish eater, but I do like squid, so instead of some dried fish I bought a bag of dried squid. People here eat it as a snack, so I sat down for some TV with my bag of dried squid.

On opening the bag, something definitely smelled fishy. That alone out me off a little, but hey don’t mock it till you try it. The first thing I noticed when I was eating was be texture. It was chewy, almost rubbery, and then a fishy taste washed over me. All in all not a very desirable eating experience.

Fear Factor – 4 / Taste Test – 4

Jellyfish salad

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I had eaten jellyfish salad once before, and I kind of liked it so my fear factor is quite low. The first time I tried it though, my fear factor would have been much higher. I mean, who eats jellyfish? Well, it turns out quite a lot of people here in China and Japan do. In Osaka I found it on the menu of a yakitori place mixed with sour plum.

It made for a very interesting combination. The jellyfish itself has virtually no flavor. It’s all about texture with this one. It’s chewy, but not hard or rubbery. You can still bite through it easily. I’m not quite sure what to compare this texture with. Maybe seaweed comes close. The flavor was all down to the plum sauce, which was very sour indeed. It was a nice refreshing taste, but I’m glad it was only a small bowl, as I’m not sure I would have wanted to eat much more.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 7

Whale bacon

 

IMG_7570I know the consumption of whale is frowned upon all over the world, and it was a bit of a struggle to decide whether or not to eat whale. In this case I rely on my moral code: I don’t eat meat of endangered species. I don’t eat meat that’s illegally obtained. I don’t eat meat if the animal is brutally tortured. I don’t eat living animals. The consumption of whale in Japan is legal, and they mainly hunt minke whales, which are not endangered. Therefore it meets my criteria. I do apologize if that offends anyone.

At Rice and Circus bar in Tokyo we asked the waiter for some fried whale, but they were out. Instead we could try some whale bacon. That sounded a bit ominous and what arrived at the table was pure fat, no bacon. It was simply that, slices of whale fat. I tried a piece and it was terrible. I can eat fat if it is rendered out, but this chewy strip of fat was hard to swallow. The last piece was exceptionally large, and I almost couldn’t get it down. If you’re ever in Japan and tempted to eat whale, don’t order whale bacon.

Fear Factor – 5 / Taste Test – 0

Blowfish

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Blowfish, known as fugu in Japan, is one of the most famous “unusual” foods to eat in Japan. Everybody has heard of this infamous spiky fish that blow itself up like a balloon in case of danger. The reason it’s so well-known is the fact that this fish is poisonous. It’s not just dangerous, it can kill a man. Luckily only a small part of the fish is inedible. The rest can be eaten, as long as the fish is handled correctly.

Fugu is a very expensive thing to eat, as it needs a trained professional to prepare. I didn’t want to spend too much money on a whole meal, so when I came across some blowfish at the market in Kyoto, I thought it would be safe to try. The salesman heated up the two fillets of fish and poured some sauce over it. It tasted like any other white fish to me. I guess the main reason for people to eat this fish is not the taste, but the danger.

To be honest, I kind of doubt that this was actually blowfish. I feel like the fillets would have been bigger. Also I thought it would have been more expensive. Anyway at the time of eating I was convinced it was indeed blowfish, so the fear factor still holds.

Fear Factor – 3 / Taste Test – 6