There are some for whom adventurous dining is more than just an intrepid foray into gastronomy's underbelly. For these ballsy connoisseurs, testing the culinary boundaries is their very raison d'être; for others, such transgressions are usually precipitated by fraternity initiations, reality TV show challenges or good old-fashioned peer pressure.
Personally, I've had the pleasure (and displeasure) of ingesting some pretty bizarre fare in my travels: deep-fried guinea pig in Cusco, Peru; pregnant smelt in Toronto, Canada, and braised porcupine (slyly labeled as "game meat") in a Cameroonian restaurant in Paris. But if you're a fearless foodie itching to sample out-of-the-ordinary dishes right here in our very own underbelly, there are a number of restaurants that serve up a taste of the unusual.
Chinatown Seafood Restaurant (1103 N. Mills Ave., 407-896-9383) may be known for their assortment of live sea creatures cooked to order, but a dish often ignored by Occidental palates is the sesame jellyfish. Those sensitive to texture will likely be turned off by the invertebrate's rubbery crunch, but the marinade's garlicky zip is quite pleasing. Even better are the crispy Hong Kong-style frog legs, dusted with seasoned flour, sautéed and sprinkled with pore-expanding chili peppers.
If pig entrails get you salivating, a hot, steamy pile of hacked-up hog maws (pig stomach) and chitlins (pig intestines) can be had on weekends at Mama Nems' (805 S. Kirkman Road, 407-253-7744). After being cleansed of all fecal matter (at least that's the hope) and stewed for several hours, the high-fat innards are served with rice and a milky gravy. Word of warning: The meal sits heavy, and it's so rich that it makes the sides of fried okra and fried green tomatoes seem like items from a Weight Watchers guide. If pig entrails get you salivating, a hot, steamy pile of hacked-up hog maws (pig stomach) and chitlins (pig intestines) can be had on weekends at Mama Nems' (805 S. Kirkman Road, 407-253-7744). After being cleansed of all fecal matter (at least that's the hope) and stewed for several hours, the high-fat innards are served with rice and a milky gravy. Word of warning: The meal sits heavy, and it's so rich that it makes the sides of fried okra and fried green tomatoes seem like items from a Weight Watchers guide.
The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones
by Anthony Bourdain
The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating
by Fergus Henderson
Extreme Cuisine: The Weird & Wonderful Foods That People Eat
by Jerry Hopkins
Curiosities of Food: Or the Dainties and Delicacies of Different Nations Obtained from the Animal Kingdom
by Peter Lund Simmonds
(Ten Speed Press)
by Calvin W. Schwabe
(University of Virginia Press)
You won't find bull testicles or headcheese at Costa del Sol (12200 Menta St., 407-240-2095), but unctuous honeycomb beef tripe with chickpeas is one of the tastier tapas dishes offered. The tough stomach membrane requires long cooking in order to acquire the desired glutinous texture, but the popular Spanish dish, served with a smoky tomato sauce, is offally good.
Along similar Mediterranean lines, Kasbah Grill (8464 Palm Parkway, 407-238-1818) serves tkalia, a Moroccan dish that makes no waste of a cow. Beef tripe, liver, heart, cheek, tongue and sweetbreads are slow-cooked along with such seasonings as paprika, cumin and parsley. The spicy stew doesn't appear on the menu, but they'll prepare the specialty dish for you if you call a day ahead.
Cubes of goat meat in luxuriant curry are a specialty at Golden Krust (5510 W. Colonial Drive, 407-298-0543), a Caribbean eatery specializing in Jamaican fare. The meat is a little fatty, but the gravy is so superbly seasoned that you'll enjoy every chew. Another worthy dish is the braised oxtail. The bony and flavorful chunks draw comparisons to beef brisket — subtly sweet and slightly gelatinous.
Sambal teri kacang is a popular snack food in Indonesia, and chef Amin Achyar offers a whole school of crisp-fried chili anchovies as a starter at Asia Bagus (2923 Vineland Road, Kissimmee, 407-397-2205). Aso sena, a dog stew plattered in the Philippines, is not on Café Mindanao's (10705 E. Colonial Drive, 321-235-7465) menu, but the opportunity to gnaw on marinated deep-fried pork knuckles is there for the taking.
For domestic peculiarities closer to home, the Catfish Place in St. Cloud (2324 13th St., St. Cloud, 407-892-5771) has been serving the Florida Cracker Special for decades. The plate, heaped with a fried assemblage of catfish, frog legs, gator tail and soft-shell turtle (caught from local lakes), is quintessential Sunshine State eatin'.
A stop at the 1st Oriental Supermarket (5132 W. Colonial Drive, 407-292-3668) will yield you a bevy of bizarre bites like spicy chicken feet, sea cucumbers, pork uteri and caterpillar fungus, the latter being used for medicinal purposes by the Chinese. Also available here is the much-maligned durian, a thorn-covered fruit that's been banned in hotels, taxis and public transportation all over Southeast Asia because of its horrific stench. The moment you slice into it, an effluvium I can only liken to raw sewage, rotten eggs and human excrement baked in a gym sock permeates the immediate space, easily eliciting bouts of gastric upheavals amongst the toughest of stomachs. The taste, however, is anything but repugnant. The rich, creamy flesh tastes like fresh-cut honeydew melon and apples, tinged with garlic. You will have poo-breath afterwards, so rinse with mouthwash to neutralize the aroma.
Durians, along with pig snouts and thousand-year-old eggs, have been devoured in the Gross Out Food Challenge at Pom Pom's Teahouse (67 N. Bumby Ave., 407-894-0865). Plans are being made for the next challenge as soon as owner Pom Moongauklang finds something gross enough to warrant the next contest. Note to Pom: See above.