31 of the World’s Strangest Foods That Aren’t What They Seem

food, 31 of the world’s strangest foods that aren’t what they seem

Deceptive dishes

What’s in a name? Sometimes, not all that much. Or at least, when it comes to certain foods, not a lot you can actually trust. Bombay duck doesn’t contain a scrap of duck, for example. And grasshopper pie isn’t quite as adventurous as it sounds. Here’s a selection of the most deceptively named dishes from around the world.

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Dolphin is a staple on Barbados menus, though you can rest assured these are no descendants of Flipper. Mahi-mahi, the large blue fish eaten around the world, is also known as a dolphinfish. Barbadians shorten the name (hence the rather unsettling associations) but it’s the same tender, flaky fish, usually served battered and deep fried.

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Cape Cod turkey

It might be because it was served at Thanksgiving, in lieu of actual turkey, when early New England settlers had little but fish. Or it could be because the Irish in Massachusetts apparently dubbed their Friday fish meal ‘Cape Cod turkey’. Whatever the origins, this dish of salt cod, served in a cream sauce and topped with boiled eggs and potatoes, doesn’t have a single pluck of turkey.

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Monkey bread

Don’t be so precious as to ask for a fork if you’re served monkey bread, also known as monkey puzzle bread. Sweet, soft and sticky, this treat is designed to be torn apart and devoured by hand. It became popular in southern California in the 1940s, and is usually made with balls of dough bound by melted butter and caramel sauce before baking.

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Rocky Mountain oysters

Put away the red wine vinegar and shallots. These are a world apart from your usual freshly shucked half-dozen. Rocky Mountain oysters are actually the testicles of lamb, boar or calf, usually flattened, coated in seasoned flour, deep fried and served with dipping sauce. It’s believed the dish was invented by ranchers in Canada’s Rocky Mountain region, and it’s still widely considered a delicacy in the American West and western Canada.

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The priest fainted

Also known as the preacher wept – and apparently all this drama was due to the downright deliciousness of this classic Turkish main or side dish of eggplant stuffed with tomatoes, onion and garlic before simmering in olive oil. It might not make you fall off your chair, but this rich, tangy recipe is certainly moreish.

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Hen of the woods

One odd name isn’t enough for this wild mushroom, which sprouts in large clusters some say resemble chickens with ruffled feathers. Other English nicknames include ram’s head, while in China it’s known as monkey’s bench. Prized for its delicate texture and intense, truffle-like flavor, you’ll find it in stores by its Japanese name maitake.

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The only thing this hand-stretched, wheat doughnut has in common with an actual beaver tail is its flat, paddle-like shape. Legend has it the idea came from the 19th century, when actual beavers’ tails and bread dough flattened in the same shape (so it would cook quicker) were cooked over open flames. The name was trademarked by Ontario company BeaverTails Canada Inc. in 1978, and the doughnuts are typically deep fried and dusted with cinnamon, but alternative toppings such as caramel sauce and sliced banana have become hugely popular.

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Devils on horseback

The story of this devilishly good hors d’oeuvre dates back to Victorian times, when prunes or dates were soaked in tea, wrapped in bacon and grilled. They rose in popularity in the 1970s and 80s, usually skewered with toothpicks and passed around at dinner parties.

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Angels on horseback

The saintly flipside to devils on horseback, the origins of these oysters wrapped in bacon are murky. Many believe the canapé was inspired by the French equivalent anges à cheval, invented in 1866, while others claim it evolved from a dish eaten by the English working class, when oysters were considered a poor man’s food.

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Cat’s tongue

The cat might get your tongue if you read this on the menu of a Parisian café. But you won’t get its tongue, thankfully, because these are actually slender, crisp biscuits, often elongated and delicately curled. The langues de chat cookie is believed to originate in France, while the Dutch eat it as katte tong. For the traditional type, see 30 secret steps to the perfect cookies every time.

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Bombay duck

This duck dish doesn’t come with plum sauce, pancakes and skinny strips of spring onion. Or, in fact, duck. Because the main ingredient in Bombay duck, a popular Indian dish, is actually dried and fried bummalo or lizardfish. The origins of the name are mysterious, though one theory is that the smell reminded the British of the dank wooden floors of the Bombay Dak trains.

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Herring in furs

This Russian dish conjures all kinds of whimsical images. The herring is ‘dressed’, though not in furs. Pickled fish are diced and layered with cooked and grated root vegetables, usually potatoes, carrots and beetroot, mixed with mayonnaise. It gives the dish, sometimes charmingly called ‘herring under a fur coat’, a colorful, elegant look, like a savory cake. Or a well-dressed lady.

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Gunpowder tea

In China, this green tea from the Zhejiang Province is known as zhū chá or ‘pearl tea’. The English name compares the texture of the steamed and dried leaves, rolled into pellet shapes, to the flinty grains of gunpowder rather than elegant jewelry. Its production dates back to the Tang Dynasty, between AD 618 and 907.

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Little pigeon

There’s no pigeon meat in gołąbki, a cabbage-leaf roll stuffed with ground meat (usually pork or beef) and rice. The delicious little parcels, similar to Greek dolmadaki, which are made with vine leaves, are often served in Polish households during the festive season, and the name refers to their small, birdlike shape.

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Scotch woodcock

It might sound like a rich, gamey feast of a dish, but Scotch woodcock is really just scrambled egg served on toast spread with Gentleman’s Relish (anchovy paste). Legend has it the name was a dig against the Scots by the English, though nowadays it’s served as a pretty inoffensive hors d’oeuvre, usually on squares of toast and garnished with whole anchovies.

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It isn’t cheese, but it is made of heads – usually the meat from the head of a pig, calf, cow or lamb. Becoming more common with the rise in popularity of nose-to-tail eating, headcheese is served as a sausage or in a jellied loaf, similar to a French galantine or terrine.

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Fuzzy navel

Similar to a screwdriver (that’s vodka and orange juice, not the household tool you can never find), a fuzzy navel is a combination of peach schnapps and OJ. Ray Foley, founder of Bartender magazine, named it when a customer remarked he could smell the ‘fuzz’ of the peach schnapps through the juice. Another navel-gazing fact for you: add an extra shot of vodka and you have a ‘hairy navel’, thanks to the increased potency of the alcohol. Discover more three-ingredient cocktails here.

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Ants climbing a tree

This delightfully named Sichuan dish is made with finely ground beef (the ‘ants’, apparently) and glass noodles, which represent the tree. Its Chinese name, ma yi shang shu, has also been translated as ‘ants creeping up a tree’ and ‘ants climbing a hill’. All equally charming and, infused with pungent spices, delicious.

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Ants on a log

More ants. Yet, again, no ants at all. This healthy snack, popular across the US and Canada, is a stick of celery filled with peanut butter and dotted with raisin ‘ants’. Growing kids are their biggest fans.

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Bear claw

Huge bear claw pastries are for those times when mere croissant or apple turnover just won’t satisfy your sweet dough cravings. The name makes sense when you see the jagged paw shape of this pastry treat, originating from the US in the 1920s and usually filled with almond paste and raisins.

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It sounds like a well-traveled waterfowl, but a geoduck is actually a huge, soft-shell clam with a long neck, usually dived for in the Pacific Ocean off Washington state and western Canada. Pronounced ‘gooey duck’, its sweet, clean taste and slight crunch are particularly prized in China and Korea, where it’s considered a delicacy.

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Ladies’ fingers

You’ll often find ladies’ fingers lurking in your Louisiana gumbo or stirred into a bowl of fragrant Malaysian curry. You might even bite into them beneath a delicate glove of crisp tempura batter. Okra is actually a pod vegetable shaped like elegantly tapered fingers, widely used in African, Caribbean, Cajun and Indian cuisine as a thickening ingredient. Just to make things more confusing, sponge ‘ladyfingers’ are something different altogether, layered up in desserts like tiramisu.

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Prairie oyster

In the late 19th century, fuzzy headed New Englanders would knock back a raw egg yolk pepped up by chili and Worcestershire sauce after guzzling a few too many other drinks the night before. The exact origins are suitably foggy, but this short, sharp hangover cure has been a mainstay of popular culture since the turn of the 20th century, referenced in everything from PG Wodehouse novels to anime. It’s often whisked into tomato juice (pictured) so it slips down more easily.

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Founding US president George Washington was apparently partial to a slice of sweetbread pie. The word ‘sweetbread’ was first used a couple of centuries earlier, in the 16th century. Though some might argue there’s nothing sugary about the thymus gland of animals (most commonly calves), the name comes from the fact this meat is relatively rich and sweet. ‘Bread’ comes from the old English word for ‘flesh’.

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Puppy chow

Before you tip this crunchy mix into Fido’s/Daisy’s/Dave’s dog bowl, take a nibble. This homemade snack, popular at picnics and potluck dinners in America’s Midwestern states, is a delicious concoction of Chex cereal mixed with melted butter, peanut butter and chocolate chips and shaken with icing sugar.

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Jerusalem artichoke

Jerusalem artichokes are native to eastern parts of the US and Canada and prevalent in Maine, North Dakota, Florida and northern Texas. They’re delicious sautéed with olive oil or butter and served with a sprig of thyme and a squeeze of lemon. But they’re not artichokes at all. This knobbly, nutty delicacy is a species of sunflower root, sometimes called sunroot, sunchoke or earth apple.

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Cowboy caviar

Neither ‘cowboy’ nor ‘caviar’ sounds particularly healthy, does it? You might expect a bowl of particularly good chili, or Sturgeon roe smoked over oak. Born in Texas (hence the name), it’s actually a vibrant, wholesome mix of black-eyed peas, beans and crunchy veg, dressed with lime juice, vinegar and honey and eaten as a salad or dip.

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Welsh rabbit

What does posh cheese on toast have in common with a rabbit from Wales? Its name. Commonly called Welsh rarebit (though originally spelled ‘rabbit’), this classic savory snack is elevated above the usual cheddar slices melted on bread by the sauce. Cheese, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and strong beer are added to a roux. It’s then spooned on bread and browned under the grill.

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Not dirt, but corn, ground and boiled to a porridge-like consistency. Grits are a real breakfast staple in the US, especially the southern states, and even eaten for dinner with barbecued shrimp. Originating in Native American communities, their deliciousness depends largely on what’s added. Like polenta, creamy grits are a great vehicle for flavors, with cheese, herbs and bacon commonly stirred through or sprinkled on top.

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Lion’s head

Of course there’s no actual lion involved in this Shanghai speciality, the main element of which is an enormous meatball made with ground pork, crumbled tofu, ginger and soy sauce. They’re served bobbing in either a light broth or smothered with a rich, dark sauce, while cabbage leaves form the lion’s mane.

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Grasshopper pie

Insects may be popping (or hopping) up on lots of menus nowadays, but this is a rather more old-fashioned dish. A vibrant green chiffon cream, infused with mint liqueur crème de menthe, is poured into a crust made with crushed Oreo cookies. The US dessert is believed to date back to the 1950s, named after the green cocktail invented in New Orleans around the same time.

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