Strange Delicacies

What do people eat in Tlefas, the setting of my novels? Good question. I thought I’d look around for some strange delicacies that could inspire some dishes I’d set on their tables. As always, I came up with some truly bizarre offerings that almost turned my stomach reading about them.

Bird’s Nest Soup

I’ve heard of bird’s nest soup since I was a child, but couldn’t imagine eating a soup with twigs and leaves and who know what else in it.

What I had in mind is a bit off from the reality. The Chinese do use birds’ nests, but only nests made by swifts, who make their nests out of saliva. They build their nest in caves along the coast, so collecting them is a bit of a trick, and there only a few times a year the nests can be gathered.

Why only swifts’ nests? There is something in their saliva that has a rubbery, gelatin-like texture. I guess it resembles rice noodles. I’m not so sure this is much better than the twigs.

Fried Tarantulas

If you want a crunchy snack, the Cambodians can offer you fried tarantulas. Big ones. Whole fried tarantulas. This includes the legs and fangs. If these are too big or too ugly, you can find all kinds of fried insects in markets all over south Asia.


To make balut, you boil fertilized eggs just before they are ready to hatch. So in with the oozing yolk, you have baby chicken or duck. Usually balut are prepared when the eggs are between 17 and 21 days old. The longer you wait, the more developed the baby bird is, so you could end up with beak, claws, bones and feathers. None of these bother those who love balut.

This, to me, has got to be the most repulsive, but supposedly it’s quite delicious and enhances the libido. I’ll take their word for it.


A favorite in Scotland but not many other places. To make it, stuff a sheep’s stomach with its liver, heart, and lungs, adding onions, salt and pepper. Boil it up, and serve with potatoes and turnips.

Live Octopus

In Korea, you can wrestle with your food as you eat it. The octopus is cut up on your plate while it is still alive. It will keep squirming for awhile, and the tentacles will cling to anything they touch. So the first challenge is getting the pieces off your chopsticks and into your mouth. There they will attach to your teeth or roof of your mouth. If you don’t chew them up completely, they could stick to your throat on the way down.

Kopi Luwak

Supposedly this is the most expensive coffee on the planet. What’s it made of that makes it so pricey? To put it bluntly, cat dung.

The luwak is a cat-like animal that lives in Indonesia. It eats ripe coffee cherries, but can’t digest the beans in the core of the cherries, so it passes them out whole. The stomach enzymes and acids of the luwak add a distinct aroma to the coffee made from the beans the animal passed.

Anyone want to try any of these?

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