What's the Weirdest Food You've Eaten in Europe?
Rick Steves' Travel Forum is where we take a step back, and let travelers share information directly with one another.
Adventurous travel doesn't require scrambling up cliffs or riding on the roofs of buses. You can boldly venture outside your comfort zone — and experience big surprises — at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Ask for a traditional local dish and see what arrives. Travelers who do this bring home vivid memories...and sometimes good stories to tell. And to that end...
Michael posted this question for our Helpline contributors...
"Ever had horse in Belgium, France, or Sweden? What about dog or cat in the farmlands of Switzerland? I haven't had horse or dog, but I would definitely try both if the opportunity presented itself. What's the strangest thing you've ever eaten while vacationing in Europe?"
— Michael in Des Moines, IA
Elaine in Columbia, SC:
Escargot is as weird as I want to get, although I might try goat. Guess my palate is NOT that sophisticated. Had frog's legs in Antigo, Wisconsin. Guess that doesn't count?
Sam in Green Bay, WI:
In Beaune I ordered "andouillette", thinking it similar to andouille sausage. It came with a vague odor of a used diaper. Taste was okay...but it was hard to get past the smell. My wife was curious and took a bite and immediately spit it out in her napkin. I managed to finish half and stifled an urge to send it back. When we got home, I googled it, and came to a website titled "Things that stink".
Andouilette is a stuffed pig's colon. According to one description: "The odor is distinct and in no way an indication of cleanliness, but of glands in the colon that give its normal contents its smell" (followed by many hilarious comments on people's reactions, sprinkled with the occasional protest that it is indeed an acquired taste and a very traditional French dish).
Claire in Sacramento, CA:
In Finland: "Kalakukko" (fish bread) — a hard rye bread baked with a fish down the middle. My sons and I left our friends, whom we were staying with in Turku, to camp in Kuopio. All of them told us to bring back some Kalakukko which is where it is made, so we thought it must be really delicious. It WAS special that's for sure.
Also "Mammi," a traditional rye pudding (!) served at Easter. They made it for us even though it wasn't Easter. One description said it was dark brown and "an acquired taste." Further descriptions were unprintable in a cookbook.
Wonderful people, beautiful country, with (mostly) delicious food.
Laura in Virginia, USA:
These aren't that unusual, but I've tried the following in Sweden: "Älg" (moose) burgers and "Ren" (reindeer).
Then there's "Filmjölk" which translates to sour milk, but that isn't quite right. It is a cultured dairy product that Swedes eat for breakfast. The closest thing I can compare it to is buttermilk. I hate it.
"Korv med räksallad" is a hot dog with shrimp salad (often an unnaturally pink color). It is very popular, but I prefer the korv med mos (mashed potatoes)
I've never tried (and never plan to try) Sweden's scariest dish: surströmming. It's fermented herring that evidently smells unbelievably bad. One of my coworkers recounted the time his school had to be evacuated after some kid opened a can and stuck it in the ventilation system.
Randy in Minneapolis, MN:
Reindeer meat in Finland and Kangaroo in Australia.
After that, the next strangest food would probably be Nutella. I'm not very adventurous.
For me, food is by far the least interesting aspect of visiting another country. That's just me. Maybe in exchange I appreciate other aspects more than the typical foodie.
Jo in Frankfurt, Germany:
Haggis: I can eat it but I didn't enjoy it. Escargot are yummy, frog legs taste like chicken and I ate those in Ohio. I've also had reindeer, alligator, armadillo, rattlesnake, moose and beef heart. Where are they eating dogs and cats in Europe? Certainly not in Switzerland.
Darcy in Lewiston, ID:
We frequently had horse at boarding school in Switzerland. Just needed a little salt.
Tex in Denton:
I don't consider food weird, just different, whether it's calf fries in Texas or goat's eye in Yemen. Some appeal to us, others don't. There are foods in Europe that didn't work for me like kippers in England and tripe in France. But that's my taste. Their popularity there indicates it isn't shared.
Doug in Portlandia:
Strawberry crab in Venice.
Lo in Tucson, AZ:
My husband and I were just talking about this a couple of hours ago. Eating cute little bunnies freaks a lot of people out, but I ate fried rabbit growing up and one of the best meals I've ever had was a rabbit stew in a small restaurant in Toulouse. If rabbit is available on a menu, I'm likely to go for it.
Thanks to Tex I remembered the calf fries. Love 'em with mustard or gravy.
Tom in Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany:
"What about dog or cat in the farmlands of Switzerland?" Source? Switzerland is probably the most dog-friendly country in Europe. Maybe in years past they ate Fido and Fuzzy, but I doubt this practice still exists.
Sam beat me to the andouillette. I ordered it thinking it was just a smaller version of the rather delicious Louisiana andouille. Nope, not at all. Unlike him, I couldn't eat more than a bite or two.
I had lutefisk at restaurant in Trondheim. It wasn't the worst thing I've ever eaten, but I wouldn't order it again.
My in-laws brought a can of Surströmming back from Sweden. The aroma that came from the opened tin smelled like old vomit, and I couldn't get past this smell. But once they cooked it with some onions and potatoes, it was actually rather tasty.
I forget what it was called, but I had some kind of sweet cheese and cloudberry dessert in Finland. Unlike any dessert I've previously eaten, but it was delicious.
Also in Finland: a broiled fish with various seasonings and sides. The overall dish itself wasn't odd, just one ingredient: tar. Smoky and a little bitter, but in a pleasant way.
I had all sorts of offal in Paris. It was at several different meals, so it all runs together now. I remember sheep brains. There were kidneys and hearts from a smaller animal, but I don't remember which one. At Au Pied de Cochon I had pig tail, pig tongue, pig snout, and pig trotter. I highly recommend that restaurant in Les Halles. There are plenty of less adventurous items on the menu. Also in Paris I had steak tartare, head cheese, and bone marrow. I particularly recommend bone marrow head cheese. Both are creamy and savory.
David in Florence, AL:
My wife ordered a horse burger in Paris. Obviously she didn't know what "Burger ala Trigger" on the menu meant.
Tom in Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany:
I thought Schweinhaxe was a bit weird when I first encountered it, but now it's become one of my favorites. Not something I eat often, but a special treat to indulge in occasionally.
And I never thought I would develop a taste for these things, but I love Blutwurst (and it's British cousin, Black Pudding) and Leberknödel.
Now that I've had some time to think about this a little further... some kind of roasted bird heart served on a sword at a Brazilian-themed restaurant in Sofia, of all places.
Saumagen is traditional food of the Pfaltz region of Germany (roughly, the upper Rhine plain south of Bingen to Karlsruhe). I've read it described as "German haggis," but I don't think it shares much in common with the Scottish dish, other than perhaps the animal parts used. It tastes like bacon to me, with the texture of a crispy hot dog.
Fred in San Francisco:
Foods brand new to me in Europe that I thought were strange, even weird, and made me ask the question "what is this?" were quark, herring, Leberknödel soup, veal kidneys, even buttermilk in Sweden. The first time was strange, acquiring a taste for the thing, some easier than others. Now no problem at all in ordering these.
I remember seeing venison on menus in Poland but didn't have a chance to try it. In Lyon I had something like a sausage that was, say, pungent. That must have been the thing described by Sam.
Mark in Berlin, Germany:
Michael, could one still find a handful of old farmers in Switzerland who privately slaughter dogs for their own consumption? Yes, probably. But that is a totally different ballgame from specialties like horse meat, andouillette, or lutefisk, which aren't staples, but nevertheless freely available at markets, shops or restaurants.
Brad in Gainesville, VA:
Probably the weirdest in Europe are scabs, although they go by the name "black pudding." The real weird food is in Asia...don't get me started.
Karen in Santa Rosa, CA:
The Polvo (octopus) we had in Portugal sounded and looked adventuresome, but tasted awesome.
Judy in Adelaide, SA, Australia:
Didn't have to travel 12,000 miles to experience weird food. Not so fond childhood memories of jellied ox tongue.
Linda in Seattle, WA:
Ok, I will bite... been lurking here a while and haven't posted - had to chew on this a bit.
Cinghiali (wild boar) in Assisi; pizza with clams (whole clams) in Perugia; roasted rabbit in Florence; fresh marinated anchovies in Sorrento; and fried minnows that were paired with the lake perch I enjoyed on Isola Maggiore on Lago Trasimeno (those were interesting)! Now living in the Northwest, I can't pass up my share of raw oysters in the winter. I don't consider oysters weird in any way, but suppose others do. Today, I will be up to my elbows digging for razor clams on the coast. Wish me luck, they are quick buggers...
Pamela in New York City, NY:
When I was a student in Germany, we used to get a porcelain pot filled with organ meats in a sauce. We ate it over Spaetzle. I'm not sure that we ever came to love this option, but we did come to accept it — we were burning energy like mad so would never miss a meal! Other than the pig colon and any cats or dogs, I'm willing to try a bit or two.
Alex in Longmont, CO:
On our first trip to Vienna in 2001 my wife ordered a plate of Gebackenes Hirn. A little after ordering she said "Oh oh, I think I just ordered fried cow brains." This was during the mad cow scare...well she ate some of it and I also did because we would live or die together. Wasn't too bad and we both are still around today to tell the story.
Also MANY years ago in another life I indulged in sheep's eyes wrapped in grape leaves in a small town in Greece...this was during the years of the military junta who had forbade the breaking of plates while dancing. After imbibing much Retsina wine and ouzo we consumed the eyes and joined in with the local populace in the breaking of many plates. Great memory, if a little fuzzy.
Susan & Monte in Granite Bay, CA:
Not weird, but fun for us. We were staying in Gimmelwald and were told you can buy food from the farmers in the village since there is no grocery store. We bought sausage, cheese, bread, etc. and were told to come back for milk after the evening milking. We did, and we got a bottle of warm fresh milk straight from the cow!
Sherry in San Jose, CA:
It wasn't in Europe, but instead in graduate school in Madison, Wisconsin. I was invited to a party at a faculty member's house. Took some benign looking stew from the buffet, which tasted pretty gamy. Turns out it was rat stew. The faculty member's wife hated to see waste so she would pick up "control" animals from the labs and recycle them as dinner. I became a vegetarian shortly after that experience.
Chip in Tipton, IA:
I ate grilled pigeon in Barcelona (a dining companion had cock's combs), black pudding (blood sausage) in England, escargot in France, and calamari in Italy; nothing squeamish about any of those. I will seek out jellied eel the next time I am in England.
Pat in Victoria, Canada:
RAT STEW! Andouillete is at least made from animals that were intended to be food. Who knows what the hell those lab rats might have been exposed to?
Michael in Des Moines, IA:
I have to agree with Pat on this one...Sam was the winner until Sherry chimed in. I'm sure most of us might agree that university faculty can be a little weird, but this one takes the cake. PhD doesn't always = smart.
Sam in Green Bay, WI:
OK. Give me another shot! In Pamplona, I walked into my first genuine tapas bar. I pointed to some tasty looking morsels. The barman raised one eyebrow in the international body language "Are you sure?" I indicated yes, and his expression changed to the international "Have at 'er, pal." It was kind of crunchy. It was a breaded, deep-fried sparrow.
Denny in Columbus, OH:
Well, thanks a lot, Sam. We never did know what it was we tried to eat that evening in Burgundy. Ignorance actually may be bliss after all. Good gravy! (No pun intended). We thought we'd made a fairly safe choice, too. We'd been to New Orleans dozens of times...what could go wrong? I am fairly adventurous and have tried lots of foods, but I guess I would count the horse meat meatball in Verona in the top ten. I will try just about anything, and it kills me not to eat what I have paid for. Other than Spam in Hawaii, the only dish beside our Burgundian sausage that I could not get down was a plate of shimmering black pasta with squid ink I ordered in Florence...it smelled like a bait bucket on a hot July afternoon. Florentine ambiance notwithstanding, it ended right there.
And oh yes, it was many years ago in Jaffa but even as kids we had the presence of mind to avoid the "Ox eggs, fully extended" on the menu. Getting older doesn't always mean wiser.
Sarah in Stuttgart, Germany:
Like Sam and Tom, I too made the andouillette mistake in St. Malo. Ordered it on a pizza. Once I bit into it, I remembered reading a passage from "The Sweet Life in Paris" about a pig butt sausage and realized...whoops. I would say the TASTE isn't bad, really, just fairly uh, earthy, but the smell is awful, and it was so oily. Even after I removed the sausage, the oil lingered on my pizza. I did get my husband and father-in-law to try it first, though. My mother-in-law is a very picky, fearful eater, and she thought the whole thing was hilarious, it was me getting my "just desserts" for being an adventurous eater, I guess.
Sharon in Atlanta, GA:
I have a great photo of my husband eating a spleen sandwich at the market in Palermo. He liked it!
(Note: Some posts have been edited for spelling and clarity.)
Our independent, volunteer Travel Helpline contributors are sincere, but not infallible! Follow their advice at your own risk. This thread was gently edited for brevity and clarity. Ask your European travel question on the Travel Forum.