HOKITIKA, New Zealand — They arrive in herds.
And those are just the humans.
Clad in outrageous costumes and toting enough alcohol to gird their stomachs and minds for worm sushi or the ever-popular wasp larvae ice cream, they spread out their camps on the lawns surrounding 80 food stalls. Let the 21st birthday party of the raucous Wildfoods Festival begin.
|Insect eating is fun among wild foodists.
(Megan Wilson/Wildfoods Festival)
Since 1989, the quiet coastal town of Hokitika on the southwest coast of New Zealand has swolen with thousands of visitors (temporarily quadrupling the local population) for a spring weekend celebrating the unique lifestyle, food and hospitality of the West coast region. Live entertainment plays on several stages all day, while visitors dig their teeth into tender goat testicle stew, grilled blackened sheep's tail, cow udders and magpie pies.
Plenty of the famous Monteith beer is on tap to wash down the "wild" cuisine.
The fun began when Hokitika local Claire Bryant decided to share her stock of homemade gorse flower wine with neighbors. Claire put together an event showcasing unique local cuisine while celebrating New Zealand culture and the 125th anniversary of her town. The first Hokitika Wildfoods festival was born.
The food festival has become an icon in New Zealand. The magic of the event has drawn such a following that Frommer's ranks it as one of the world's top 300 not-to-miss festivals.
|Wildfoods is one huge party.
(Megan Wilson/Wildfoods Festival)
The amount of eager feasters has soared. The first festival drew a crowd of 1,800: This year, roughly 13,500 people attended, representing some of the strongest stomachs and gastronomic adventurers in the world.
This year's festival theme, "Bring Your Party to Our Party," was geared toward attracting university students. Organizers reported the weekend event generated about $2 million for the West Coast economy. Several local and countrywide charities also benefited from the exotic feasting.
What may be considered wild in one part of the world might be a nice between-meals snack somewhere else. From the Wildfoods Festival and the rest of the world, here are 10 of our picks:
1. Bet you can't eat just one!
Nothing goes better with a cool beverage in a hot climate than something salty. And crunchy. Nice and crunchy. Potato chips or Fritos may come to mind, but in some exotic locales, grab a handful of cockroach, grubs or tarantula.
| Little birds, crickets and cockroaches.
Specialty carts in Thailand and other Asian countries sell stir-fried critters speared and spritzed with a spray of vinegar and fish sauce guaranteed to clear up the sinuses, please the palate, and frighten away all other dinner guests. Crickets are a popular choice. Their texture is a cross between a crunchy chip and crumbly salted nori. But make sure to pluck off the spiky legs first.
2. Tongue piercing
Scorpions on a stick are a common sight throughout Asia, especially in the southeast. Served intact from head to tail, the scorpions are usually fried. Don't worry about everything you've heard. The frying neutralizes the toxins in the stinger and makes them safe to eat. And once they're cooked, they lose their ability to pinch your tongue or sting your mouth. (As long as the tail is less than an inch long.) Try some on a stick from street vendors, or with rice or noodles.
3. Buzz cuts
They practically fly right out of your mouth! In some types of Chinese cuisine, bees are a specialty. Platefuls of them. Bee larvae can be served deep fried with salt, pepper and other spices. Strange as it sounds, served without stingers, the bees have a substance and flavor about them, a creaminess contrasted by the fried crunch. Some even say that there's a subtle honey flavor about the baby bees as you chomp down.
4. Mystery meat
In Yangon, Myanmar, night bazaar vendors offer "wettha douk-hto," or broiled pig parts on sticks. There's a good chance you'll have no clue what you're eating — "pig parts" doesn't always mean traditional cuts of meat. Eaten with a spicy chili sauce, the bits of pig are cooked in a large wok right in front of you. After you've finished, vendors will charge you based on the number of sticks you have — but be careful! Bent sticks cost more, so be wary of how delicately you eat your pig entrails.
5. Fire eaters
In Nigeria, a popular dish named suyas (nicknamed "fiery stick meat,") is made of marinated beef kebabs, typically found in street vendors' carts. The meat is cooked with lots (and lots and lots) of cayenne pepper and other spices, hence the "fire." Served with raw onion, suyas can also be cooked with chicken, lamb, or fish. Originating in northern Nigeria among the Hausa people, suyas have spread to other western African countries, including Niger, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, and Ghana.
Weird? Sort of. Gross? Definitely. This is a Bear Grylls sort of dessert: Wasp larvae ice cream.
|Wasp larvae ice cream.
(Megan Wilson/Wildfoods Festival)
The larvae are sprinkled on top like chocolate sprinkles. But maybe we're being adolescent in our disgust. According to Cool Bug Stuff, "edible bugs eaten across the globe include: cicadas, termites, grasshoppers, crickets, meal worms, water bugs, scorpions, silk moths pupae, palm weevil larva, dragonflies and leaf-cutter ants to name a few."
7. Slithering snacks
Throughout Asia, snake meat is a relatively common gastronomic find. The reptile is believed to offer great health benefits, particularly in the blood and bile. Consuming them is said to improve virility and the eyes, strengthen the spine, and fight fatigue. The meat, meanwhile, has a unique flavor, and is served boiled in a hot pot, sauteed or stir-fried, or marinated and grilled. Most of the time the delicacy will be some sort of water snake, but the land species leopard snake is so vaunted that it's not cheap.
In Cambodia, though, grilled snake jerky is a beloved and commonly eaten snack. Typically, water snake from the Tonle Sap lake is hung up to dry in the sun and then thrown on the grill. It's served warm, crisp and rather tough and chewy — good old jerky-style. After a couple bites, it's clear the meat came from some body of water: it has a strong, salty, fishy aftertaste.
8. As close as your grocer's aquarium
Seahorse, starfish and snake in Beijing.
OK, we're having a hard time with this one. In Chinese traditional medicine, creatures like seahorses are said to be good for men's kidneys and virility. Or they may help with the skin and digestive system. Either way, they may be served in soups, grilled and served on a stick (fried and spiced) famously along Beijing's Wang Fu Jing avenue, or in a tonic soup in Cantonese cuisine. We kind of like those delicate little sea creatures that blink back at you through the aquarium window.
9. I wish I might, take a bite
First seahorses, now starfish? On a stick no less, curled at the edges like it's waving back at you. (Does PETA know about this?) What about the Shanghai delicacy of "drunken" shrimp — live shrimp served swimming in a bowl of rice wine. (And yes, we are told, they actually do get drunk. But who knows for sure.) Eaten correctly, the feet will slowly wave their last goodbye while dangling from your lips.
Fish skewered to the end of a stick aren't limited to Asia. In Germany, steckerlfisch, another name for "fish on a stick," is served at Munich's renowned Oktoberfest celebration every year. Different nations put their own unique spin on the common snack: While the Japanese might use ayu, a freshwater fish found in rivers, to simply salt and grill over a bonfire, or the ubiquitous eel on a stick grilled on a hibachi, in Mexico it's more common to eat white fish with lime and hot sauce as a tropical treat from a beachside grill.
10. Is that Fluffy?
Last is our No. 1 pick for wild and weird food. And we're not sure if we love it or hate it.
Also called "cuy," guinea pig meat is considered a delicacy in many parts of South America.
|Rodents on a stick in Peru.
The sight of an American household pet speared on a stick, strung on a roasting rack or even impaled on a log-sized spit might be shocking at first, but cuy have been popular for a long time, especially in Peru. Said to taste like a combination of rabbit and dark meat chicken, cuy meat has a delicate flavor and is often served rubbed with herbs and slow-roasted on a rotisserie over a fire, both as a street snack and in restaurants. Peruvians consume more than 65 million of the rodents every year.
This report comes from journalists in our Student Correspondent Corps, a GlobalPost project training the next generation of foreign correspondents while they study abroad. Sean Silbert (Boston College) and Laura Imkamp (Emerson College) contributed to this story.