IT’S no secret that European countries like France, Spain and Italy are home to some of the finest foods you’re ever likely to taste. But what do you do when you’ve had your fill of the Continent’s more traditional staples and feel the urge to get your teeth into something that packs a little more punch?
Luckily Europe’s home to all manner of weird and wonderful local specialities, with more than enough options to keep culinary adventurers occupied for years. We’ve rounded up ten of the most unusual to tickle your tastebuds. All are reachable by train. To find out more or to book visit www.raileurope.co.uk.
1 Goose Barnacles, Galicia, Spain
GETTING hold of this pricey delicacy isn’t a job for the faint hearted. Goose barnacles (pictured above) are tiny crustaceans that can only be harvested along northern Spain’s rugged coastline. As a result, a wet suit, an oxygen canister and plenty of bravado is required to transfer them from the sea to the dinner table. Goose barnacle fishermen ply their dangerous trade on the "Costa del Morte", facing gale force winds and the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Their prize is sweet, fleshy seafood bursting with the aroma of the sea.
Return tickets to Spain from London from £202.
2 Tripe Stew, Porto, Portugal
IT’S not for nothing that the inhabitants of Porto are known as tripeiros. A pungent, smoky stew of white beans and tripe is a staple of most bars and restaurants in this buzzing port city on the River Douro. Porto’s love affair with tripe started when the best bits from the butcher’s shop were packed off on boats destined for the wealthy, leaving the city’s inhabitants with little option but to work their magic on the honeycomb-like stomach lining left behind. It’s perfect washed down with a glass of the local vinho verde.
Return tickets to Portugal from London start from £264.
3 Andouillette sausage, Troyes, France “
I WOULD never have discovered Troyes,” Times journalist Jill Dupleix writes, “were it not for a pale, lumpy sausage made from pigs’ intestines.” They smell a little different, but persevere and you’ll discover a delightfully nutty and sweet sausage that belies the piles of chitterlings (pig’s colon) that go into the mix to make it. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the reason it smells is that pig’s intestines share some of the same compounds that contribute to the odour of excrement.
Return tickets to France from London start from just £69.
4 Casu Marzu, Sardinia, Italy
Casu MarzuCASU Marzu seems more suited to an episode of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! than the menu of a swanky restaurant, but this overripe, maggot-infested cheese is something of an Italian delicacy. The cheese starts off life as a simple Pecorino before being left in the sun in a bid to tempt flies to lay their eggs inside it. They duly oblige, and a few weeks later Sardinian foodies tuck into a moving maggoty meal. Unsurprisingly, it’s banned for health and safety reasons, but ask around and you should be able to get your hands on some.
Return tickets to Italy from London start from £126 with Rail Europe.
5 Baby Eels, Basque Country, Northern Spain
ORDER a bowl of angulas in the Basque Country and at first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d ended up with a boring old bowl of noodles. That’s until you notice the rather alarming eyes attached at one end of the needle-thin creatures. They’re tricky little things to catch, too – coming out only at night when the weather’s bad, and capable of breathing out of water. After catching them, fishermen plunge the hapless creatures into deoxygenated water mixed with tobacco to finish them off. The taste is subtle, and they’re at their best quickly fried in olive oil with garlic and a chilli.
Return tickets to Spain from London from £202.
6 Smalahove, Norway
FORGET all that talk of turkey with all the trimmings – Christmas in Western Norway is all about preparing a delicious slab of smalahove. Take one sheep’s head, torch the wool off it and remove the brain, salt and smoke the head then steam or boil it for a few hours. Serve with mashed potato and swede, and don’t forget to tuck into the best bits (the ear and the eye) first.
Return tickets to Norway from London from £402.
7 Cibreo Sauce, Tuscany, Italy
THIS classic Tuscan sauce makes good use of a couple of much maligned poultry parts, relying on the cock’s comb and wattles (those funny flappy red bits on a cock’s head, in case you’re wondering) for some of its texture and flavour. If that wasn’t enough, the traditional recipe also calls for unlaid eggs to be used, harvested from dead hens after they’ve been slaughtered. If Cibreo sauce gives you a taste for cock’s combs, try la finanziera, which sees them combined with veal brains, bull’s testicles and various other offal treats.
8 Paardenrookvlees, the Netherlands
FRYING up a nice bit of filly is something of a taboo in English-speaking nations, where we prefer the much more humane pastime of mounting our equine friends and whipping them around a racecourse. Horsemeat is commonly eaten in plenty of European countries, where it’s prized for its low fat content and clean, slightly beefy taste. In Holland the most common way to eat it is paardenrookvlees – smoked and sliced and stuffed into a sandwich.
Return tickets to the Netherlands from London from £116.
9 Stracotto d’asino, Lombardy, Italy
LOCAL legend in the Lombardy region of Italy has it that you’re not a real man until you’ve sampled the earthy delights of a stracotto d’asino. If you’re wondering what’s in the dish, the clue’s in the asino. This is a good old donkey stew, slow cooked with red wine for a good four or five hours to get the maximum tenderness out of the ass. It’s best served on a bed of polenta or as a pasta sauce – an earthy, comforting dish ideal for eating during winter.
10 Cholera, Valais, Switzerland
Cholera PieHOW do you fancy a huge, comforting slice of Cholera for your supper? The Valais region of Switzerland produces what sounds like the world’s least appetising meal, but the ingredients are actually pretty inoffensive. Potatoes, leeks, cheese, onions, apples, pears and bacon are topped with pastry and baked to create a comfortingly stodgy pie that’s perfect for those cold Swiss winters. The name comes from the cholera epidemics that blighted the region in the 1830s. People were too scared to pop to the shops so made do with the ingredients they had left in the larder.
Return tickets to Switzerland from London from £114.
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