by Sayaka Matsuoka
1. Lotus root
This funky-looking root looks like something aliens would eat, but it’s commonly used in Asian cooking. It’s relatively flavorless but its crunchy texture is why people love it. My mom used to make it as a small stir-fried side dish with sesame seeds and a caramelized soy sauce.
2. Red bean
This canned sweet is commonly used in Japanese dishes on desserts. You might find it in the form of ice cream or as inside a mochi snack. My family uses it on plain mochi (rice cake) during the traditional New Year’s meal.
3. Pig snout
Although I’ve never eaten pig snout, many cultures pride themselves on eating all parts of an animal much like my family eats the middle of crabs and shrimp heads. You can season it with garlic, ginger and a myriad of sauces like soy and hoisin to make a savory entree to be served with some white rice.
I love eel. People look at me funny when I say that but it’s really just like a more flavorful fish. Commonly found in sushi restaurants as a nigiri — the type of sushi with just a slice of fish on top of a mound of rice — or sliced over a bowl of rice, this sea creature is delicious grilled and smothered in sweet barbeque sauce. Just watch out for the bones.
Known as the “king of fruits,” durian is also one of the stinkiest foods out there (it apparently smells like farts), but can be tasty if used the right way. Most of the time people incorporate them in desserts like cakes, ice cream or smoothies.
6. Beef tripe
Although I’ve never tried any animal stomach, most cultures around the world use this delicacy in their cooking. Europeans, like Italians and the French, poach it or use it in sausage but it’s most commonly used in soups and stews.
7. Skate wing
Who knew you could eat the petting zoo creature from Sea World? Smaller than rays, skates are commonly found in Korean cuisine and are usually fermented and are also known as being stinky.
8. Chayote con espina
At first glance, you would never want to eat this fruit. Much like the durian, the chayote con espina has a prickly exterior, is native to Mexico and handled like a summer squash. It can be lightly cooked to retain its crunchy texture or be sliced and thrown into salads or salsas.
One of my favorite Japanese TV shows made fun of this garnish by exclaiming that it looked like mold when sprinkled on top of white rice. And it does. An ordinary household item, furikake or rice seasoning is something you throw on the grain when you don’t have anything else to eat it with. Made of dried egg or seaweed, it’s usually just salty enough to add some flavor.