Because much of the joy of traveling is in sampling foods from cultures other than our own, this article goes beyond your garden variety kebabs and satay to examine some of the more exotic and lesser-known skewered snacks to be enjoyed in various corners of the world.If you happen to ‘stumble upon’ these snacks during your travels, be sure to give them a try!
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If this is the treat you're looking for, then roadside stalls in Central and Southern Mexico (or brick-and-mortar restaurants elsewhere throughout the country) are the place to find it. Elote consists of hot, grilled or steamed corn on the cob on a stick, to which a generous coat of mayonnaise gets applied before it is sprinkled with fantastic flavor-enhancing fare like salt, chili powder, crumbled Cotija cheese, sour cream, and lemon or lime juice. An altered version of Elote called Esquites has gained popularity in Southern and Central Mexico. For this version, the steaming corn is cut off the cob into a bowl, then topped with all the aforementioned accoutrements and eaten with a spoon.
Espeto de Sardinas (Malaga)
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On the beaches of the Costa del Sol, a hungry traveler in search of something great to chew needs only to follow the captivating aroma of sardines being slowly roasted over a wood fire. While the concept of grilling fish over open flames has existed since ancient times, the invention of the modern Malagueño espeto is commonly credited to one Don Miguel Martinez Soler, a man perhaps better known to Spanish history as "Miguel, el de las Sardinas", who introduced it in 1884 to King Alfonso XII to be eaten, at Soler's insistence, with his hands. Because it consumes itself very slowly and maintains a low and steady flame, olive wood is the traditional wood of choice for cooking this treat derived from the Spanish word "espetar" meaning "to skewer".
An espeto usually consists of six sardines on a cane skewer, touched with olive oil and a bit of sea salt before being set before the flames. Medium-sized sardines are said to be the most flavorful, as larger ones don't cook thoroughly and smaller ones tend to dry out quickly once heat is applied. A popular saying among locals is that espetos taste best "from Virgin to Virgin", meaning they're best enjoyed between July 16th, when the Virgen del Carmen is celebrated, and the Virgen de la Victoria, which falls on September 8th. One may find espetos utilizing other fish or even fresh squid elsewhere throughout Spain, but in Malaga, they're all about the sardines.
Fried Scorpions (China)
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Scorpions are one of a multitude of intact edible creatures that receive the deep-fried treatment at Beijing's Donghuamen Night Market. It's not unusual to find them skewered alive (as proof of their freshness), still wriggling their tails and shiny claws. Depending on the size of your skewered scorpion hankering, you can buy them in baby or adult size, then watch your vendor fry them crisp and brush them with a tangy glaze, maybe finishing the order with a dusting of chili powder. No need to fret over the fact that scorpions are poisonous; the act of frying the little beasts in hot oil renders harmless the proteins comprising the poison in a matter of seconds. As counter-intuitive as it might seem, the tail is said to be the most nutritious part of these animals.
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Anyone taking exception to snacking on intestines will be happy to know that many street vendors tend to sanitize these by boiling them (after thoroughly scraping and cleaning them inside and out) before covering them with sweet-salty sauce and grilling them up proper on a bamboo skewer. Found at ihaw-ihaw ("broiling over charcoal") food stalls, Isaw consists of pig or chicken intestines, barbecued to a pleasantly chewy consistency. Isaw is a popular go-to snack for college students, having achieved near foodie rock-star status as an iconic campus treat at the University of the Philippines Diliman due no doubt to its relatively cheap cost and how well it pairs with beer. A common, though not-so-widely-advertised nickname for this delicacy is I.U.D., because of the resemblance the skewered intestines bear to an intra-uterine device. Typically served with sukang pinakurat, a dipping condiment composed of vinegar made from fermented coconut sap that gets blended with chilies and other spices, this is a dish best served hot (as in off the grill).
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This hotpot-style dish has much in common with DIY dishes like the raclette or fondue, in that the list of that get skewered can include meats, vegetables, quail eggs, tofu, fish balls or other seafood, and virtually anything else that can be placed firmly onto a stick. Perhaps the only item present here that lends itself to communal dining, Lok Lok most often begins with loading a variety of cooked and uncooked foods onto a skewer. That skewer is subsequently dipped into a pot of boiling water or broth (fitting, since the word "Lok" in Cantonese means to be scalded by hot water) placed at the center of a shared table, to be withdrawn when the food is ready to be eaten. Once removed, the piping hot food is topped with chili sauce, peanut sauce, or mayonnaise, and devoured.
Those more interested in eating well than making friends can relax: the communal dining aspect isn't mandatory so you won't be forced to eat with strangers if you don't wish to. Malaysia's night markets and mobile kitchens (operated mostly out of vans) sell skewers pre-loaded with ready-to-cook items as well, and are equipped with roiling wells full of scalding liquid for your use, meaning that you can lok-lok right at curbside to your heart's content.
These dishes by no means represent the entirety of the fun to be derived from delicious edibles that have been run through by a wooden spindle. They are just the tip of an iceberg to be followed around the world by adventurous eaters in search of something new to chew. Better still, they remind us that despite regional style differences, the enjoyment of food and cooking are among the more universal aspects of the human experience, transcending culture and geography to bring us closer together, one meal at a time.
Want more great content from Anthony? Be sure to check out Flavorfulworld.com! If this article inspired you to travel the world and sample some its best street foods, let BookCulinaryVacations.com help you! We’ve got plenty of food tours located all over the globe on offer!