One way to dive headlong into another culture is to eat with the locals. But not all local delicacies conform to American palates or sensibilities. This is particularly true when it comes to seafood.
Here are 5 of the most hard-to-stomach ways to prepare and consume what the ocean has to offer:
Fafaru is an ancient recipe enjoyed by Polynesian islanders — and almost no one else. Fresh fish is soaked in fermented seawater, or miti fafaru, and then topped with coconut milk, or miti hue.
If you're thinking that doesn't sound so bad, consider the recipe for fermented seawater: Take a jar full of the ocean (and all the microscopic creatures in it) and add fish, fish bones and smashed shrimp heads. Let it rot in the sun for three days, and then strain the foul-smelling water over pieces of tuna.
The fish marinates for 10 minutes, eight hours or the length of time it takes to drink four beers, depending on the chef. The longer it sits, the more pungent and gooey it is.
Then miti hue is poured over the top of the slimy, chunky soup. Miti hue might look like delicious coconut cream at first glance, but it's also been marinating shrimp heads and fermenting in the sun.
Most Tahitians and Marquesans grow up on the taste of fafaru and actually look forward to eating it.
Most non-islanders respond like this guy on "Survivor," season 4:
But Tahitians are reverent about fafaru, as it's an ancestral recipe. So if you're offered a taste of it while visiting the islands, you might want to accept graciously, hold your nose and pretend you like it.
2. Fafaru With Sea Cucumber
Photo Credit: Flickr, Tricia
The only thing worse than fafaru is fafaru topped with raw sea cucumber.
Sea cucumbers might look like something you found rotting at the bottom of your crisper drawer, but they're actually echinoderms, like starfish. They have leathery skin, and they hang out on the ocean floor eating the waste products of other sea creatures.
They're also extremely chewy and, not surprisingly, taste a little like dirty seawater. Fishermen pluck them from the sandy shallows, dice them on the spot and eat with a scoop of fafaru for flavor.
As one frequent visitor to Tahiti describes the experience, “It's like having a mouthful of slimy pencil erasers — and then swallowing them."
Renowned chef and Momofuku founder David Chang is also not a fan.
Photo Credit: Flickr, Stefan Leijon
Surströmming, or sour herring, is fermented Baltic herring.
The tiny fish are caught just before they spawn and are soaked in a strong brine for 24 hours to draw out the blood, kind of like salting a raw eggplant to remove moisture so it can soak up other flavors.
Then the herring are beheaded, gutted, transferred to a weaker brine and buried underground for six months, presumably because that's the only way to contain the smell.
In 2002, a Japanese study determined that Surströmming is the stinkiest food on earth. There's a lactic acid enzyme in the fish's spine that kicks off the fermentation process but is also responsible for a stench so overwhelming that even the Swedes eat this dish mainly in August, when it's warm enough to sit outside.
Non-Swedish humans and dogs have a slightly stronger reaction:
There's a Norwegian-American saying that half the Norwegians who immigrated came to escape lutefisk, and the other half came to spread its gospel.
Lutefisk is a traditional method of preserving cod, which were plentiful in the cold waters off the Norwegian coast, but it might be more popular today among midwesterners of Norwegian descent.
Photo Credit: Flickr, Karl Baron
The recipe is easy, but potentially hazardous. You take a perfectly good piece of fish and dry it out until it stiffens and feels like leather.
To restore edibility, mere water will not suffice. The flesh is soaked in lye — a caustic industrial chemical also used to “disappear" your enemies.
Lye, or sodium hydroxide, is powerful enough to eat through your clothing and burn your skin. It's so toxic that Wisconsin had to write a special exemption for lutefisk into its laws regulating substances in the workplace.
But those hearty Scandinavians just soak, rinse, boil and eat!
And the most disgusting way to eat your seafood? While it's still alive and kicking, of course. In Korea, Sannakji is live baby octopuses, served either whole or freshly chopped and still squirming.
In China, it was traditionally common to filet or partially fry a fish and serve it while it flips around on the plate. This horrifying practice has been outlawed in most places, but is still found on certain menus in Mainland China.
Japan is famous for its drunken shrimp, which are essentially live shrimp getting drunk in a bowl of sake.
Much more acceptable in the United States is the consumption of raw oysters. Yup, those are still alive when you slurp them down.