Although variety is the spice of life, many foods can only be eaten at certain times of the year, on special occasions, or in limited amounts. Such meals and snacks often represent a way for us to mark the passing of time, but they can also be a chance to try something incredibly rare. From poisonous meats to lunar desserts, here are some of the world’s most special dishes.
A Poisonous Delicacy
Fugu is one of the most poisonous foods in the entire world, so much so that chefs train for years to effectively remove the deadly tetrodotoxin in Japanese pufferfish. This expensive delicacy is only eaten on rare occasions because doing so is akin to Russian roulette that might lead to death by asphyxiation. Since the flavor is not very strong, chefs focus on texture and removing just enough toxin to create a tingling sensation when eaten. Preparation is strictly legislated where it is available, but you will still commonly encounter fugu in fried, baked, stewed, and salad forms in restaurants and grocery stores, along with rarer pickled ovaries and fugu roe or milt.
Amanita Muscaria or the fly agaric mushroom is another poison with a long tradition of use, albeit for its psychoactive properties. With iconic bright red caps and white patches and gills, these fungi are perhaps most famously used in Siberia, where the eastern, Koryak people long used Amanita Muscaria both recreationally and religiously. In particular, while shamans and wealthier community members would parboil and take mushrooms, poorer people would then drink tumblers of their Muscaria-infused urine. The trick, however, was that initial users actually filtered the Amanita Muscaria for greater potency and fewer negative effects. Koryak tribesmen drank this infusion to break the boredom of long cold nights, while shamans dreamed of the future.
Food of the Dead
As part of the Dia de los Muertos celebration in Mexico, the living provide symbolic gifts for their deceased loved ones, from marigolds to candy and tamales to Pan de Muerto or “bread of the dead.” These loaves of sweet bread are made with anise and orange flower water with sugar on top. Pan de Muerto buns are decorated with bone-shaped phalanges in a circle as a symbol for the circle of life. They may also feature a tear drop for the Aztec goddess Chimalma’s tears for the living. Depending on the region, they are baked in the weeks beforehand and may be eaten only on Dia de los Muertos or long afterwards, but they are generally consumed at the graveside or altar.
Cakes for the Moon
Chinese mooncakes are small pastries with dense, sweet fillings of lotus seed, sweet bean, date, and other seed and nut pastes. Regional variations also include meats, flakier doughs, and intricate decorations, with more recent innovations like litchi and seafood fillings. According to tradition, these cakes are named after the moon goddess and should be sacrificed to her during the lunar mid-Autumn festival to ensure prosperity. They can be bought at supermarkets, street markets, and hotels and are generally eaten with tea while watching the rise of the harvest moon. Family and friends buy and share mooncakes to show affection and celebrate community.