Exotic foods is a term that is applied to culinary items which are considered unusual, novel, or taboo from the perspective of an individual's native culture. To many people living in the United States, eating foods such as reindeer, camel, or guinea pigs may be considered exotic.
Food taboos exist in almost every culture. However, these taboos are never universally recognizable.
The concept of a food as exotic or taboo is almost always formed when an individual does not have exposure to the culture or group of people who consume the food as a regular part of their diet. Taboos are usually formed because cultural beliefs about other aspects of social practice clash with the unfamiliar practices of another culture. Some of the foods considered exotic or taboo by one individual may be a regular source of dietary nourishment for other individuals. These preferences may be developed in childhood and followed for the duration of an individual's life.
For some individuals, consuming a certain part of an animal may be considered unacceptable while consuming other parts may be considered acceptable. In other cases, consuming the animal whole is considered not acceptable. These rules are not universal and vary according to social norms, which change over time and place. In some cases, foods considered exotic may be attributed special meaning, such as in some culinary aphrodisiacs. For instance, oysters are considered an aphrodisiac in some areas of the costal United States.
Foods that are considered taboo among one group of people may be considered a delicacy by another. The development of taboos may have to do with the relative availability of different sources of dietary nourishment. Foods perceived as exotic by one group of people may come to be viewed this way because of a lack of knowledge of the cultural context in which they are consumed.
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Amphibians and reptiles: Judaism and Islam both forbid the consumption of amphibians such as frogs. Eating reptiles such as crocodiles and snakes are also a taboo. Some groups in China and Vietnam have a long history of eating snakes, which are considered an aphrodisiac. Rattlesnakes are eaten in certain parts of the Southwestern United States. Crocodile meat is eaten in Australia, Thailand, South Africa, as well as the United States.
Birds: Many cultures have managed to domesticate many species of bird as a food source. Small songbirds are considered a delicacy in some parts of Europe, as well as in Asia and the Middle East. Pigeons are raised and eaten in some parts of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
Camels: Camel is not an unusual food in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Camel is sometimes eaten as a novelty in Australia.
Caribou and reindeer: Some populations in Alaska, Northwest Europe, and Russia eat caribou or reindeer on a regular basis.
Cats: Cats are considered an acceptable meal in some parts of China and Southern Africa. In Korea, cats are a part of a medicinal tonic thought to cure joint pain. Some Australian Aboriginal tribes hunt feral cats from time to time.
Cows: The consumption of cow is strictly forbidden in Hinduism. In Hinduism, the cow is considered a symbol of abundance and the sanctity of all life. The strongly positive associations many Hindus have with this animal make the idea of eating beef unpalatable. In some parts of China, consuming cow is frowned upon.
Crustaceans: Eating crustaceans is forbidden by Islam and Judaism. As scavenging animals, they are considered unclean. Crustaceans are consumed as a food source in many areas of the world.
Dogs: Some species of dogs are consumed in some parts of China and Korea. These animals are considered to occupy a different category from household pets.
Donkeys: Islam forbids the consumption of donkeys, whereas donkey meat may be consumed in other areas of the world.
Elephants: Islam and Judaism prohibit the consumption of elephants. In some areas of Central and West Africa, elephants are free roaming wildlife that may provide a bounty of nutrition.
Fish: Some populations in Kenya and Somalia and some Muslims consider the consumption of fish taboo while others do not.
Fungi: The consumption of fungi such as mushrooms is avoided by some Buddhists, whereas this food is widely consumed in many other populations of the world.
Guinea pig: Guinea pigs are an important staple in the diets of some Peruvians and hold an important place in Andean folk medicine.
Horses: The consumption of horsemeat is relatively common in some areas of Scandinavia, as well as in Japan and some parts of Europe.
Insects: Many non-European cultures have integrated various insects into their cuisine. Some insects are a popular component of what is considered "pre-Hispanic cuisine" in Mexico. Grasshoppers and bee larvae are consumed in some areas of Japan. Silkworm larvae are sometimes consumed as a snack in Vietnam. Many types of insects are consumed in Southeast Asia. A type of Italian cheese called casu marzu is cultivated with the larvae of the cheese fly, whose scientific name is Piophila casei.
Live animals: Judaic and Islamic law forbid the consumption of any meat that is cut from an animal that is still alive. However, it is considered acceptable to consume live oysters in the Eastern coasts of the United States and in some areas of France. Japan and Korea both have traditions of consuming live shellfish and crustaceans.
Offal: The rules regarding the consumption of offal, the internal organs of butchered animals, vary considerably between cultures. Offal is part of traditional cuisines in many European and Asian cultures. Many regional parts of the United States also consider various organs of different animals to be a delicacy.
Pigs: Pigs are forbidden by Jewish and Muslim religions, as well as other religious groups. The United States consumes more pork than most other countries in the world.
Primates: The consumption of primates occurs in many rural areas of Sub-Saharan areas as well as in Southeast Asia. Often, these animals are considered delicacies or have medicinal properties attributed to them. For instance, some primates are considered to increase intelligence as well as virility.
Rabbit: Rabbit is considered a delicacy in Europe, and it is hunted as a game animal. Rabbits are also considered acceptable to eat in some areas of the United States.
Rodents: Certain species of rodents are considered acceptable to eat in some areas of Southeast Asia, China, and Western Africa.
Vegetables and spices: The consumption of onions, garlic, chives and pungently or strongly flavored spices are forbidden by some sects of Buddhism and Hinduism. These foods are considered by some populations as capable of arousing inappropriate emotions. Root vegetables are forbidden in Jainism.
Whales: Whale meat is considered a delicacy in Norway, Iceland, and Japan. Inuits in Alaska consume a fair amount of whale meat.