My very first column for Radar -
Extreme sports have always held a certain allure when travelling overseas but a new trend is emerging - extreme eating.
And I don't mean all-you-can-eat-style contests. From offal to insects, things that can sometimes make your stomach turn are making their way on to the plates of some of the nation's top foodies.
Just as thrill-seekers are drawn to bungee jumping and other death-defying acts, culinary junkies spend their time looking for the next weird taste thrill. If brains, hooves and all the bits in between make your stomach turn, maybe now's the time to tune out. The concept of using a whole beast definitely isn't something new - offal dishes in particular have become hugely popular on restaurant menus. A Perth butcher recently took it up another notch by getting permission from the West Australian Government to supply horse meat to the public.
MasterChef managed to turn me from non-meat eater into an offal enthusiast - a necessary transformation when asked to prepare fresh lamb's testicles for work experience at a traditional Turkish restaurant.
For the more extreme foodie thrills, head overseas.
South-East Asia remains a rewarding destination - shots of warm snake blood, fertilised duck eggs with little beaks poking through and carts full of grasshoppers and crickets.
And then there's one of the world's most fascinating menu items, the Japanese specialty fugu - poisonous pufferfish that can be deadly if prepared incorrectly.
A friend recently hit Peru for its national dish of whole roasted guinea pig, served head, paws and all.
There's a smattering of cable TV programs devoted to uncovering the strangest menu items across the world. But do these programs help or hinder cities that have earned reputations as food-lover destinations?
When I was backpacking in Cambodia, the family I was staying with took me out to dinner. Our first course came out - a big plate of glistening, black, deep-fried tarantula. I closed my eyes and bit into the big, juicy abdomen. It was horrible. I could feel the little hairy legs tickling my throat. Noticing my struggle, my host family was much more amused than offended. They explained that the reason insects became popular fare in Cambodia went back to when the Khmer Rouge was in power and many families were forced to flee and live in the forests where food was scare. Insects were collected for protein out of necessity. They're now regarded as a national delicacy.
It made me realise how important the history behind food can be when it comes to appreciating the more unusual aspects of a cuisine.
I don't know if I would classify myself as an extreme foodie just yet, but I definitely have the urge to try more of the weird and wonderful - and to find out the reasons behind it.
*Published in the Courier Mail - 18th July 2010