Controversial issues are not typically things we deal with on our blog and that’s a shame. It’s a fact of life that people have differing opinions and some people are incredibly vocal in their beliefs. It’s natural to shy away from creating conflict. Part of this is due to a gene-deep need to fit into society to survive. The other part is because it’s damn uncomfortable, and sometimes painful, to be the brunt of an attack by people who disagree with something you’ve said or done and want to let you know, in no uncertain terms, that they think you’re an ass. Get those angry comments ready folks. We’re about to stir up some emotion. You may just think we’re a couple of asses by the end.

Controversial Food Around The World

Penis Shaped Dessert at Shilin NIght Market Taipei

A little more controversy: Penis-shaped waffles, cakes and popsicles at Shilin Night Market, Taipei

Cultural differences range from the subtle, almost indistinguishable to the stark, brutally contrasting. While travelling, these differences are highlighted time and time again. Sometimes it feels as though there’s a spotlight following us around as we travel from country to country, pinpointing those differences. Usually, it’s other people controlling the direction of the beam: “Did you know they have ping pong shows in Thailand?!” or “Careful when you order in Korea, they eat dog!”. These completely incomprehensible differences then become the fuel for an attack of the morals and ethics of another culture.

Don’t get us wrong, we judge too. Especially when we’re hungry, travel-weary or just plain fed up with?navigating the minefield of frustrations that come while?dealing with the behaviours of a culture so different from our own. In the end, we get over it and realize it’s all about perspective. We’ve even come to realize that our own steadfast (or at least we thought they were) beliefs in what is right and wrong across cultures occasionally move into a grey area reserved for those who step away from their own ethnocentrism and attempt to view a culture from within. This is especially true when we cross paths with?controversial food around the world.

Having said all that, we have done a few things we swore we would never do. Two things we ate in particular that, even after mentally stepping?inside the cultural-framework within which it is acceptable, we feel regret and dismay. Alright, we’ll be honest, we didn’t step inside anything mentally with the first one…we were just flat out drunk.

A Night Of All-You-Can Drink Yakiniku

japan yakiniku bbq

Two hours. That’s how long we had to indulge ourselves and reach epic levels of?sloppy, delicious gluttony. And boy did we indulge.

Yakiniku, or BBQ meat, is one of our favourite styles of restaurant in Japan?where you cook your own meat over a grill in the middle of your table and get in touch with your inner caveman (or woman). Conversation ensues with the smell of wonderfully marinated pork or perfectly tender steak, and oftentimes the sake is flowing. Our friend in Okinawa decided to take us to a local yakiniku that also happened to be?all-we-could-eat, all-we-could-drink, for only $30. And when we say ALL you can drink, we mean spirits, wine, beer, cocktails, sake, you name it, you can order it. And we did.

Needless to say, two hours later our friend’s suggestion to go across the street to an izakaya (tapas-style) restaurant and continue drinking seemed like the best idea ever. What she didn’t tell us was that she planned to order some of their specialty dishes for us to try. Dishes we hadn’t planned on ordering?while in Japan.

We followed her inside the narrow entrance, squeezing behind the occupied stools lining the bar and made our way upstairs. Taking off our shoes, we settled ourselves onto cushions on the floor around a table, a traditional Japanese setting, as the owner discussed the menu with our friend. She talked us into agreeing to eat raw chicken.

horse meat and raw chicken japan

Disclaimer: These photos were taken while under the influence

As the dish of small, light-coloured pieces of uncooked chicken made its way in front of us, we noticed the dark-red, unknown strips of meat set to the side. “That”, she said, “is basashi…raw horse”. Carolann made some inane?comment?about Black Beauty and Macrae stared, eyes glazed with, er, uncertainty.

The rest happened in a alcohol-fueled haze. The cell phone recording of the experience, a helpful guide to the events that transpired as chopsticks met horse meat and horse meat met mouths. We have different recollections of the taste, neither of us found it overly offensive but then, neither of us went for seconds.

While horse meat is considered a delicacy in at least 9 other countries, including Iceland and France, the taboo of eating it is far more wide-reaching, though this wasn’t always the case. Nowadays, horses are a hugely controversial food, often too closely linked with the concept of a pet to make them acceptable food items and it was this connection that had us avoiding any further consumption.

The raw chicken on the other hand, was a dish we happened to order more than once while in Japan.

That One Time in Korea

live octopus korea

They were going to eat it and it was still moving.

Standing in one of the cluttered, busy aisles of the Gwangjang market, the food stalls alight from the overhanging lamps, we watched as the plate of squirming pieces of tentacles was placed in front of the two waiting?customers near us. We had stopped at a stall serving sannakji, raw octopus that is cut into small pieces,?live. As we watched the?bowls of?sauce moved ceremoniously beside the plate and the two patrons preparing to dig in, we saw no sign of those tentacles slowing down.

Then it happened. The duo glanced over and noticed us staring, with our eyes wide and mouths gaping, and they smiled. They were either being very nice or very clever in choosing their meal-time entertainment, but they offered their plate to us and told us we could try. With that kind smile and polite offer, we gave a few weak shakes of our head. A second offer, the plate moved even closer and a new pair of chopsticks appeared. We looked at each other and knew we were both thinking the same thing “how rude is it for us to turn this down?”. We finally accepted. Both of us taking turns choosing a piece, taking way too long to think about it, and finally placing that squirming, sliding, tentacle in our mouths.

eating raw octopus in Korea

It’s a controversial practice. Something we both said we weren’t going to do. Unfortunately, that’s not all we did. We also went home and researched the topic of eating live octopus, specifically how an octopus feels when it is being chopped up. Try that kind of research about something controversial you’ve done. It’s a great way to make yourself feel even shittier than you did.

Digesting (excuse the pun) a bunch of research on cephalopod neuroanatomy, and believe it or not psychology, as well as discussions on animal cruelty and welfare, cultural sensitivity and food culture we were left with the bone-deep knowledge that we would not be trying sannakji again. We respect that it is a delicacy in the country, not just a crazy thing tourists do when they go to Korea, but to us it is also an inhumane way to treat a living creature and something we don’t wish to participate in again.

What We Learned

So, have at us! We think we were wrong too, but you know what? In the end, we can say we learned a few things:

1. It’s not as easy as right and wrong. Cultural traditions and ties are a strong force and when you are immersed in a culture, things can start to look a little different than you once thought.

2. We’re a bit stronger in our beliefs BECAUSE we tried?these two things. We can say unequivocally that?neither are things that we really need to be eating. Granted, if you’re a vegetarian you will say no animal needs to be eaten…so you’ve got us there.

3. We learned another lesson in “not judging others”. After all, we’ve done it too!


4. We’ve learned that we can do some unpredictable things when we drink too much in Japan!



42 replies
  1. Dana
    Dana says:

    I always *try* to be open minded when traveling and travel has definitely made me more willing to try new foods. Some good and some I won’t ever eat again. We did finally try horse a few weeks ago, but it was cooked. I felt horrible the entire time. My husband ordered it and the kids and I all took a bite. One bite was all I could manage. I do draw the line at raw meat and don’t want to ever try sannakji. But, I’ve also never been put in the same situation as you in the market.
    Dana recently posted…Savoring International & Dutch Cuisine in Amsterdam with Kids {Amsterdam Food Tour Review}My Profile

  2. Vanessa
    Vanessa says:

    Haven’t we all made a few mistakes, culinary included, when plenty o’booze is on offer? I have a pretty weak, wimpy stomach so I’m not that adventurous when it comes to travel food but I do like to learn about different foods and culture – it adds such an interesting dimension to a trip.

  3. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    Love how honest you two are! Like you said it’s not easy to judge what is right or wrong. For example, Hindus believe cows are sacred. A met an Indian man the other day that was absolutely disgusted by the idea of eating beef.

  4. Laura Lynch
    Laura Lynch says:

    I’ve tried both of those things and while eating horse (fully cooked) wasn’t much different than eating beef, it was a slightly uncomfortable notion due to our own beliefs. Eating the raw octopus was different altogether in that the tentacles still grasp on when it’s like that. It’s strange and awkward to chew it. Ha.
    Laura Lynch recently posted…Summer Dreaming: Stunning Hotel PoolsMy Profile

  5. Sky
    Sky says:

    I appreciate your honesty on these topics! I feel like so many others would try to pretend they’ve never tried either thing. I’ve never given much consideration to eating live octopus though horse meat is definitely something I’ve gotten up on a pedestal about once or twice. But, I also respect that sometimes there are cultural situations that make it difficult to say no or the lack of drunken judgment ;)
    Sky recently posted…Life is short. Live it.My Profile

    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      To be honest, we’re pretty sure we got up on a pedestal about certain meats as well! It’s different when you are immersed in the culture… We don’t think the alcohol would’ve been as effective if it weren’t for the cultural influences as well. From the time we got there, we noticed horse meat signs, people talked about it, ordered it, the process was explained. It wasn’t something we intended on eating even with all that, but the loosened inhibitions and a sense of ingratiation into the culture combined!

  6. Natalie Deduck
    Natalie Deduck says:

    First things first:
    No one should judge each other because of their culture and beliefs. Right or wrong, good or bad, it always depend on your point of view, and values that you grew up with. So can I judge you?! Of course not! I would not eat the raw chicken and horse, but maybe I would have tried the octopus. Who knows?!

    Second, sometimes we need to do “wrong” things so we can get a better understand of what is going on around us, and then decided if we want to keep doing it or not.
    Travel can be trick, takes you from your comfort zone, places you in different reality and you have to deal with it. We can choose to be part of certain things or not, but how complicated is to say no if you never tried before.

    I found myself in some cultural shocking situations, and at the end we always learned a good lessons. Congrats guys for thinking about this, and share your not so tasteful experiences.
    All the best,
    Natalie Deduck recently posted…Powerful Lesson from 1 year travelling the worldMy Profile

    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      LOVE your perspective and appreciate your words! We always try to get a better understanding of the culture we are traveling in and that sometimes DOES, as you said, take us out of our comfort zones and into different realities!

  7. Jennifer Ryder Joslin
    Jennifer Ryder Joslin says:

    I totally agree with you guys that’s it’s not always as simple as right and wrong when you are eating while traveling. We’ve tried our fair share of foods that would be considered “bad” and definitely odd in the western world, but in those cultures they were delicacies or normal. I tried the live octopus when I was staying with a family in Japan, and while I wouldn’t do it again it would have been rude not to try it when they offered. The raw chicken you guys had seems like the sketchiest one to me!!
    Jennifer Ryder Joslin recently posted…Maya Bay, Thailand: Living Life by a Bucket ListMy Profile

  8. Heidi Wagoner
    Heidi Wagoner says:

    Oh how I know about the “drinks” altering your mind, from long ago of course. :-) I love embracing the cultural differences when in other countries, but it is tough to do that with food sometimes. I am not sure I could have gone for food which was still moving. My mind would have played tricks on me for sure!
    Heidi Wagoner recently posted…How To Start A Blog In 6 Easy StepsMy Profile

    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      It was definitely something we had to get over in our minds. That’s probably why we didn’t manage to try balut in the Philippines – couldn’t get passed the thought! Maybe next time though!

    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      Apparently it’s pretty strict nowadays with where you can get it and what cuts you can eat. You want to make sure you go to a reputable establishment and we were told it’s okay to eat because it is so fresh there is no time for the bacteria we normally associate with raw chicken…at least we hope that’s the truth!

  9. Julie @ Girl on the Move
    Julie @ Girl on the Move says:

    I think it can be so hard to know when you’re traveling what really is right and wrong in other cultures because traditions and norms can be so different from where you live so I think your lesson on not judging others is a great one! Thanks for linking up with Travel Tales!

  10. Selma
    Selma says:

    You are allowed to NOT like food … screw all the judgmental PC types. I didn’t have a completo here in Chile because mayo slathered hot dogs aren’t my thing, and I wouldn’t be too excited about eating raw chicken either.

  11. Hannah Renton
    Hannah Renton says:

    It’s all about embracing the culture whilst being in certain parts of the world – to an extent of course! In Iceland I tried both horse and, to the horror or several people – whale! But it’s part of Icelandic cuisine. I’m not sure I’d ever be brave enough to eat raw meat – especially not chicken!!!!

  12. Nikki
    Nikki says:

    When in Rome right? We’ve also had our fair share of foods we NEVER thought we’d eat. Dusty more than me I must admit… Not that I’m offended by any means. I’m just a tad afraid that I might make a complete a$$ of myself and offend someone else. On complete accident of course. I don’t do well with crazy textures and I’d absolutely hate to vomit and totally offend someone. Kudos to you guys! Safe travels! ~Nik

    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      We were so worried about offending someone that we DID try the octopus!! We’re sure there were a lot of people laughing at us as they watched…but at least we made a few people smile that day!

  13. LeAnna
    LeAnna says:

    Eating while in foreign countries can be quite an experience and very difficult at times. For example, in Cambodia, when “dog” was offered to us, I just couldn’t do it!!! However, I know that that just isn’t as uncommon and “bad” there as it is in the US. I still stuck to the “safer” options to say the least….
    LeAnna recently posted…How to Do Christmas Markets in Germany RIGHTMy Profile

  14. Tess Elise
    Tess Elise says:

    I think one of hardest parts of eating strange foods is watching it get prepared from scratch. In Zambia, I ate fried caterpillars that I’d just seen crawling all over one another minutes before. They made a popping noise when they fried. Yuck! Another time, I met a man at St. Maartin while exploring the shallows. Suddenly, he grabbed a sea urchin out of the water, scraped the spines off with a shell and tore it open. He dug in and pulled some slimy eggs for me to eat. Afterward, I couldn’t believe I had just eaten something that was alive moments ago. Total mental block.


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