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Bizarre Boston?

Admittedly inspired by Andrew Zimmern's "Bizarre Foods," we're looking for interesting foods to try around Boston. (I'm surprised that this topic seems not to have been covered.) We're primarily looking for well-liked restaurants, but we'd also like to learn about beloved market-fare.

I'm thinking of things like grasshopper tacos at Tu y Yo in Needham, tree fungus at Shanghai Gate in Allston, Scotch Egg at the Haven in JP, or even the Guinness Float at Dunn Gaherins in Newton -- things that are usually delicious and fun to try for the sake of trying.

Feel free to suggest unusual-to-some-but-not-to-Chowhounders ethnic foods, for the benefit of readers who may not have tried, for example, Ethiopian food or banh mi (Blue Nile in JP and and Banh Mi Ngon in West Roxbury, respectively).

Thanks for your thoughts!

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  1. How about stinky tofu at Jo Jo Ti Pai.

    1. Is "tree fungus" just a fancy moniker for wood ear -- pretty standard in Chinese cooking and not all that bizarre, I would think. Heck, you can even find the stuff for sale at Ocean State Job Lot.

      I would look for cow spleen if you want something more off the beaten track - usually part of the mixed beef bits with daikon (Cantonese: ngau jaap) in Chinese eateries, but some places might serve up just the spleen if you ask -- it's pronounced ngau bong. Might have it at Hong Kong Cafe, Great Taste or People's Cafe.

      My Korean friend introduced me to eating sundae (blood sausage with rice and noodles) at one of the local Korean restaurants, which I thought was pretty good. If blood is up your alley, getting pig's blood at dim sum would also be good. You'll have to hit the cart or buffet places though - not available at the order off the menu places.

      If you want a different type of tripe rather than the dim sum prep, I'd hit Izzy's in Cambridge for some mondongo. Their tripe soup is really good.

      1. Who's "we"? From your post, it sounds like you're doing research for a publication of some kind.

        Here are a few older threads on similar topics:

        1 Reply
        1. re: Allstonian

          Very helpful links. In retrospect, it seems obvious that I should have changed the default options to search beyond the past 12 months. It was kind of you to refer to the previous threads as similar topics, rather than as *the exact same question*. Ah, well, at least I've opened the subject to updates.

          As for the "we," it is no one but myself, my wife, our three-year-old daughter, and, perhaps most especially, our five-year-old son -- who struggled mightily to choose between snails at Petit Robert, sashimi from Oishii, and haggis at The Haven for his birthday dinner. Me, I've been playing catch-up after being raised on meatloaf and spaghetti.

          Thanks for your help.

        2. I haven't been myself but remember the menu at Penang is filled with verbiage along the lines of "please don't order this if you don't know what it is". A lot of things I wouldn't have the guts to try myself (and I guess that's why I've never been).
          Have fun!

          1 Reply
          1. re: ebaba

            No big deal. They are just referring to the use of belachan (shrimp paste) in some of the dishes. It adds a slight funky umami salty dimension and used in moderately small amounts. You find it in other south east asian cuisines too, under different names.If you can handle fish sauce you can handle the dishes.

          2. Magaz Masala, brains, at Darbar. Goat's head soup at La Perle. Fried pig's intestines at Taiwan Cafe & Shangri La.

            1. Doo Wee and Rice in Somerville has fried chicken hearts on the menu - you can also get them served over their french fries if you order the "heart-y fries". They've been known to sell out of the hearts, but the food is so good there (I literally have dreams about the bao bao) it's worth a second trip if there aren't any hearts on your first attempt.

              1 Reply
              1. re: hungrybruno

                When they first opened, they also had deep-fried anchovies -- not tiny filets, but entire fish complete with head and fins, served with fish sauce for dipping. It's one of the funkiest, fishiest things I've eaten anywhere. I swear every cat in Somerville followed me home. When I ordered it, the guy behind the counter and the delivery guy both laughed and shook their heads and said, "Dude, I'm Vietnamese and that stuff's too crazy for me."

              2. You really want to try out your Bizarre foods credentials, per Chuck's suggestion below, try stinky tofu at Jo Jo Taipei or Taiwan Cafe. There's a dish that'll separate the sissies from the rest.

                1. Beef Tendon at many places (including Little Q Hot Pot, where the Mala broth is nearly in the 'bizarre' category by itself)

                  The aforementioned and awesome Heart-y Fries at DooWee.

                  Fried chicken drumsticks served with the foot still attached, at Strip-T's.

                  The King Burger (topped with peanut butter, bacon, and fried bananas) at Boston Burger Co. They occasionally have fried "rocky mountain oysters" as well.

                  I dunno if I'd consider a Scotch egg "bizarre" -- it's really just a hard boiled egg in a sausage shell, and pretty commonplace. I get them all the time at Thwaites Market in NH. Their "savory ducks", on the other hand (a.k.a. faggots, or liver sausage) are something that's hard to find over here!

                  Also look for "natto" at any sushi/Japanese place. That's... unique.

                  2 Replies
                    1. re: Infomaniac

                      Whoops, not sure why I wrote NH. Yes, it's totally in MA :)

                  1. Offal isn't the novelty it was in Boston a few years ago; you'll find it in all sort of places now. A few ideas:

                    Toro and Coppa, both in the South End, are under the same exec chef, do a nice variety of organ meats in myriad configurations. Pig's ear terrine is beautiful and tasty. I had a dish recently that was basically pork bones and pig tails at Coppa. Pig's brain ravioli on occasion at Coppa. Lovely version of stewed tripe.

                    Craigie on Main near Central Square is a highly-regarded indie that is very snout to tail. Speaking of tail, the pig's tails and whole head here are delicious.

                    Estragon, like the nearby Toro, also does Spanish-style offal dishes, like pringa, pig's head and delicious versions of tongue, fatback, cod cheeks, and chicken livers.

                    Rising Sun Tavern, a recurring pop-up by the former Staff Meal truck folks, features variety meats in many of its dishes.

                    Beef tongue in sauce at El Oriental de Cuba in Jamaica Plain.

                    Gastropubs like The Gallows (South End) and Russell House Tavern (Harvard Square) routinely feature organ meats in one form or another. (RHT's Scelfo just won this year's Cochon 555, a chefly pork-fest with pig-face pierogi on his menu.)

                    Tacos of beef tongue or chicharrones at many Salvadoran taquerias; these are easiest to find in East Boston and East Somerville. Restaurante Montecristo in Maverick Square is one example of these I like.

                    Tacos de chapulines, whole roasted grasshoppers, at Tu y Yo in Somerville. Not offal, exactly, but certainly challenging to many eaters.

                    Pork skin (bi) banh mi at Pho Viet in the Allston Super 88 food court. Pork-liver pate and head cheese banh mi at many places.

                    Bun bo Hue (Hue City soup) at Pho 88 in Lowell. Pig offal, tendon, shank and cubes of pig blood pudding.

                    Beef "cheek" (basically head muscles) tacos especialies at Taqueria El Amigo in Waltham, my favorite dish there.

                    Various animal bits on the charcuterie and salumi plates at The Butcher Shop, Taberna de Haro, Bin 26, and many others: charcuterie is everywhere these days. Was quite impressed with the offerings I sampled recently at Tavern Road in Fort Point.

                    Mondongo (Puerto Rican tripe soup) and stewed oxtail at Izzy's near Kendall Square.

                    Pan-sauteed chicken livers at the Franklin Cafe in the South End and South Boston.

                    Chopped chicken liver at Rubin's Kosher Deli in Brookline.

                    Tripe and sweetbreads and occasionally brains at many of the traditional French places: Petit Robert, Pierrot, Troquet, Gaslight, etc.

                    Stewed cow's foot and goat's head soup at Suya Joint, a Nigerian place in Roslindale. (Haven't tried either of these yet.)

                    Chicken hearts done rodizio style at Brazilian charrascarias like Oliveira's in Eastie.

                    Menudo, a common weekend special at many Mexican places (favored as a hangover remedy), notably Taqueria Jalisco in East Boston.

                    Intestine dishes in many Taiwanese and Korean restaurants.

                    Chinatown -- too many to mention, though the Cantonese and Taiwanese joint reliably serve parts, pride themselves on eating every part of every creature under the sun.

                    Gamjatang (Korean pork spine stew) at Hanmaru in Allston, their specialty, delicious.

                    Cocido (offal stew) at El Embajador, a Dominican place in Jamaica Plain.

                    Interesting chicken parts grilled over charcoal at Yakitori Zai in the South End: gizzard, cartilage, tail, liver, kidney, heart, skin, neck, diaphragm, "oyster". Tasty but pricey.

                    Roasted bone marrow is a very popular dish these days. I prefer the transversely cut bone to the cross-cut bone: much easier to scoop out. Eastern Standard, Russell House Tavern, Boston Chops, Puritan & Co, many others.

                    Strip-T's is another place that loves its animal off-cuts and does beautiful things with them. I had cacio e pepe with duck liver recently, incredible; their grilled romaine with oxtail is justly famous. Many other dishes.

                    Black pudding, a blood sausage, as part of a traditional "full Irish breakfast" at many pubs around town, especially on weekends. J.J. Foley's in the South End is one of many examples.

                    Ankimo, a cooked monkfish liver, at many Japanese restaurants. Had a terrific version at Oishii Chestnut Hill recently.

                    Some people get wigged out by head-on shrimp, but these are a commonplace in Chinatown, and much tastier than the headless style, in my opinion, especially when fresh from a live tank. One example: salt and pepper shrimp at Peach Farm, a Hong Kong style live-tank seafood joint.

                    I could keep going, but work calls. Hope that helps!


                    1 Reply
                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                      This reminded me of the fabulous beef tongue burrito that Staff Meal (now Rising Sun) used to serve.