Let's say you eat a hamburger. Nothing too unusual about that, right? Now imagine you're eating that same hamburger in the pitch-black dark, and it's laced with a strange fruit that has fundamentally altered the taste of the meat -- so much so that you're beginning to wonder whether this hamburger is really a hamburger at all. Would that creep you out? Could you remain seated at the table-in-the-dark to finish the rest of your burger, or would you run out of the room screaming?
See? Food consumption can in fact be quite adrenaline pumping, given the right circumstances. One way to ratchet up the excitement is to eat in a strange place: in a cave, underwater, on a Ferris wheel or even in a building made of ice (yes, you can find restaurants in these spots). In fact, there are even eateries where you can experience the force of a simulated 7.8 magnitude earthquake!
The other way to create dining adventure is to eat something you don't normally eat and that most people you know don't normally eat either (or even consider edible). Bizarre-to-you local fare can be found in places all over the world, from rattlesnake meat in Texas to pig's blood cake in Taiwan. Just remember the saying: Don't knock it till you've tried it!
Eat in the Dark
Has the power ever gone out at your house or apartment? You probably have candles and flashlights to brighten the room a bit, but the relative darkness still makes the most basic tasks -- bathing, cooking, eating -- a little more difficult. So imagine how inconvenient it would be to have dinner in total darkness. And now you can find out exactly what that's like, thanks to a string of new restaurants that serve customers in pitch-black dining rooms.
As you might expect, the experience at an unlit restaurant is much different from one with lights. First, customers enter into an illuminated entrance hall where they order from a menu of dark-friendly foods (no peas, spaghetti, or meat with bones, for example). Then, they're led to their tables in a room totally devoid of light; not even glowing watches or cell phones are allowed. Typically, a staff of blind or visually impaired waiters and waitresses, accustomed to navigating places without the benefit of sight, serves food to patrons who struggle to herd it onto their forks and spoons. While the logistics of eating in the dark can be a challenge, the real reward is the flavor of the food itself. In an environment that renders the eyes useless, the senses of taste and smell are heightened, offering an unforgettable eating adventure.
Sound fun? Then visit Opaque, with locations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Dallas and New York, or one of many other dark dining restaurants across Europe and Asia.
You may consider yourself an adventurous eater if you're willing to try new and unusual foods from all over the world. But have you ever consumed something that could actually kill you?
This is the morbid risk you take when sampling puffer fish, or fugu, a potentially deadly sea dweller that many in Japan consider a delicacy. Certain species, like the Tiger fugu, contain a deadly neurotoxin in their liver, gonads, intestine and skin that can contaminate fish if it's not properly prepared. Known as tetrodotoxin, this poison initially causes a tingling in the lips and tongue. After that, the possible side effects get exponentially worse: excessive salivation, weakness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, muscle twitching, difficulty swallowing, voice loss, convulsions and possible death resulting from respiratory paralysis. The fish is so deadly that Japan's Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health keeps detailed records regarding fugu poisonings in the country. According to the agency's statistics, 491 people were afflicted by the fish between 2000 and 2009; of those, 23 died [source: BSWPH].
Not willing to tempt death? Then venture into the world of non-fatal but still painful hot chilis. The heat of these fiery fruits is measured on the Scoville Scale, which ranks a bell pepper at a cool zero while jalapenos simmer at around 5,000 and Tabasco sauce sizzles at 15,000. Those looking for a mouth-melting experience often reach for habaneros, which top out at 577,000, but if you're brave, crazy or a little of both, try to get your hands on a Trinidad Moruga Scorpion. At an average of 1.2 million Scoville heat units, these are considered the hottest chilis in the world [source: Parker Bowles, Carollo].
Eat With a Different Set of Taste Buds
Pop a little berry into your mouth and, like magic, your perception of the world begins to change. Everything you thought you knew about food is turned upside down as things that once made you pucker now tickle your taste buds like candy. Sound like some kind of psychedelic drug trip? Well, it's not. It's called "flavor tripping," an experiment in taste that begins when you coat your tongue with the flesh of the perfectly safe and legal miracle fruit.
Native to West Africa, the miracle fruit is a tiny red berry with a peculiar side effect: It makes sour things taste sweet. This reaction results when a protein known as miraculin binds with the taste buds and gives the perception of sweetness when it comes in contact with acids. Though it doesn't happen to everyone, those who do experience the phenomenon may taste apple juice when drinking vinegar, doughnut glaze when sampling Tabasco sauce, and cheesecake when chewing on goat cheese. And what about foods that are already sugary? It makes them ultra sweet, sometimes to the point that they're inedible.
While there are no health concerns associated with miracle fruit, it can inflict some pain on your wallet. Just one berry may cost upward of $2. The good news? Just one berry will keep you flavor tripping for about an hour.
Eat in an Extreme Location
Adventure isn't only found in what you eat or how you eat, but also where you eat. With restaurants located in caves, mines, high atop buildings, and under the sea, you wouldn't believe the places you can go to enjoy a meal.
If you're looking for extreme locations, a good place to start might be the world's highest restaurant from ground level: At.mosphere in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. From its perch on the 122nd floor of Burj Khalifa, you can enjoy fine dining options like a chopped quail egg with truffle caviar finger sandwich, mini chicken-and mushroom quiche, and scones with strawberry jam and lemon curd. The restaurant is also great place to relax and enjoy the view of the city -- as long as you're OK with the 1,450-foot (442-meter) drop just beyond the edge of your table [source: At.mosphere].
If you're looking for something a little closer to the ground, perhaps even underground, visit the Miner's Tavern in Wieliczka, Poland. The restaurant is located 410 feet (125 meters) deep in a historic salt mine that has operated continuously since the Middle Ages and is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And yes, the restaurant offers sandwiches, pasta and other dishes seasoned with the mine's very own salt [source: Wieliczka Mine].
What if you were sitting in a park, enjoying a beautiful day, when all the sudden you were surrounded by hundreds of people wearing white and toting tables, chairs and food for a spontaneous picnic? You'd probably be a little awestruck, which is exactly how those holding this Diner en Blanc, or "Dinner in White," want you to feel. It's essentially a flash mob picnic involving hundreds or even thousands of participants.
These gatherings, which can involve as many as 10,000 people, are typically announced through word-of-mouth or social networks like Facebook or Twitter. Once invited, attendees are told the time of the Diner en Blanc, but in order to maintain the element of spontaneity, they won't learn the location until one hour before the event is set to begin. Then, at the appointed time and place, droves of white-clad picnickers descend with tables, chairs, food, tablecloths, plates, napkins, candlesticks, flowers and any other fine dining accessories that they choose to bring along. The end of the impromptu dinner is often when the group lights sparklers, then a band or DJ is on hand to lead the dancing that typically concludes the magical night. Everyone is expected to help out with the cleanup so that not one scrap of food or trash is left when the group departs.
It sometimes seems that, with Google maps and GPS, there couldn't possibly be an unturned stone anywhere on the planet, but that's far from true.
Author's Note: 5 Adventures in Eating You'll Never Forget
I was a pretty picky eater when I was a kid. You know the type: chicken nuggets, French fries and the occasional vegetable -- as long as it was in a can. But in college and graduate school, I learned that trying new foods and cooking new dishes could actually be quite fun, and now I consider myself a fairly open-minded eater and a pretty darn good cook. But adventures in eating? I suppose you could talk me into some of those experiences. Let me grab my fork and I'll meet you at the flavor tripping party!
More Great Links
- At.mosphere. Homepage. 2012. (July 12, 2012) http://atmosphereburjkhalifa.com/
- Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health. "Fugu Cuisine is Full of Dangers." 2012. (July 18, 2012) http://www.fukushihoken.metro.tokyo.jp/shokuhin/hugu/index.html
- Carollo, Kim. "The World's Hottest Pepper: Brings Pleasure and Pain Relief." ABC News. Feb. 20, 2012. (July 12, 2012) http://abcnews.go.com/Health/capsaicin-ingredient-hot-peppers-offers-medical-benefits/story?id=15727011#.UAMfdXBHtaE
- Daya, Ayesha. "World's Highest Restaurant Has $1.5 Billion View with Caviar." Bloomberg. Jan. 30, 2012. (July 12, 2012) http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-30/world-s-highest-restaurant-has-1-5-billion-view-with-caviar-dubai-dining.html
- Fahmy, Miral. "Travel Picks: 10 of World's Most Unusual Foods." Reuters. Sept. 11, 2009. (July 12, 2012) http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/09/11/us-travel-picks-foods-idUSTRE58A0P320090911
- Farrell, Patrick and Kassie Bracken. "A Tiny Fruit That Tricks the Tongue." The New York Times. May 28, 2008. (July 12, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/28/dining/28flavor.html?_r=2&scp=1&sq=flavor%20tripping&st=cse&oref=slogin
- Harden, Blaine. "Deep in Carlsbad Cave, Hungry Tourists Prevail." The New York Times. April 14, 2002. (July 14, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/14/us/deep-in-carlsbad-cave-hungry-tourists-prevail.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
- Johnson, Caitlin. "Dining in the Dark—On Purpose." CBS News. Dec. 3, 2006. (July 12, 2012) http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-3445_162-2223610.html
- Klein, Sarah, Amanda Tian, Jacqlyn Witmer, and Caroline Smith DeWall. "The FDA Top Ten: The Riskiest Foods Regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration." Sept. 30, 2009. (July 12, 2012) cspinet.org/new/pdf/cspi_top_10_fda.pdf
- March, Stephanie. "Dinner in White: MSP Flash-Mob Feast." Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine. June 21, 2012. (July 12, 2012) http://blogs.mspmag.com/foodiefile/2012/06/dinner-in-white-msp-flash-mob-feast/
- National Park Service. "Frequently Asked Questions." Carlsbad Caverns National Park. July 14, 2012. (July 14, 2012) http://www.nps.gov/cave/faqs.htm
- Rothman, Hal K. "A Historic Resource Study of Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks and the Surrounding Areas." 1998. (July 19, 2012) http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/CarlsbadCav/toc.htm
- Sautter/Cologne, Ursula. "Dining in the Dark." Time. July 22, 2002. (July 12, 2012) http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,322741,00.html
- Schillinger, Liesl. "How 10,000 People Keep a Secret." The New York Times. July 5, 2011. (July 12, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/06/dining/a-pop-up-paris-picnic-is-coming-to-new-york.html?pagewanted=all
- Slater, Joanna. "To Make Lemons Into Lemonade, Try 'Miracle Fruit.'" March 30, 2007. (July 12, 2012) http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB117522147769754148-lMyQjAxMDE3NzM1MDIzMjAxWj.html
- Wieliczka Salt Mine. Homepage. 2012. (July 12, 2012) http://www.kopalnia.pl/
- Wright, Ranee. "Top 10 Strange and Traditional Food Found in the U.S." Yahoo! Voices. Oct. 20, 2009. (July 12, 2012) http://voices.yahoo.com/top-10-strange-traditional-food-found-us-4672137.html?cat=16