As I throw a handful of fried grasshoppers into my mouth and crunch down on them, I wonder if this is what's meant by ''eating local''. A number of Thai people are looking at me, waiting for my reaction, as I chew on this local snack that has been offered in the name of hospitality. In my mind, I quickly assess the taste and decide it's not as bad as expected - a bit like popcorn just more... insecty. Outwardly, after I've swallowed, I give a big smile and rub my stomach in satisfaction. It's what my small audience was hoping for and everyone lets out a little cheer.
Exploring new destinations, you can't avoid the local food. That's mostly a great thing because it's through these meals that you get a deeper understanding of a place. Pasta in Italy, tagines in Morocco, tacos in Mexico. They all add to your experience away from home and, if you're lucky to share these meals with locals, they can be some of the most memorable moments.
Sometimes the food that you come across can be memorable in a different way, though. Sometimes it is just downright strange!
But these odd things that people eat and drink around the world usually have a story behind them. And they don't always taste bad, either. Of course, there are examples that are a bit revolting - can you honestly say you like haggis or snails? But things like kangaroo sausages or Vegemite, that might seem weird to a non-Australian, are both tasty and culturally interesting. That's how I try to view much of what I come across.
With that in mind, I wanted to share some of the strangest things that I have eaten and drunk on my travels. Tasty, revolting, refreshing, nauseating. They run the whole gamut. But each of them brought me closer to the local cultures I was trying to learn about.
Fried tarantula, Cambodia
If the idea of eating grasshoppers made you squeamish, you might not want to hear about the tarantulas on the menu in Cambodia. Although you can find them across the country, it's the town of Skuon where the fried spiders originated. For generations, the locals dug them out of the ground as a treat, but they became an important food source during the famine of the Khmer Rouge era.
The tarantulas are defanged, covered in salt and herbs, and cooked quickly in hot oil. Eating the legs reminded me of eating a prawn tail but the abdomen was less pleasant, like a chewy ball of dirty toffee.
Hot vit lon, Vietnam
I think one of the worst things I've ever eaten is Hot Vit Lon in Vietnam, where it's considered a delicacy. Hot vit lon is a duck egg with an embryo inside that's about 15 days old. That means you can easily make out the shape and the texture of the chick inside if you tried. I did not try - after a couple of spoonfuls, I decided an egg should not taste that meaty.
You can also find this dish in the Philippines, where it's called balut. The main difference is that the Filipino version has usually developed for a few more days.
Frog juice, Peru
It's not just food that can be weird, but drinks as well. In the Peruvian city of Arequipa I had a glass of frog juice, which is made by putting a slightly-cooked frog in a blender with a collection of local plants and turning it into a smoothie.
The frog juice has been drunk in this part of Peru for centuries and it's believed it can cure ailments, give a natural energy boost, and be an aphrodisiac. Some of this may be true, considering one of the ingredients is the coca leaf!
Another local drink that is said to have healing properties is kumis in Kyrgyzstan. It is fermented horse milk that has an alcohol content of about three per cent. It's a very important part of the country's culture and is often offered to guests as a way to show hospitality.
I drink quite a lot of it when I spend a day at a rural health resort in Kyrgyzstan where locals stay for weeks and drink fresh horse milk five times a day. It's supposed to help a whole range of problems from depression to bronchitis.
Camel meat pot, Egypt
Local food and drink are influenced by the availability of certain animals (hence the horse milk in Central Asia). So I shouldn't have been surprised in Egypt when I was offered a camel meat pot one evening. Served in a warm broth, the meat was surprisingly tender and reminded me of a beef casserole.
Egyptians have eaten camel for centuries and it has been critical for the survival of Bedouins who live in the desert. These days, it's not as common as it used to be, but it's still a cheap and healthy option for many people.
Not all strange food has a questionable taste. For instance, I want to tell you about a Portuguese bun that has wonderful cinnamon and lemon flavours. It's called fogaca and is only made in the small town of Santa Maria da Feira.
This dense bun is made in the shape of the town's castle and was first baked in 1505 as an offering to a saint to save the population from the plague. It worked ... until they stopped making it and the plague came back. Since then, the locals have baked fogaca continuously and it has an annual festival.
Deep-fried everything, USA
And I can't finish without pointing out that you'll find weird food everywhere you go, and my visit to the Texas State Fair one year proved that. There seemed to be an unofficial competition of who could deep fry the most things, so you could try deep-fried cookie dough, pineapple cake, pepperoni pizza, and even beer (somehow!)
I guess it tells the story of the local culture as much as any of the other examples I've shared. I'm just not sure I can swallow it.
- Michael Turtle is a journalist who has been travelling the world full-time for eight years. To read more about his travel adventures, visit timetravelturtle.com