No this isn’t a list of some crazy insects or spiders or food that costs upwards of $5000. This is a very simple honest list of hard to come by ingredients that are really exclusive and will make dining an exciting experience.
1. SOME WILD VEGETARIAN GAME – Truffles
Yes we all have heard about truffles (and as a dear friend corrected my own pronunciation – it’s truffles as in ruffles, not troo-fles) but how many of us have tried it? I certainly haven’t gone beyond truffle oil. Just to remind you why these are so exclusive –
- They are fungus, a sort of wild mushroom, that grow naturally and cannot be cultivated.
- Only one recognised dog breed is used to sniff truffles out from the ground- Lagotto Romagnolo (earlier pigs were used but they’ve been banned as they tend to damage the truffle wanting to consume it themselves).
- Then truffles immediately start losing water so transporting them fresh to restaurants also adds to the cost.
There are both white and black truffles but white ones are more expensive and exclusive. White truffles come predominantly from Italy. In Delhi head to Diva, Artusi or to try out truffles.
Believe it or not: The record price paid for a single white truffle was set in December 2007, when Macau casino owner Stanley Ho paid $330,000 (£165,000) for a specimen weighing 1.5 kilograms (3.3 lb), discovered by Luciano Savini and his dog Rocco. In December 2014, a White Alba’s Truffle weighing in at 4.16 pounds or 1.89 kilos was unearthed in the Umbrian region of Italy by the Balestra Family of Sabatino. It was auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York. While some had expected it to sell for $1 million, it was sold for $61,000 to a Taiwanese buyer.
Image: Sourced from a very dear friend who just traveled to Italy and was lucky enough to try these!
2. POP THE OTHER BUBBLY – CAVIAR
It’s a timeless classic on the fine dining list. But not many people have tried it. In India especially while people are more daring with their meat orders, they scrunch their faces distastefully at the idea of fish roe. But trust me, it is the prettiest looking thing you’ll see and has the mildest salty-seafood flavor. And the excitement really begins when you pop it – the sensation is similar to magic pop.
Had traditionally by itself or thin cracker bread, the most expensive variant is the Beluga Caviar which comes from the critically endangered Beluga Sturgeon, found only in Caspian sea.
QUICK FACTS: 1) Caviar refers to fish roe from Sturgeon fish. 2) It can be orange-red or deep purple-black in colour. 3) These days fish rose from other fishes like Salmon etc is also referred to as caviar sometimes
3. UP YOUR SUSHI GAME – Sea Urchin
Sea Urchin may not be the most expensive thing to try, nevertheless it’s exclusive. Especially when it comes to upping your sushi game. Not available at many Indian sushi restaurants either, it’s a must try when travelling. Referred to as Uni in Sushi menus, sea urchin is not entirely for the fainthearted with a very slippery texture and a strong seafood flavour. In India, try sea urchin at Wasabi by Taj.
4. COFFEE WORLD CUP- Kopi Luwak Coffee & Hacienda La Esmeralda
Kopi Luwak: You may term this as just pure sensation or hype, but coffee connoisseurs beg to differ. Kopi Luwak, world’s most expensive coffee, or civet coffee, refers to the coffee that includes part-digested coffee cherries eaten and pooped out by the Asian palm civet. Before you start yucking and ewwing about, know this that there’s a well-thought of science behind this. Read here. Kopi luwak is produced mainly on the islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali and Sulawesi in Indonesia. Make sure you buy a packet on your next travel but also ensure that it’s cage-free coffee because of course it’s popularity has led to civets being farmed to produce this esteemed varietal and a lot of fakes floating in the market.
Hacienda La Esmeralda
The second most expensive coffee in the world, this varietal is from a single family owned coffee farm in Panama – located in Boquete on the slopes of the Barú Volcano in Western Panama and owned by the Peterson family. This coffee has won many prestigious awards year after year and their exclusive varietal is the Esmeralda Special Geisha. Sold mostly in auctions, small varieties can be bought across the world. To see where you can shop, click here.
5. THE NEW RAGE WITH MICHELIN STAR CHEFS – Tonka Beans
Traditionally a revered ingredient in perfume-making, including the legendary Chanel No.5, tonka beans have become as much of a prized ingredient in the world of culinary arts. Noted for its heady fragrance, it at once emits vibes of vanilla, coconut, sour cherry, bitter almond, oily clove, liquorice, and sweet hay. Chefs can’t stop raving about it. It looks like a part prune part raisin, is flat and a lot less sweeter than vanilla. From Gordon Ramsay to Chris Harrod to countless other Michelin star restaurants across the world are fashioning culinary inventions & cocktails around tonka beans. It’s a truly versatile ingredient that pairs well with seafood, meats, milk and works well on it’s own in dessert & cocktails
Example: A clever dessert leveraging the temperature-sensitive taste of the tonka bean is “Le Gâteau” created by chef Gabriel Bremer at Salts, in Cambridge, Massachusetts: a block of warm chocolate-tonka layered cake, semi-dried cherries, and light tonka bean ice cream. The fruit underscores the tonka bean’s cherry notes, and accompanying smoked honey amplifies its spice. Brilliantly, the dish contains no vanilla, so the unique vanilla-like scent of the bean can reign on its own.
On Right: Michelin star spanish restaurant Santceloni’s tonka bean cream dessert
6. DANGEROUS LIAISON – Fugu fish a.k.a Blowfish
If your idea of adventure involves a generous bit of danger then you would love to take a chance with Fugu, a Japanese Blowfish. The intestines, ovaries and liver of fugu (or blowfish) contain a poison called tetrodotoxin, which is 1,200 times deadlier than cyanide. The toxin is so potent that a lethal dose is smaller than the head of a pin. Chefs need to train for 2 years and need a special license to serve this fish. This also makes fugu a very expensive adventure. There are many Michelin star restaurants in Japan that serve Fugu. E.g. Michelin star restaurant Usuki Fugu Yamadaya in Tokyo specializes in Fugu.
Believe it or not: Some people like there fugu served with just the tiniest permissible bit of toxin in it for the quivering effect and the bodily sensation the venom creates.
7. Valrhona chocolate
While there are many chocolates out there which are very expensive, Valrhona is one of the most esteemed brands when it comes to culinary use of chocolates. In fact some of the most expensive chocolates like Knipschildt also use Valrhona cacao as the base ingredient. Valrhona is a French premium chocolate manufacturer founded in 1922. The company also maintains the École du Grand Chocolat, a school for professional chefs with a focus on chocolate-based dishes and pastries. So next time you are fine dining and see a dessert description proudly brag Valrhona chocolate, you are in for a real treat. You can even purchase some Valrhona cooking chocolate to whip up a special treat in your own kitchen.
8. Matsutake Mushroom
Matsutake is the common name for a group of mushrooms in Japan. They have been an important part of Japanese cuisine for the last 1,000 years. The tradition of mushroom giving persists today in Japan’s corporate world, and a gift of matsutake is considered special and is cherished by those who receive it. The annual harvest of Matsutake in Japan is now less than 1000 tons, and it is partly made up by imports from China, Korea, and Canada; this is due to the difficulty in harvesting the mushrooms. The Japanese Matsutake at the beginning of the season, which is the highest grade, can go up to $2000 per kilogram.
9. Jamon Iberico
One of the most prized ham world-wide, Jamon Iberico is a spanish exotic ham sourced from black, only acorn-fed, free range pigs. The prices for premium Iberico ham brands, like the oldest and most respected Cinco Jotas, can go upto $220 for a pound. Acorn-fed jamon Iberico is intensely sweet. It’s floral, earthy, and nutty like good Parmesan, with fat so soft it melts right in your mouth. So on your next travel to Spain, definitely try this out. To read more on Jamon Iberico click here
10. THE WILD CARD – La Bonotte potatoes
Yes, the last thing you would think of when it comes to fine dining – potatoes. But then we aren’t talking just any potatoes. La Bonotte potatoes – referred to as the caviar of potato world – are the world’s most expensive potatoes served only in the most luxurious restaurants. The price of 1kg of La Bonnotte potatoes can reach $700. La Bonotte potatoes are only grown in Noirmoutier, an island off the coast of western France and are only picked by hand. La Bonnotte’s tuber remains attached to the stem making too fragile to harvest by machine, not to mention it also needs to be fertilized with algae and seaweed to give it that distinct earthy, salty, lemony and sea-side flavor.