BY: DAVID PEGG
What do fried brains, puffin hearts, and drunken shrimp have in common? They are all considered delicacies somewhere in the world. While most people probably do not consider the contents of their cookbooks to be too strange, to a foreigner your lunch could be the equivalent of a nightmare. So, before we dive into our culinary tour of the strangest foods from around the world you should ask yourself how much you really want to know about the eating habits of your fellow humans.
Fried Brain Sandwich
Largely a dish of the past, these used to be popular in the Central United States until mad cow disease became a concern. Although people still eat them, serving brain from a cow that is over 30 months old at slaughter is no longer legal in the United States.
Ant larvae harvested from the roots of the agave plant, these are considered to be a delicacy in Mexico. In fact, they are sometimes even referred to as “insect caviar” . It is said that they taste like butter but slightly nutty.
Typically eaten in Iceland, they say that this fermented basking shark is an acquired taste. We believe the hype considering that Chef Anthony Bourdain of the Travel Channel described it as “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he had ever eaten.
Bird’s Nest Soup
For hundreds of years the Chinese have used saliva nests in their cooking, primarily in this soup. While there are many varieties, birds nest soup as a whole is one of the most expensive foods on the planet with the red nest variety costing up to 10,000 USD per bowl.
A popular dish in parts of china where the shrimp are eaten alive but stunned in a strong liquor prior to consumption. This recipe is also popular in parts of the United States but it includes an intermediary step known as “cooking”.
A northern swedish dish that consists of fermented baltic herring, it is usually sold in cans like the one above. While they are being shipped the cans sometimes bulge due to the ongoing fermentation. Recently, a study in Japan found that surstromming releases the most putrid odor of any food in the world. Somehow it makes sense that it’s usually eaten outdoors.
Like many eastern foods, this one is served raw. Very raw. Just watch as the chef dismembers a small octopus before your eyes and seasons the pieces with sesame oil, if he can hit them that is, because many times they are still moving on the plate as you reach for your chopsticks.
Rocky Mountain Oysters
While them might be from the rocky mountains, they are certainly not oysters. They are actually bull-calf testicles – peeled, flattened, and deep fried, yum.
One of the worlds most expensive varieties of coffee it can reach up to 150 USD per pound. It is made from coffee berry beans that have been defecated by Civets, small mammals native to Southeast Asia.
In indonesia they love these little stinkers. Supposedly though, they taste like bitter sunflower seeds without the salt. Chew quickly.
Usually eaten in Scandinavia this delicacy is made from aged stockfish and lye. Yes, lye. The corrosive alkaline substance also known as caustic soda is used to soak the fish for several days. After being removed from the lye the fish is so corrosive that it requires almost a week long bath of cold water just to become edible again.
Coming to us from Sardinia, this dish is best described as a sheep milk cheese containing live insect larvae. The scariest part? Although the larvae are only about 8mm long they can launch themselves up to 15cm when disturbed. Bon apetit!
Generally found on Mopane trees (hence the name), this caterpillar is an important source of protein for millions of people in Africa. Typically they are dried out and eaten as a crispy snack.
Fairly cheap, these can be found in most Japanese grocery stores for about 1 USD. It tastes something like squid and should be boiled prior to consumption. Once again, don’t forget to season.
In some Asian cultures these are used for soup and sometimes they are infused with alcohol to extract medicinal properties. The process, however, supposedly takes years.
The Farsi name of this dish literally translates to “head and hoof” and for good reason, as these are the central ingredients used to prepare it. While the main ingredient is cow feet, the head and stomach also contribute.
Very much like sannakji, this time the octopus is eaten whole. Like some of the other foods on this list though, it doesn’t come without its dangers. The suckers on the octopus are known to stick to the tongue and mouth presenting a choking hazard. There are several deaths reported every year as a result.
Considered a delicacy in Cambodia, it is said that fried tarantula first became popular during the food shortages under the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. After Pol Pat was ousted though, the fried tarantulas stuck around and Cambodians today eat them like candy.
To make this Scottish meal all you need is a sheep. First, take out the heart, liver, and lungs. Then boil them in the stomach for about three hours. Don’t forget the salt.
Fugu is Japanese for “pufferfish” and in case you didn’t know, yes, they are poisonous. Japanese law strictly controls their preparation in restaurants and only highly trained chefs are allowed to handle them. They are so dangerous in fact that domestic preparation has been known to cause accidental death.
Also known as “dead and alive” fish it originated in Taiwan where it is now illegal to prepare. It has recently become popular in China after chefs figured out how to keep the fish alive as it is deep fried. Why would anyone do this? Supposedly to prove how fresh the fish is.
As far as brutality is concerned, this dish is hard to beat. Having been banned in several countries including Australia and Germany it consists of the customer picking out the animal they would like to eat from a tank. The chef will then fillet it before their eyes…without killing it. It is then served on a plate with its sliced flesh on top for decoration and its heart still beating. Alternatively, you can have the already filleted fish returned to the aquarium where it will swim around until you are ready for seconds.
Someone was once quoted as saying “The Chinese eat anything with four legs, except tables. And everything that flies, except airplanes”. Apparently so. Also known as “Dragon in the Flame of Desire” this dish is famously served in the Guolizhuang Restaurant of Beijing. Although it may seem strange to Western minds, many Chinese believe that it is good for your health, kind of like spinach.
Nothing more than a fertilized duck embryo, it is boiled alive and viola…the rest is up to you. Eaten in South East Asia, the filipino word balut means “wrapped”.
The puffin is a species of Auk that inhabits the northern hemisphere and its heart is considered a delicacy in Iceland. We spared you the picture but next time you see a cute little puffin on the side of the road just try to imagine yourself snapping its neck and ripping out its innards. Heartless.