As frequent travellers we are no strangers to the dubious pleasures of eating some really weird shit. In China alone we are privy to such bizarre amuse-bouches as silkworm larvae, scorpions, and dog meat.
But there are plenty of other strange dishes around the world, from half-foetus eggs to brandy-drowned songbirds. We take a look at some of the more esoteric ones:
Balut (The Philippines)
We come straight out of the gate with a Philippines delicacy that is seriously not for the fainthearted. Balut is an egg, typically a duck’s, that is fertilised and left to develop for 14-21 days. The end result is a partially formed foetus complete with feathers and bones. The locals crack the egg open and consume the whole thing, including the soupy ‘broth’ and the soft bones.
The taste has been described as a bit like a cross between chicken and egg. Which makes perfect sense if you think about it.
A lot of the dishes listed here are ethically dubious, but there’s no debate with ortolan: it is straight-up fucked.
Ortolans are small songbirds native to Europe that the French, and previously the Romans, seem to take particular pleasure in fucking with. The birds are caught and put in a covered cage, which tricks them into thinking it’s night. They then gorge themselves on millet and double in size. This accomplished, our cruel Gallic friends then drown the bird in brandy before boiling and plucking it. The bird is then eaten whole, the better to taste the brandy when the ortolan’s lungs burst in your mouth.
Ortolan is apparently best eaten with a napkin over the head, ostensibly so as to bask in the aroma of the brandy. It’s also been speculated, however, that this is to “shield – from God’s eyes – the shame of such a decadent and disgraceful act”.
Casu Marzu (Sicily)
‘Casu Marzu’ translates as ‘putrid cheese’, and it does exactly what it says on the tin. A local cheese called pecorino has its rind partially removed, and then is basically left out in the sun as a day-care centre for flies. The maggots chow down on the cheese and shit it back out, which results in an extremely soft texture.
The casu marzu is then eaten, maggots and all. It’s recommended to wear goggles when eating – the larvae can leap pretty far, and it’s not unheard of to take a maggot to the eye.
Alternatively, you could just not eat maggot-shit cheese, something that the EU recommends to the point of having outlawed it.
Fried tarantula (Cambodia)
It’s a testament to the lunacy of the other delicacies in this article that eating a fucking tarantula seems tame in comparison.
Famine was a big deal in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror, so people basically ate whatever they could get their hands on. And if there’s one thing they have in abundance in Cambodia, it’s big hairy spiders. The tarantulas – about the size of your palm – are bred in pits or else captured in nearby forests, then fried up. The taste has been described as ‘bland – like a cross between chicken and cod’. The more adventurous can eat the abdomen, which contains a goopy mix of organs, excrement and potentially eggs.
Kæstur Hákarl (Iceland)
‘Kæstur Hákarl’ means ‘fermented shark, and may possibly be the most acquired taste on this list.
The meat of the Greenland shark is poisonous when fresh, so the fermentation process is necessary to render the meat edible. The shark is beheaded and buried for some months to ferment the flesh, before being cut into strips and hung.
Hakárl is extremely difficult to stomach, even for seasoned gourmands. The meat is heavy on ammonia, which has led some critics to describe it as “like chewing on a urine-soaked mattress”. First-timers are advised to pinch their nose, since the stench of ammonia will get you before the taste does.
San-nakji (South Korea)
If you’ve seen the South Korean classic Oldboy, you probably already know what San-nakji is. The good news is it’s the freshest food you’ve ever eaten; the bad news is that it’s live octopus.
In most cases the octopus is not actually ‘alive’, per se; the animal’s complex nervous system simply means that its limbs are able to operate independently of the brain, and so reflex movement persists after the octopus is sliced up. While this is bad for the octopus, it can also be bad for the eater. With a belated sense of self-preservation, the octopus will generally try to avoid being eaten, which it does by latching onto things with its suckers. This sometimes means that it will snag in the throat and take revenge from beyond the grave.
There are, of course, plenty of other weird foods across the planet (we haven’t even got into American brain sandwiches, Chinese drunken shrimp or some of the weirder shit you can find in the UK), but this hopefully provides the intrepid gourmand with some decent starting points for their excursion into the world of weird food. Bon appétit and all that.