As a self-confessed foodie, I enjoy trying most local delicacies when I travel. I’m happy to sit on pink plastic chairs, surrounded by stray cats if the food is delicious. I love discovering the national dishes and giving them a shot, especially when they are cinnamon buns or waffles…! However, there are some things that I will draw the line at and let others enjoy for me, several of which I discovered in the Nordics and Asia. Read on for some real stomach churners and let me know if I’ve missed your ‘favourite’!
1. Boiled Sheep Heads – Iceland
When you live in a country whose harshness makes it hard to grow or farm much at all, desperate times lead to desperate measures…and these locals are the original ‘nose to tail’ butchers. These days they get most produce shipped in so there’s not much they can’t buy, but apparently boiled sheep heads are still very much loved and can be purchased at train stations. What a delicious treat for your journey home.
2. Salty liquorice – Norway
This black jelly-like sweet has fooled many a tourist, expecting a sweet treat. Covered in salt, Norwegians love this savoury indulgence which has a homely feel for them.
3. Hakarl – Iceland
Back to the whole desperate times and desperate measures scenario…let’s take a Greenland or Basking Shark and bury it with stones to squeeze out the poisonous internal liquids which allow these creatures to survive in such freezing waters. Hang it to dry for several weeks, cut it up and serve. Said to have a strong ammonia smell and incredibly fishy taste, this is not one for the faint-hearted, even described by Anthony Bourdain as the most disgusting and terrible thing he’s ever eaten. I’ll pass.
Photo courtesy of ABC.net.au
4. Durian – South East Asia
I see and smell this on the streets in Malaysia all the time…and see the signs in every hotel/bar/public transport/public space banning it! Why? Well, let’s just say you’ll probably smell it before you see it. The pungent scent of this spiky fruit is enough to make most people run, although if you can get past this, many people actually really love the taste. It has a yellow or white soft flesh and can be found in various forms of cooking, sweet and savoury, very often as ice cream. The Rough Guide to Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei describes the taste as ‘vomit-flavoured custard’. I’ll let you decide yourself…if you can get close enough!
5. Surstromming – Sweden
A country which really loves its seafood, this little delicacy consists of Baltic sea herring, tinned with just enough salt to prevent it from rotting and has a smell so bad that the etiquette is to enjoy it outside. Delicious.
6. Cherry Blossom Meat – Japan
Personally, I can think of nothing worse than eating horse meat but apparently it’s a thing in Japan. Cherry Blossom meat is horse meat served raw, like sushi, and is low in calories and fat.
7. Southern Fried Rattlesnake – USA
Boil the meat off the bone, then coat in a seasoned breadcrumb batter, deep fry and serve. Supposedly it tastes like frog legs and is a favourite in the south western states.
8. Balut – Philippines
This one repulses me to even type… This is a fertilised duck embryo boiled then eaten from the shell. The word ‘balut’ means ‘wrapped’ in Tagalog and Malay and it’s often served as street food.
Photo courtesy of Steemit.com
9. Cobra Heart – Vietnam
Another one to make me vomit a little… the live cobra is slit in front of you, the heart removed whilst still pumping. This is then served in a shot glass of its own blood to be swallowed as it beats.
10. Sannakji – Korea
I thought my Korean friend Sun-Ah was joking when she told me about this one. As a child, it was one of her favourite things to eat…live octopus, with sesame oil and sesame seeds. Often killed and cut up into small pieces, the tentacles will still wriggle due to the nerve activity, but Sun-Ah tells me that they will often eat small octopus live, and whole. One needs to be especially careful when eating this dish as the suction cups are still functioning and can stick to the mouth or throat, causing choking, and even a recorded death. You’re on your own with this one my friend!
11. Bird’s Nest Soup – South East Asia
Living in Malaysia and having travelled a fair amount of Asia I’ve seen this on many a menu, but didn’t really know what it was… I’m glad I never ordered it! Basically, the Swiftlet bird makes its nest from its own gummy saliva, rather than twigs. When exposed to air it goes hard. Someone has deemed this to be a delicacy and many a human has had an accident whilst climbing high into the trees to hunt these treasures. Hmm…karma?
Photo courtesy of steamykitchen.com
12. Kangaroo & Emu – Australia
The only country in the world to eat the animals on their national coat of arms – true story. I’ve eaten kangaroo many times as it’s a lean, high protein meat, but I can’t say I enjoy it, it has a very strong game-y flavour.
Emu…no thanks, but apparently it tastes like chicken. I’m sure it’s mostly tourists who eat this, I don’t know any Aussies who would serve it at home. You can find it at festivals and street food markets.
13. Wasp Crackers – Japan
Pretty much as it says, this is a cracker made with wasps. Digger wasps most commonly, which are known to have a nasty sting…good luck with that one!
14. Stinkheads, Alaska, USA
Similar to the Iceland Hakarl, Stinkheads are the fermented heads of King Salmon buried for several weeks and then served as a stinky putty mash. Sounds delightful.
15. Tuna Eyeballs – Japan
As someone who is a registered donor for any part of my body – except for my eyes – I find this one a little squeamish! Apparently it tastes like squid or octopus.
Photo courtesy of tastewinchesterhistory.com
16. Sheep Eyes – UAE
Whilst we’re on the subject of eyes, in the Arabian peninsula, when a sheep is slaughtered for a feast, its traditional for the eyeball to be served to the guest of honor, with the hardened cornea removed. It’s recommended to eat in one go and has a jelly texture. That would be a declined RSVP from me…
Photo courtesy of seriouseats.com
17. Haggis – Scotland
My British readers won’t find this weird, but for my American/Australian friends, you may not know this one. Take a sheep’s heart, liver and lungs and mince it with some suet, oatmeal, onions and seasoning and stuff it into the animal’s stomach and cook in the oven. It is traditionally served on Burns Night, January 25, when the birth of poet Robert Burns is celebrated. The guests should ‘address the haggis’ (stand) as it’s brought into the dining room in a large dish, often with bagpipes playing.
If you’re not up for making it yourself, our family friend swears by Harrod’s version which can be pre-ordered!
18. Black Pudding – England/Africa
Whilst we’re over my side of the world, here’s another one for you. Basically congealed blood mixed with suet, breadcrumbs and seasoning and stuffed into sausage skin, usually served for breakfast. It can also be known as blood sausage. You may find white sausage too, which is made without the pigs blood, and sometimes has shredded pork instead.
19. Shiokara – Japan
Shiokara, or ‘chinmi’ as the locals call it, is a delicious sounding dish made from the meat of various sea animals mixed with a brown viscous paste of the animal’s heavily salted, fermented viscera. It’s then packed into a container with 10% salt and 30% malted rice and left to ferment for up to a month. Yum.
Photo courtesy of traveller.com.au
20. Escamol – Mexico
Also known as insect caviar, this local delicacy is a mixture of the edible larvae and pupae of ants, collected from the tequila or mescal plant. Apparently it has a nutty, buttery taste with the consistency of cottage cheese.
21. Fried Spider – Cambodia
Considered a delicacy in the regional town of Skuon, the spider is coated in MSG, sugar and salt before being fried. The diner will bite down onto innards, eggs and excrement in the stomach of the spider. Delicious.
22. Mopane Worms – Southern Africa
Looking similar to the Australian Witchety Grub, this fat little worm is full of meat and supposed to taste like barbecued chicken. It’s often dried or smoked to preserve, but always rehydrated before eaten, often in a tomato or chili sauce.
Photo courtesy of Tripsavvy.com
23. Fugu – Japan
Deadly if not prepared correctly, the Pufferfish makes a fabulous sashimi when prepared correctly by highly trained chefs.
Fun fact, Fugo was featured in the ‘One fish, two fish, blow fish, blue fish’ episode of The Simpsons when Homer consumed the poisonous fish and was told he only had 22 hours to live!
24. Guinea Pig – South America
As someone who had identical twin guinea pigs as a kid, this breaks my heart a little bit…
With the flavour likened to rabbit, the guinea pig is usually roasted and served whole, or cooked in a casserole.
Photo courtesy of Travelfoodatlas.com
25. Deer Penis – China
Chinese athletes are said to eat deer penis to heal injuries…and the yak penis is meant to enhance virility. I can’t imagine watching that…
Photo courtesy of ABC.net.au
26. Ying Yang Fish – China
Another one I can barely bring myself to even write about, such is the insane cruelty…skip to the next one if you are vegetarian/vegan…
The Ying Yang fish is deep-fried whilst kept alive. When served to diners, the mouth and gills can be seen moving as it desperately tries to breathe. There are YouTube videos showing people prodding the fish to watch it move… for obvious reasons I’m not sharing that on here. Seriously grotesque.
Photo courtesy of Huffpost.com
27. Shark Fin Soup
Another one I have seen on many a menu but never really thought about it – and fortunately never tried it. This barbaric delicacy involves the sharks having their fins hacked from their bodies whilst alive, they are then thrown back into the sea after. Surely not worth it for a few strands of meat in your chicken broth soup.
Photo courtesy of CBC.ca
28. Dog – Korea, China, Vietnam
Another one which breaks my heart and I just can’t comprehend. Dogs to me are part of the family, to be loved as a child…but, I wasn’t brought up in Vietnam where they’re just another four-legged animal to be eaten I guess. They go for big money and have lead to an increase in theft of family dogs from their homes recently.
I’m not showing dogs as meat, so you can have this cute pic instead!
29. Cat – East Asia
Seriously, anything goes in this part of the world, so hey, why stop at dog? Another completely bewildering ‘delicacy’ found mostly in Korea and China, although you’re unlikely to find it in a mainstream restaurant. You know, in case you were looking…
Same comment applies as above…!
30. Casu Marzu – Sardinia
Also known as ‘maggot cheese’ this traditional Sardinian sheep milk cheese contains larvae to promote a higher level of fermentation and break down the cheese fats. The texture then becomes very soft with some liquid seeping out and the larvae appear as translucent white worms. Now banned under EU health regulations, the cheese is still sold on the black market and is believed to have an aphrodisiac effect.
Have I made you want to vomit yet?! Some of these were a real eye-opener for me as I researched them, I will certainly be more cautious when in Asia as to what I’m ordering! As to the downright brutally cruel ‘delicacies’, I ask that you avoid eating these at all costs and encourage others to do the same… I’d love to see many of the barbaric practices stopped.
Anyway, this was meant as a lighthearted article, so I hope you found it fun and interesting. Let me know if there are any other weird or ‘why?’ foods I haven’t mentioned, or if you have been brave enough to try any of the stranger ones above.
Thanks for reading, see you next week!