Imaging breaking open an egg to reveal a partially-formed duck fetus and licking your lips with anticipation. Most of us can’t, but that just goes to show how wildly tastes can vary – and the fact that one man’s vomit-inducing nightmare is another’s tasty treat. And even when they don’t involve feces, rotting flesh or animal fetuses, some obscure delicacies are taboo because they’re just plain awful for the environment, threatening endangered species with extinction.
Hákarl – Rotten Shark
It smells like a neglected public men’s room and looks something like diced cheese, but the horrible truth of hakarl is much worse than these attributes imply. In Iceland, the putrefied flesh of a basking shark is traditionally served during a midwinter festival and associated with hardiness and strength. That might be due to the fact that you need an iron stomach to avoid gagging while eating it. But wait – it gets ever so much worse.
Kiviak – Seagull-Stuffed Seal
(image via: sfgate)
Recipe for one super-delicious traditional Christmas meal from Greenland: take one beheaded seal carcass and stuff it with a dead, de-feathered seagull. Bury it under the permafrost and allow the flavors of fermenting bird to mingle with those of the seal’s intestines for seven months. Dig it up, bite off the bird’s head, suck out all those pungent juices and have a very happy holiday.
Balut – Duck Fetus Boiled Alive
(images via: deep end dining)
What is it about balut – a hard-boiled duck egg with a fetus inside – that inspires people not just to consume it, but to do so with lip-smacking relish? Is it the broth/amniotic fluid? The shiny, vein-covered outer membrane, or perhaps the gnarly shape of the fetus itself, with its bones and beak somehow mysteriously maintaining a soft, egg-like texture? It’s hard to imagine, but this delicacy is a beloved street snack in the Phillipines.
(image via: national geographic)
Most of us wouldn’t dream of putting endangered chimp on the barbie. But illegal types of bushmeat – wild animal meat such as monkey, ape, leopard and elephant – are a thriving underground trade in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Demand for the meat of such animals is considered the top immediate threat to the future of wildlife in many areas around the world and has already resulted in widespread local extinctions.
(image via: wikimedia commons)
What’s the grossest thing you could possibly eat on a trip to Namibia? Traveling celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain found out when he got up close and personal with a feast of warthog anus. It was prepared by gutting the warthog, pulling out the anus and a foot of intestine, squeezing out the feces and throwing the whole thing on some hot coals. Said Bourdain, “This is one time when well done is eminently desirable, but no, this Hershey highway is served al dente.”
Baby Mice Wine
(image via: junch)
Contrary to some portrayals in the West, not all Chinese people regularly consume things that we consider bizarre and disgusting. However, things like ‘Baby Mice Wine’ do exist. This Chinese health tonic consists of newborn mice, their tiny eyes still closed, drowned alive in a bottle of rice wine and allowed to ferment for a year.
(image via: blog.ratestogo.com)
It’s not just an urban myth or a scene out of Indiana Jones: some people really do eat raw monkey brains, though the oft-told story of scooping them out of a live monkey’s head is hard to verify. A traveler in Cambodia got a photo of brains for sale at a public market, and tales abound on the internet of gross monkey brain-eating experiences.
Casu Marzu – Maggoty Cheese
If a food inspires most of the population to moan, “Oh, God, why?” and is disgusting enough to actually be banned, perhaps it’s best left uneaten. But Sardinians aren’t keen on giving up their national treasure Casu Marzu – rotting, maggot-infested pecorino cheese. If that doesn’t sound bad enough on its own, consider this: wearing protective eyewear is recommended, because the “cheese fly” larvae that have been intentionally allowed to hatch inside the cheese can jump up to six inches right into your face. Tasty.
Shark Fin Soup
(image via: wikimedia commons)
After maggot cheese and monkey brains, shark fin soup may not sound so bad. But though it may not be physically disgusting, this Chinese delicacy is a huge strain on international shark populations – not to mention cruel. Once finned, shark bodies – which aren’t valued – are often dumped back into the ocean to die painfully. Over 64% of the world’s known shark species are considered threatened or vulnerable, and some species are nearly extinct. Worse yet, the shark fin doesn’t even add much flavor or nutritional value – it’s little more than a garnish.
Kopi Luwak – Cat Poop Coffee
(images via: wikipedia)
Cream, sugar or cat crap? In Indonesia, coffee beans that have been eaten and defecated by civet cats are in high demand for their supposedly superior flavor – in fact, it’s the most expensive coffee in the world at $100-$600 per pound. The benefit of a less-bitter taste comes from the effect that a civet cat’s digestive enzymes have on the beans, which pass whole through the cat’s system.
Whale Meat Sashimi
(image via: fuyuhiko)
Why are Japanese whalers so intent on killing these graceful creatures, despite international (and sometimes violent) opposition to the practice? The blubbery, bland, gamey-tasting meat may not be palatable to most Westerners, but many Japanese love it and demand is high despite the threats to endangered species. Not that it only happens in Japan – a Santa Monica, California restaurant was recently shut down for serving endangered whale meat to customers.
Kutti Pi – Goat Fetus
The pronunciation of this delicacy – “cutie pie” – may have applied to these animals if they had been born alive, but it’s hard to describe cooked fetuses as cute. Kutti Pi is an Anglo-Indian delicacy that’s only eaten on the rare occasion of a pregnant animal (usually goat) being slaughtered, and is considered to have medicinal value, especially for pregnant women.
(image via: winejuice.blogspot.com)
In some parts of the world, bull penis is considered an aphrodisiac, but you don’t even have to travel to China to get some. California restaurant Pho Nguyen Hue serves it in a dish called “pho ngau pin xe lua.” LA Mag says “The name translates to “noodle soup cow testicles train,” and it delivers what it promises and more. The “more” is the meat from a cow penis, which is rubbery like a tendon and comes drifting in a savory beef bone broth.” Yeah, there’s a reason that package is priced $6.66.