ES guest writer Mireille tackles one of our favorite subjects….
Needless to say: one person’s delight is another one’s disgust. From an exterior and, let’s say it, North American point of view, some exotic dishes may appear weird, if not utterly disgusting. Here’s my top 10 weird foods from around the world. And be warned: The content of this post can be shocking for some.
1. Deep Fried Tarantula (Cambodia)
When you think of a big, hairy, venomous tarantula, chances are, the last thing on your mind is to eat it. Well, in Cambodia, fried spiders are a common and much appreciated delicacy. The spiders–“a-ping” or “Thai zebra” tarantula, a species that is about the size of a human hand, are tossed in garlic and salt before being deep fried until crisp. Most people only eat the legs and the upper body’s flesh–but the bravest also eat the abdomen, which contains a brown, runny paste and sometimes even eggs.
2. Century Eggs (China)
Century eggs—or millennium eggs, thousand-year-old eggs or pidan, whatever you call them—are quail, duck or chicken eggs preserved in a mixture of ashes, clay and salt for several months. In the process, the egg’s white turns to a jelly-like brown mixture, while the yolk turns into a green-ish or gray-ish cream. Century eggs emit a powerful smell of sulfur and ammonia, and their taste is strong and complex. (Photo: Wurzel)
3. Balut (Philippines)
Animal lovers, beware: You may be shocked by this one. Balut are fertilized duck eggs…Yes, this does mean that they contain a duck embryo. Balut are boiled and served with their shell: You pierce a little hole on top of the egg and sip the liquid contained inside. Once you have drank it all, you break the shell and treat yourself with an unborn baby duck. Balut are most often eaten when they are 17 days old: the chick is boneless and not yet really formed. But some prefer to eat it when it is as old as 21 days and has a beak, feathers and bones.
4. Durian (China)
This yummy-looking, yellow, spiky fruit from Southeast Asia seems normal in pictures. But the durian has something that truly makes it stand out: A strong, foul smell. The durian’s smell has been compared to rotting flesh, sewers and dirty socks and is so persistent that it has been banned from several hotels in Asia and is not allowed in many airports around the world. (Photo: Yimhafiz)
5. Escamoles (Mexico)
Now you be careful next time you order food in Mexico. Those white beans might just as well be escamoles… a.k.a.: giant black Lipometum ants’ eggs. This “insect caviar” has a consistency similar to cottage cheese and, apparently, a nice buttery taste.
6. Lutefisk (Norway)
The Viking dish par excellence, lutefisk is made from dried white fish, usually cod or ling. The dried fish is placed in water for several days, then in a lye-saturated solution for two more days, until the fish’s flesh turns to jelly. Since lye is a poisonous and toxic substance, the process does not stop there: At this point, the lye-saturated fish could kill the one who eats it. In order to make it edible, the lutefisk is soaked in daily changed water for about a week, until most of the lye is gone. Lutefisk is often mocked for its strong, nearly unbearable smell. Because of the toxic products used in its making, it is nicknamed “weapon of mass destruction,” “rat poison” or “fork destroyer”…
7. Raw Blood Soup (Vietnam)
Tiet Cahn, or raw blood soup, is a traditional Vietnamese dish that contains very few ingredients: chicken gizzards and raw duck blood, topped with peanuts and herbs. Tiet Cahn is refrigerated before consumption: the blood then coagulates and has the texture of jelly…
8. Live Cobra Heart (Vietnam)
That meal is not for the fainthearted—pun intended. Live cobra hearts cannot be considered a common meal in Vietnam—but some people do eat them, mostly because they believe that, by eating a snake live, they will inherit a part of its power and enhance their strength. The ritual goes like this: A live cobra is picked by the customer from a selection of specimens—the meaner, the better. Its head is then cut off and its still beating heart ripped out, placed in a saucer with a bit of the blood, ready to be chugged and swallowed whole. According to Ross Lee Tabak, who tried eating live cobra heart in Hanoi, “you might feel it beating in your throat.”
9. Scorpion Soup (China)
A scorpion can not only be seen pinned on a wall at a natural history museum in Montreal or in New York: It can also be seen in a soup. Traditionally eaten in southern China, scorpion soup gives the spooks just by looking at it. Apparently, scorpions have a nice, wooden taste and their venom is neutralized by the cooking process. But beware: Eating scorpion soup and especially preparing it can still be dangerous, as this unfortunate man discovered.
10. Last But Not Least: Casu Marzu (Italy)
Granted, all cheeses are kind of gross, when you really take time to think about it: Fermented milk, full of bacteria and germs of all sorts. But the casu marzu goes beyond simple fermentation. It is closer to actual decomposition. This Italian pecorino—a.k.a. sheep milk cheese—is crawling with… live fly larvae. At the end of the making process, the cazu marzu’s crust is cut open, in order to let flies lay their eggs in the cheese. Once those eggs hatch, little larvae are born, making their way through the cheese and giving it its strong, unique taste. Some people love to eat their casu marzu with the larvae still alive and wiggling, others prefer to suffocate them with a paper bag prior to eating the cheese… How would you take yours?
Mireille is a travel, music and theater enthusiast. She wrote for the stage and television, and is now working as a freelance blogger.