When it comes to the human experience, food is one of the central aspects. There’s something special about sharing a meal with loved ones, or celebrating milestones, birthdays, holidays and anniversaries with a meal. You can learn a lot about a culture just by taking a look at common foods. And there’s no better way to connect with members from the country you’re visiting than by sampling some of their local dishes. There are a few culinary staples that remain the same around the globe; almost everyone eats some sort of starch, grains, vegetables, and meats, although the matter of preparation and what spices are used will change from culture to culture.
Some countries have come under fire for eating foods that wouldn’t even be considered edible in other parts of the world such as dogs, cats, bugs, semen, and even human flesh. Learning about the origins of some of the most controversial dishes will not only make you a hit at parties, but also a more well-rounded and perhaps open-minded foodie. Of course, some people that definitely cross a line when it comes to ethics and dining, but a majority simply create dishes and spices in a certain way for a reason. In recent years, celebrity chefs Andrew Zimmern, Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay have given attention to the weirder dishes made around the world.
Get your taste buds (and perhaps gag reflexes) ready for the top ten weirdest national foods around the world. Some of these dishes may spark your intrigue, while some might put you off your lunch. Of course, what may be disgusting to one person could make another’s mouth water. Taste is, of course, a subjective issue and generally a national dish is neither objectively good nor bad, so keep an open mind while you read about the following ten culinary oddities. No matter what your personal response is, there’s no question that while these foods may be perceived as weird by many, they’re all likely being served up as someone’s dinner tonight.
10. Kopi Luwak Beans – Asia
There’s not much one can do to introduce this food gently, so we’ll just keep it simple: It’s poop. Namely, poop from a luwak. Okay, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration but the beans do come from animal feces, and then they are cleaned and roasted to make a coffee, which is apparently not as bitter as the traditional version of the drink. The idea behind the fecal beans is that they have gone through the digestive process in the animal body and are already perfectly fermented. As long as the beans are cleaned, it shouldn’t matter the origin, right?
9. Capybara – Brazil & Venezuela
If the thought of eating your guinea pig or the local beaver has ever crossed your mind, then you might want to take a trip to Brazil and try some Capybara. This animal is one of the largest rodents in the world, and it’s pretty cute. But if you live in South America, you may find these rodents on your plate instead of in their natural habitat. In Brazil, not only do they consume capybara, but they use their hide for cloth.
8. Fried Tarantulas – Cambodia
Anyone who’s afraid of spiders will either celebrate this dish or run off into the corner to get sick. Fried tarantulas are considered to be a delicacy in Cambodia. Gordon Ramsay has even sampled this dish on television. They are easy to prepare and cheap to buy, and full of bug protein. So what does fried tarantula taste like? Some describe it as bland, a dish that needs flavoring with a crunchy outside and a soft center. If you really want to turn your stomach, sometimes the spider’s stomach is filled with a brown paste-like goo, which are usually spider eggs.
7. Breast Milk Ice Cream – England
The Icecreamists Shop made international headlines when it came out with a new ice cream flavor made with human breast milk. The idea behind it was, if it’s good enough for children to consume, then why not humans of all ages? The ice cream flavor, affectionately dubbed “Baby Gaga”, was made using human donor milk, about which the Food and Drug Administration conveyed their reservations. The reason being that diseases can be transferred through human breast milk and there are specifications about storage and handling of the human body fluid.
6. Muktuk – Greenland
While consuming muktuk is a tradition in Inuit culture and a staple food item, it began as a method of survival. Mutuk is made from the skin and blubber of bowhead, narwhal, and beluga whales and was often consumed raw, if not near frozen. The consistency is chewy and soft, and the delicacy contains lots of protein and vitamin C. Nowadays muktuk is not consumed much for sheer survival, giving chefs the chance to play with this delicacy. It can be served sliced up and fried, baked, and sometimes even pickled, and often enjoyed with soy sauce.
5. Shirako – Japan
Before you pass too much judgment on shirako, remember that several million people consume caviar… Shirako is the sperm sack of the male codfish, and can be cooked or served raw. It is a creamy white blob with an interesting taste and texture, that may not sit well with tourists. The translation of shirako means “white children” and it’s in season during the winter months. So if eating male sperm sacks doesn’t sound appetizing to you, make sure you know what you’re eating in Japan and get the name of what’s on your plate.
4. Tacos des Sesos – Mexico
This dish takes the concept of “brain food” to the next level. Translated as “brain tacos”, that’s essentially what you’re eating; the brain of an animal. This dish has recently crossed the border and can be found in cities such as Los Angeles, CA. Of course, these cow brains which are ground up and seasoned for a Mexican delicacy also carry some risks concerning mad cow disease. So if you feel daring, make sure the establishment you order this delicacy from is up to health standards.
3. Airag – Mongolia
We couldn’t have a list of dishes without including a beverage. Airag’s alcoholic proof is much higher than beer, but a little weaker than wine. Does this sound appetizing? Well, Airag is the fermented milk from a horse. Also known as kumis, the beverage is made by fermenting the milk for days or hours on end while stirring and churning. The yeast in the milk make it carbonated and the fermentation brings about the alcoholic content. Basically, if you don’t mind the origin of the drink, it has been testified that it can be tasty and that provides a nice little buzz.
2. Rocky Mountain Oysters – North America
The name “Rocky Mountain Oysters” is a bit deceiving due to the fact that these aren’t actually oysters, but instead they are buffalo and bull calf testicles. To make them more appetizing for human consumption, the testicles are boiled, rolled in flour, and fried… because everything tastes better when it’s fried! This dish has been served mainly in Canada and the United States. Sometimes sheep and goat testicles are used as well. In cultural folklore, they say that consuming animal testicles can actually make a gentleman more of a man.
1. Human Placenta – Worldwide
Yep, probably the weirdest dish on this list might not be so weird after all since the consumption of human placenta has been a tradition in many cultures for years. The practice is actually called placentophagy, and is probably one of the most bizarre practices in the world. This has been catching a lot of attention in the last 10 years, as many mothers will eat their own placenta after giving birth. The variations of eating placenta go from making a soup to blending it into a shake. The placenta has a lot of vitamins and nutrients and is said to help protect against postpartum depression.