Foodie tourism is fast becoming a popular vacation activity; as the world gets ever smaller and our tastes get ever more expansive, food enthusiasts are relishing the opportunities to taste stranger, more intriguing niche dishes from the most far flung corners of the earth. When traveling, many believe that the best way to experience local culture is to do as the locals do and eat what they eat. However, for many foodies on a global quest to try every cuisine out there, some foods are just a stretch too far. Often it’s simply the taste, smell, appearance or general strangeness of the food that puts us off, but sometimes it’s much, much more. There are some shocking foods that outright offend people who aren’t accustomed to them. Perhaps it’s an animal that’s commonly kept as a pet in one culture, that’s found on the dinner plate somewhere else in the world. It might be the often barbaric practices used in harvesting some of these delicacies that really upset some people – even if they’re not staunch animal activists. The simple fact is that there are some foods that people find offensive and morally objectionable – of course, whether or not that outrage is justified is another matter altogether. Most of the shocking cuisines on this list are commonly consumed, but some of them are only eaten by a small group of people or on a rare occasion. But it’s not just foreign lands where these delicacies are consumed; if you take a trip to a local restaurant in New York or London you might even find some of these foods on your dinner plate. Would you try any of the items of this list? Have you? Perhaps, the mere idea that people do eat this stuff will send you into a white-hot rage. Here, we take a look at the 10 most shocking foods around the world that deeply offend some people right to the core.
10. Guinea Pig
These fluffy and cuddly creatures can make great pets for kids, and parents often pick up one of these fellows as a low-maintenance first pet for their children. In South America it’s another story all together. Guinea Pig meat or Cuy (as it’s know in South America) was first eaten by the indigenous peoples of the Andes Mountains, but since the 1960s it has become a regular household meal in countries like Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador. Peruvians are said to eat an estimated 65 million Guinea Pigs every year! This dish is also eaten is parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, but in North America and Europe seeing a Guinea Pig served crispy on a dinner plate is still extremely taboo.
It’s likely the combination of the way veal is raised and the fact that it’s a baby cow that really offends some people. There certainly isn’t the same outcry against eating lamb as there is against eating veal, but many people see the way veal is typically raised as inhumane. In the 1980s, the American public got wind of the fact that calves were locked in crates and tethered. Since then, the demand for traditionally raised veal has plummeted and interest in free-range veal has increased. The use of veal crates became illegal in 1990 in the UK, and the American Veal Association has said it will phase out the use of veal crates by 2017. Veal has been a staple of Italian and French cuisine for centuries and the animals are prized for their livers, kidneys, bone marrow, and sweetbreads (thymus gland or pancreas).
Horse meat is readily consumed in many parts of Europe and in Japan, too. However, the consumption of this delicacy is seen as taboo in most English-speaking countries like the U.K., USA, Canada and Australia. Smoked horse meat is popular in Belgium and the Netherlands, and in Germany the meat is used in sauerbraten. It is cured and served as cold cuts in numerous parts of Scandinavia. In Japan, horse meat is served raw and known as basashi; it is extremely popular on the country’s southernmost main island of Kyushu. Ironically much of the horsemeat in Japan is shipped from western Canada where eating horse is extremely taboo – it’s only in the province of Quebec that horse meat is not considered particularly offensive.
7. Foie Gras
Like veal, there has been much outrage over the farming practices used in creating foie gras. Foie gras is the liver from a goose or duck that has been fattened; this fattening typically involves force-feeding using a funnel. In France a liver dish cannot be called foie gras unless it comes from a traditionally force-fed goose or duck. However, more natural ways of fattening the liver of these fowl are being used elsewhere, and the nomenclature foie gras is acceptable. The natural fattening of the liver is seen as more ethical and humane, but many have said the taste is simply not the same.
PETA and Greenpeace regularly protest whaling vessels, and the practice is considered unethical in most parts of the world. However, countries like Norway and Japan – which have a strong historical tradition of whaling – continue the practice to this day. Whale meat is prized as a source of energy and protein by the Indigenous peoples of Greenland and Alaska. The outrage over the consumption of whale meat mainly stems from activists’ horror that an endangered species is being used as food; however, the regulated and commercial whaling industries primarily harvest minke whales which have a healthy population and a conservation status of “least concern.” The Japanese serve whale meat in many ways such as sashimi, karaage (deep fried) or in a hot pot, and it is readily available at supermarkets and many restaurants.
Dolphin is also consumed in Japan, but unlike whale it is not commonplace. In fact it is extremely rare and almost exclusively eaten in the small Japanese town of Taiji, Japan in southern Honshu (Japan’s largest main island). The overwhelming majority of Japanese people have never even eaten dolphin meat. The fishermen, townspeople and government officials in Taiji, Japan have been under intense scrutiny for the dolphin drive hunt, which is the practice of herding a pod into a bay and then blocking it off so the animals can be killed. Protesters regularly convene on this small Japanese town to demonstrate against this practice, as documented in the film The Cove.
Cat meat is uncommon – perhaps surprisingly, dog meat is far more readily consumed. Cat meat is predominantly consumed in localized areas in Southern China and parts of Peru. Mostly older people eat cat in Guangdong and Guangxi, China. The Fangji Cat Meatball Restaurant in Shenzhen, China was forced to close after it was protested in 2006, and in 2010 the Chinese government drafted a proposal to jail people for up to 15 days for consuming either dog or cat. Small groups of people also eat cat in Chincha Alta, Peru and Huari, Peru, but the consumption of cat meat is not widespread in the country.
In South Korea dog meat is consumed year round and the meat is especially popular in the summer months as part of stews and soups. Some examples of dog meat dishes include bosintang (a spicy stew of boiled dog meat and vegetables) and Gaegogi Muchim, which is steamed dog meat. The meat comes from a breed of dog specifically raised for consumption called Nureongi. This is a particularly offensive practice in most other cultures, where dogs are regarded as domestic pets or working animals.
The outrage over eating Shark stems mainly from one dish in particular: shark fin soup. The delicacy is extremely popular in mainland China and Taiwan, and shark finning is regularly practiced to keep up with the demand for this dish. Sharks are caught, their fins cut off and then dropped back into the water still alive where the animals suffocate or are eaten by predators. Gordon Ramsay filmed a documentary for Channel 4 in 2011 called Shark Bait, which exposed the inhumanity and wastefulness of shark finning. After tasting shark fin soup for himself, Ramsay said the fin itself was bland and flavorless.
Disturbing as it may theme, there have actually been numerous recent instances where human meat has been eaten – and we’re not talking about murderous serial killers here. In 2012, an asexual Japanese man called Mao Sugiyama voluntarily had his genitals cut off so he could serve them to 22 guests who had paid nearly $1,000 USD for the “privilege” to eat his nether regions; he served them topped with parsley and mushrooms.
In 2011, Canadian comedian Kenny Hotz attempted to legally become a cannibal for his TV show Triumph of the Will; Hotz ate a ground up mixture off fingernails and baby teeth from his friends and also drank their donated blood. He even ate a human placenta and umbilical cord donated by one of his fans, which was then cooked three ways by Toronto chef Matty Matheson. Cannibalism, the practice of consuming human body parts, is not only taboo but is illegal worldwide, and elicits a profound sense of disgust almost universally.