These days, people consider the process of ingesting food as more than the restoration of depleted energy reserves. Like most of our primal urges, we’ve turned the life-sustaining act of eating into a hobby from which we derive great pleasure; we eat to socialize, we eat because we’re bored, heck, we eat because we love to eat (the fact that in so doing we’re kept alive is a happy coincidence).
As much as I might loathe the term, there’s a foodie in all of us – a foodie whose appetite for new and exotic flavors cannot be sated; and when our palates have run the gamut of our own cuisine, it’s to those exotic flavors we inevitably turn.
While one can set out to experience a great many unusual dessert dishes from every corner of the globe, not all are worthy of culinary praise; in fact, there are desserts out there that just might scare the foodie right out of you.
14. Maeng Da
Admittedly, most of the world does in fact enjoy eating a nice crispy bug. According to the United Nations, insects are chock-full of energy boosting protein – making them a staple in the diet of millions of people. Western sensibilities however, view the eating of any type of creepy crawly as something to abhor – the thought of picking exoskeleton from one’s teeth or dislodging a mandible or thorax from one’s throat does very little to entice tourists who visit Thailand to partake of one the country’s infamous desserts: Maeng Da.
A large water bug that calls Thailand’s many waterways its home, Maeng Da is served street side – fried or boiled – and of course, lightly salted. Enjoying a bag/portion of Maeng Da is certainly not without its challenges. First, you have to bring yourself to actually touch them (which in and of itself is no small feat). But before you can consume this particular snack, both the inedible wings and head must be ripped from the body, an act that surely does wonders for one’s appetite.
This versatile Chinese delicacy is both a standalone dessert, and a key ingredient in several other dishes across China. Often referred to as frog fat, Hasma is the result of painstakingly extracting the fatty tissue located near the fallopian tubes of the Asiatic Grass Frog. If that doesn’t make you want to grab a fork and start chowing down, it gets better. While dried Hasma is typically consumed as a pastry, this unusual ingredient can also be boiled with rock sugar until it reaches a decidedly unappealing gelatinous texture. In this form, it’s used to sweeten many Chinese soups.
Escamoles – to the layman, fried ant larvae. I’ve heard tell that ants can possess a number of interesting flavors, from citrus to peanut. And as much as I think I might be able to entertain the idea of snacking on a handful of lemony ants, when it comes to the insect’s larval form and indulging my culinary curiosity, I have to draw a line in the sand.
This traditional Mexican dish is made using the eggs of the Liometopum ant which are carefully harvested from the root systems of the agave and maguey plants that dot the Mexican landscape. What makes the harvesting process so perilous is that the Liometopum ant packs one heck of a venomous bite, and has no qualms about defending their colony from uninvited guests. If you can look past the juicy explosions that are sure to accompany this Mexican dish, you might be surprised by the egg’s buttery and nutty flavor; if you’re brave enough to try it, that is.
11. Fried Tarantulas
If there’s anything more terrifying than a giant spider, it’s putting a giant (albeit dead and fried) spider in your mouth. Tarantulas, known primarily as hairy beasts capable of felling birds and ambushing lizards – not to mention responsible for spawning nightmares that last a lifetime, are considered quite the delectable amuse-bouche in Cambodia. A tantalizing snack (the origins of which remain a matter of debate), fried tarantulas are about the size of the human palm, and represent a very economic meal at only eight scents a pop.
10. Wasabi Ice Cream
Ah, ice cream. Surely there’s no need to fear when ice cream is involved; unless of course you have an aversion to your tongue being seared by the unforgiving heat courtesy of the wasabi plant. Flavor wise, wasabi ice cream really can be an acceptable dessert, often prepared by using wasabi paste, vanilla, cream and maybe some nuts for added texture. That being said, there’s a reason why Ben & Jerry’s panoply of ice cream flavors fails to include wasabi – masochism and ice cream seldom go hand in hand.
9. Horse Meat Ice Cream
With all the whacky ice cream flavors out there, I couldn’t simply include the fiery hell that is wasabi ice cream on our journey of questionable desserts. Spicy ice cream might be awful enough to dissuade the average culinary adventurer from deviating from the tried and true flavors offered up by their local DQ, but what about meat flavored frozen treats? Specifically, I’m talking about horse meat ice cream – surely such an abomination doesn’t exist?
A popular dessert in Japan, you’ll find this Seabiscuit inspired creation nestled snugly in the supermarket’s freezer between octopus and squid ink flavored ice cream – both of which are flavors that are equally gobbled up by Japan’s children once they’ve cleaned their dinner plates. Should you happen to find yourself on the other side of the Pacific, feel free to have a double scoop of this horse meat treat – and rest easy knowing that once you return home, you’ll never be subjected to it ever again.
8. Casu Marzu
Okay I admit – Casu Marzu doesn’t exactly fall into the realm of desserts, but it’s nasty all the same. So nasty in fact, I felt obliged to add it to the list. Casu Marzu, a delicacy born on the island of Sardinia, is a sheep milk cheese that’s purposely infested with live insect larva (read stomach churning maggots). This version of an Italian pecorino cheese has been thoroughly enjoyed on the island for time untold – the “perfected” recipe passed down from generation to generation. Once cured, the cheese is sliced open and left in a cool dark hut where thousands of flies procreate and lay eggs containing their ravenous hellspawn all over the rotting cheese. It’s not until the maggots have hatched, gorged and defecated all over the cheese, that this particularly festive food is deemed ready for human consumption.
7. Bull Testicle Pie
For reasons unclear to sane people, bull testicles are considered to be an aphrodisiac, which seems to make them the perfect pie filling for one of Europe’s fav Valentine’s day treats. As uncomfortable as it makes me, bull testicles are sliced and eaten around the world due to their high levels of testosterone that reportedly boosts the “sexual vigor” of the one consuming them. While I’m eternally grateful that testicle pie is a seasonal dessert, chowed upon in honor of Cupid’s birthday, I’d like to give a word of advice to those in charge of marketing this sexy dessert: include some complimentary breath mints with this nasty pie; for as much as bull testicles may get lovers in the mood, the resulting halitosis will certainly have the opposite effect.
6. Bacon Jell-O
Yes, someone has actually taken the time to create this punishing desert. Don’t get me wrong, bacon is delicious and Jell-O has its moments (even though it’s basically bones and hooves that have been crushed and mixed with pseudo-flavors), but should the two really be combined? I get it – there’s a pervasive culinary trend right now which has compelled chefs to introduce bacon into every possible facet of cooking. I’m all for bacon cupcakes and chocolate covered bacon – hell, give me bacon massage oil and I’ll happily use it – but bacon Jell-O? Unless you can guarantee that bacon will stay crispy in its gelatinous cocoon, I’m not biting.
5. Candied Cocks Combs
Cocks combs are eaten the world over, in spite of their unappealing appearance. Candied cocks combs (say that five times fast) is a dish that was developed in the United States and involves braising the cocks comb until it has the consistency of a gummy candy. There is likely more to this recipe, though I couldn’t quite bring myself to research it any further. One thing is for certain though, I’ll never look at gummy bears or Foghorn Leghorn the same way again.
4. Sauerkraut Cupcakes
While the pungent flavor of sauerkraut does wonders to elevate a street meat sausage after a ball game, this is one favor profile that simply does not belong in a cupcake. I totally get that weird and unconventional cupcakes are all the rage these days, thanks to popular Food Network shows like Cupcake Wars, but come on – would you really line up and rave about spiced and pickled cabbage flavored desserts?
3. Durian… Anything
For anyone unsure of what a durian fruit is, it’s a very beautiful, spiky, tropical fruit that is often praised for its flavor. The problem is, and this is why most people will shy away from using them, is that the pulp within the fruit smells completely rancid. We’re talking public transit levels of reek. In fact, they smell so bad, the stench will likely be imprinted in your olfactory memory for the rest of your life. If you’re still feeling adventurous after this crystal clear warning, head on down to the grocery store and pick one up – but know that it’s a ticking stink bomb waiting to assault your senses. Prepared properly though, they’re apparently quite tasty.
2. Jellied Moose Nose
I know that I’ve disparaged most of the objectionable delicacies on this list and in so doing, I’ve implied that I’d never willingly consume any of them – but in all fairness, if I was faced with a life or death situation and my survival depended on my ability or willingness to eat any of these “food” items, I would in a heart beat; unless of course, I came face to face with a jellied moose nose.
A staple in the diet of Canada’s indigenous population for hundreds of years, jellied moose nose is a dish that may very well be delicious, but psychologically gives me great pause – simply because the thought of eating anything’s nose is about as appealing as eating any other secreting organ.
Preparation of this dish requires the upper jaw be remove and boiled – a process that aids the removal of the animal’s hair. Once plucked free of nose hairs, the meat is placed in a kettle and boiled again – this time with onions, garlic and a special blend of spices – until the meat is tender. Yeah, this is one I’ll have to pass on.
1. Pig’s Blood Cake
Arguably, I’ve saved the “best” for last. You’d think a cake this unique would be reserved for special occasions, but you’d be wrong. In fact, pig’s blood cake is a snack that you can purchase from innumerable street vendors all over Taiwan. Obviously, this isn’t your typical flour and sugar based cake; the main ingredient here is freaking BLOOD. If this ingredient alone hasn’t made you file pig’s blood cake under “nope” for things you’d like to try, consider adding this dessert to your bucket list; as for me, I’ll stick to Cheetos and two-bite brownies as my dessert of choice.
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