Food is an awesome aspect of each and every one of our lives that unites people from different parts of the world and allows us to experience a significant part of various cultures. Believe it or not, it’s also a great way to learn about the history of whole countries and get a feel for what life was like over decades, centuries and even millennia. Food isn’t just about keeping our bodies alive and getting us through the day – it’s way, way more.
Food is a science, it’s a culture, it’s a social phenomenon and even an institution. There are great things about it and today it’s becoming a more and more popular topic, with people growing more willing to try new dishes, experience wider ranges of flavor and enrich their palates by tasting foreign and unfamiliar foods from different countries.
No matter how you look at it, we cannot ignore how important this vital piece of our lives is in more ways than one. However, as enriching and as educational (not to mention pleasurable) the process of eating your way through life is – there can still be some pretty disturbing stops along the way.
There are undeniable cooking terrors out there that weren’t simply the result of an accident or someone’s mistake in the kitchen. We’re talking about foods that have been eaten for a long time and have become inherent parts of whole cultures, yet to the rest of the world seem like something horrible gone wrong. This list is about the top fifteen foods out there that go beyond disgusting, but are still consumed on a regular basis. Are you ready for this? Because we sure weren’t.
15. Fruit Bat Soup
We’ve all had that one Halloween-crazed friend, who will put bats and spiders everywhere and anywhere around the time of the eerie holiday, just to scare their friends. Well, there’s no joke here and no intention to celebrate Halloween in Guam – they put bats in their soup with no other desire than to eat them. And they do! But what makes this whole dish all the more gruesome is the fact that the bat is actually served… whole. And that’s not an exaggeration on our part either – there is literally no preparation done on the bat itself whatsoever. It is cooked pretty much in the same shape and form as it had been caught: skin, bones, fur – the whole package. People in Guam aren’t too pretentious when it comes to eating, so all that is added are some veggies and coconut milk. The whole thing is boiled and bon appetite!
But to spice things up a bit, you won’t simply be done with having to down an entire fruit bat. You might also end up getting Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease, to name only a few of the possibilities, as a direct result of this delicious feast, because these bats are known to feed on plants that are toxic to humans.
14. Live Witchetty Grub
Whole creatures too much for you to stomach? How about you try eating one that’s alive! In the vast deserts of Australia, where food is a luxury to begin with, the Aborigines had to eat whatever they could find in order to survive and pretty much everything went – worms included, even the four inch long ones. And where food is sparse, so are cooking utensils, so the large wood-eating larvae were consumed as is, no prep work needed. Not to mention that these thick, white worms are a very good source of protein. But over time this practice of eating live witchetty grub has evolved to become a sort of rite of passage and is even offered on the menu of fancy restaurants as a local delicacy. The grub is chewed until it stops moving in your mouth (still reading?), which is when it is considered dead and you can then swallow it. Those, who have had the joy of partaking in the experience, noted that the fatty caterpillar tastes like scrambled eggs. Yum!
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, you’re definitely in for a treat! This delicacy of the north is also one that has officially been banned from a whole number of airlines due to the danger of its… smell. Surströmming is Baltic herring that is fermented for several months and is a traditional Swedish dish. It is sold in cans and the reason why it is banned from airplanes is because if the can were to potentially explode, the passengers and crew would be exposed to the world’s most putrid smelling food, which may or may not lead to a crash. Don’t believe us? Try opening one for yourself. The stench is considered to be so awful that it is typically only eaten outdoors and it is recommended that the can of fermented herring be opened underwater, to weaken the overwhelming odor. To be fair to this classic Nordic dish, though, it doesn’t taste anywhere near as bad as it smells.
12. Sea Urchin Gonads
And not just any gonads, mind you, and not just of any sea urchin. The sea creature is expected to be alive and its privates are to be no less than squirming and pulsating as you chew down on them. Stay with us, it gets better. The people, who might try to convince you to delve into a living, moving ball of needles for its gonads, say that sea urchins have neither a nervous system, nor a brain, hence they won’t feel any pain and probably won’t even realize what’s happening to them. As far as arguments for eating something as gross-looking as an urchin go, this one is hardly all that convincing, but at least it makes the whole thing seem a bit less barbaric. As you might guess, this dish calls Japan home, but you won’t have to fly all the way to the distant island nation for a bite of some delicious urchin gonads – you’re likely to be offered some in a lavish seafood restaurant in your own city, too!
11. Sourtoe Cocktail
So, speaking of closer to home, Canada has its very own frighteningly disgusting beverage called the Sourtoe cocktail and it is called that because it features a sour toe. A sour, human toe. For the sake of accuracy, however, it’s a salted toe. The drink was established in the early 70s in Dawson City and the first toe to form the tradition apparently belonged to a miner, who had lost it to frostbite back in the 20s. The toe was amputated and kept in a jar, until one day, half a century later, a man brought it to the local saloon and started putting it in people’s glasses to see who would have the courage to drink from them. Talk about drinking games. Seven years after this lovely tradition was established, the toe was tragically swallowed, but the Sourtoe Cocktail club lives on with a different toe, which has been dehydrated and preserved in salt. To those willing to degustate, one rule applies: your lips have to touch the toe. Bottoms up!
10. Blood Clams
Though you may not have heard of these yet, they’re closer to the Western world and have actually even risen to the status of a trend. Originally a Chinese delicacy, this eerie-sounding dish puts a gory twist to the boring, bland old raw clam eating practice. Because who simply pours raw calm into their mouths these days, right? Need to add something to that, like… blood! This clam species produces large amounts of hemoglobin, which is responsible for the rich, crimson fluid that set these clams apart from any others. And this also apparently adds to their distinct taste, which makes eating these sea creatures worthwhile.
There’s also a special way they’re supposed to be prepared in. Unlike some of the previous entries in this list, this dish is actually thoroughly cooked – for a grand total of twenty seconds. Yes, you’re not allowed to boil them even a second longer, else you risk spoiling the taste. Did we mention that you have about a fifteen percent chance of contracting hepatitis after eating these? Yeah. Which is also why they’re illegal back in China.
9. Beating Cobra Heart
Yup. As if eating the heart of deadly, venomous snake weren’t gruesome enough, we would also like it to still be beating, please. If you happen to be visiting Vietnam and think you can stomach this rare ‘treat’, be sure to ask for the best local snake restaurant. Once there, you will be offered to pick your own snake out, which, as exerts assure, should be the meanest, baddest snake of the batch. After you’ve picked out your hissing meal, you will be escorted to your seat, followed by two waiters, carrying the cobra. The waiters here like to put on a show, it would appear, so the snake’s head will be chopped off in front of you, after which the venom is drained into a bottle, where the blood of the now dead cobra is then added. Following this grotesque display, the heart is then placed in a glass of blood and venom, which you will be expected to pour into your mouth. It’s likely that you will feel the heart beating, as you swallow it.
8. Rotten Shark
If you don’t want your food to still be wriggling around inside you after you’ve eaten it, why not go to the other end of the spectrum and eat decaying flesh instead? Hákarl is the name of this incredibly appetizing dish and has traditionally been eaten in Iceland for centuries now. The dish consists of the fermented and dried meat of a species of sleeper shark and is pretty much the go-to food of Iceland, eaten year round across the country and readily available in any store. The meat is actually treated this way, because raw Greenland shark meat (the main species used to prepare this dish) just so happens to be poisonous to humans. The fermentation process can take up to 12 weeks, after which the meat is hung in strips to dry for several months. Much like the fermented herring listed here, this delicacy reeks of the most ungodly things you can think of, but tastes substantially less horrific.
7. Sheep’s Head
This dish is actually found in many parts of the world with slight variations. For the sake of consistency, we’ll be looking at the way people consume sheep heads in Northern Europe, Iceland and Norway in particular. The head is boiled whole, save for the fur and the brain, which are removed, after which everything is consumed. In Norway, this would traditionally take place just before Christmas – what better way to celebrate? It’s said that this dish originated in times, when food was scarce and people couldn’t afford to throw away any parts of their livestock, so they did their best to make the most out of the carcass. If you’re interested in Viking cuisine, we recommend you save the eyeballs and the tongue for last – they are thought of as the most delicious part of the meal.
6. Mongolian Boodog
Unlike most of the foods listed here that are either alive or have been pickled, this dish requires some craftsmanship from the cook or cooks as it were. In fact, this is probably one of the most remarkable cooking methods you will ever come across and it is reserved only for special occasions. The Mongolian Boodog is a dish, consisting of goat or marmot, which is cooked within itself. Let us explain. The animal is first carefully skinned, as the skin will later be used to play the role of a cooking pot. Afterwards, the carcass is deboned, starting with the legs that are broken and then taken out. The skin is then used to form a sack, which is stuffed with smooth, hot stones and maybe some vegetables. Following this tedious procedure, the meat is then put back into the skin – kind of re-assembling the goat, if you like – and is let to cook from the inside out. The outside of the skin is then blowtorched to get rid of the fur and there you have it – a proper Mongolian barbecue.
5. Moose Nose
And since we’re into various animal body parts, it would be a crime not to include the Alaskan delicacy – jellied moose nose. We’ll guess it’s the same principle as is with other northern treats we’ve mentioned: when there’s not much tastiness around to sink your teeth in, you’ll just have to work with what you have at your disposal. And in Alaska that would be moose. So why not boil the heck out of its nose and see what happens? Because that is exactly how this dish is prepared: after you’ve got yourself a nice chunk of moose snout, you boil it until the hair comes off (which you will need to remove, before continuing with your cooking). After that you will continue to boil it until it turns to goo, at which point the surrounding cold will do the rest of the job. Your pot of jelly nose will need to cool for several hours, before you can finally dig in.
4. Fermented Fish Heads
Since we’ve stopped by Alaskan traditional cuisine, we might as well also point out another one of the local delicacies and that is fermented salmon heads. We’re starting to see a pattern here… The way this dish is prepared is remarkable, however. The severed King salmon heads are actually put in wooden or plastic containers (even food bags will do the trick) and then buried under ground. The fish heads are then forgotten for several weeks, until they’re just the right amount of rotten and decomposed, after which they are collected and eaten.
3. Maggot Cheese
Enough with animals – let’s move on to some vegetarian dishes, for they, too, can be just as abhorrent, as their more lively counterparts. Presenting casu marzu or ‘rotten cheese’. This is a traditional Sardinian pecorino cheese (made of sheep’s milk), which was apparently not good enough as it was, so the thoughtful folks in Sardinia decided to introduce cheese fly maggots to it and, well… spice it up a bit.
The cheese is typically let outside with part of it removed, making room for the cheese fly to lay eggs in. Now, one fly can lay up to 500 eggs at a time and by the end of the whole fermentation-by-maggot process, the cheese can have several thousands of maggots in it. The point is that the maggots digest the cheese, breaking down its fat, and make it creamier. This food is also considered by locals to be an aphrodisiac, but be sure to only eat it with live maggots inside! Dead maggots indicate a spoiled product.
2. Live Monkey Brains
This here is a fancy delicacy, not for those faint of heart. Or stomach. It will also cost you a pretty penny to indulge in, so make sure to save up if you’re willing to test yourself with this monstrous dish, and you might find it difficult to come across, as well. The practice of serving live monkey brains has been banned in China, which is one of the very few places you can get hold of this dish and with good reason. The monkey’s head is placed above the surface of the table, while its body is trapped beneath it. The customer is then to eat the brain straight out of the screaming animal’s head and unsurprisingly, not everyone ends up being able to go through with the process.
1. Rotten Birds
More rot! In our humble opinion, this traditional Inuit dish from Greenland called Kiviaq by all means takes the cake in our list of sickening foods. It’s another one of the foods that are left to tend to themselves, only this one takes the longest by far to reach readiness – 18 months! A hollowed out seal carcass is stuffed with some five hundred little auks (a bird species), after which is sewn shut and sealed with seal fat, to keep flies out. If you ever decide to make this yourself, be sure to leave the birds intact – beaks, feathers and talons – this is all meant to gradually liquify over the course of the next year and a half, in order to make the perfect birthday or wedding meal.