Althea is a creative writer with a love for food and travel and a fondness for weird, wonderful things.
You may have heard the old Tom Robbins quote that started with, "The world is a wonderfully weird place..." and to that specific line I say, spot on. Our world is full of ethnically-diverse people with different traditions, world views and of course, tastes, especially for food. Though we have thoroughly explored the more palatable side of our cuisines, many cultures have trodden far beyond the other side of the spectrum. Get ready, the following ten dishes toe the line between “acquired taste” and “downright strange.”
1. Rocky Mountain Oysters
Let me ease you in and start off with some good ol' deep-fried fare. Rocky Mountain Oysters is a popular dish in most parts of the United States and Canada, where it's called Prairie Oysters. Most people agree that it's a very tasty dish and best enjoyed with fries on the side and a couple bottles of cold beer, preferably during a ball game. Speaking of ball games, these "oysters" are actually made of bull testicles. Yum.
2. Fried Brain Sandwich
The name of this dish is as straight-forward as "Snakes on a Plane." Found mostly on menus in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, this dish is made up of deep-fried, sliced calves' brains sandwiched between two slices of bread. In 2004, the United States officially declared that cow brains over 30 months old are unfit for human consumption and has since been regulated. But aside from St. Louis, Missouri, you can still find restaurants in Evansville, Indiana and at Kissner's in Defiance, Ohio, serving the dish. And though there's always a looming threat of mad cow disease (they also substitute pork brains), fans of the brain sandwich continue to enjoy it.
Haggis is a traditional savoury pudding of Scottish origin. It's made primarily of sheep's pluck, as they call it; or in prose, its internal organs, namely the heart, liver and lungs. It's mixed with a variety of spices and other ingredients such as oatmeal, onion, salt and stock and encased liked a sausage. Traditionally, an animal's stomach is used as its casing, but nowadays, most haggis are artificially encased. Though it doesn't sound or look particularly appetizing, it's a largely popular dish and is best enjoyed with a glass of scotch whisky. Interesting fact, there's actually a sport involving haggis called haggis hurling.
4. Casu Marzu
Most enthusiasts would agree that cheese is better when aged and in the case of some types, moldy. But still for some others, especially in Sardinia, Italy, cheese is best when it's overrun with live maggots. Casu Marzu is a type of cheese that has undergone an advanced level of fermentation with the help of the larvae of the cheese fly, which is intentionally introduced to the concoction. When disturbed, the live maggots tend to jump about 6 inches into the air so some prefer to brush them off first. Because of possible health risks, it was banned for some time by the European Union, from which time it became prominent in the black market. Though the ban has been lifted due to the development of more hygienic preparation methods, its legality is still questionable.
Escamoles have been around in Mexico since the time of the Aztecs. Like most Mexican fare, there are a variety of ways to serve this ancient, native dish. The best way is to pan-fry it in butter and spices and serve it like rice on a plate with guacamole and tortillas. You can also put escamoles in tacos or omelettes. It's very versatile and most would agree that it's very delectable with a nutty flavor. Because of that, it has earned the title of "Caviar of the Dessert."
By the way, it's ant larvae. But don't worry, it's perfectly edible ant larvae.
I don't think there's any way to romanticize Hákarl. It's difficult to eat and to pronounce. It has earned the title of being one of the world's foulest, most disgusting food. Anthony Bourdain himself said that it's the worst thing he has ever eaten. It hails from Iceland, a Nordic island nation that's not really known for their cuisine, and it's actually their national dish. Hákarl is, traditionally, the meat of a Greenland shark (though other sleeper sharks may serve.) Interestingly, fresh Greenland shark meat is poisonous so before it can be deemed edible, you have to ferment it until it's rotten with a strong ammonia scent. It's most commonly served in cubes with toothpicks.
From rotten to fresh, we move on to sannakji from South Korea. It's made of fresh octopus that has been cut into smaller pieces and is usually served drizzled with sesame seeds and oil. If you're a sashimi fan, you would definitely want to try sannakji. It's basically the same thing, except that the octopus is still very much alive. When it's served, all the pieces are still wriggling with life so better take care when eating it because the tentacles' suction pods are still active and can stick to your mouth or worse, your throat. Braver ones prefer the octopus served whole. It's been featured in many ASMR and mukbang videos on Youtube.
Let me say this first: I love balut. I grew up eating it. It's a common street fare in Southeast Asian countries, particularly the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Basically, it's a fertilized duck egg, boiled and eaten in the shell, preferably with a side of salt. Because of its appearance - namely the perfectly preserved boiled chick - it has gained a reputation of being a taboo food and has been featured in shows that intimidate contestants such as Fear Factor, The Amazing Race and Survivor.
Khash is a traditional dish in some Eurasian countries, such as Armenia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Turkey, to name a few. It's a soup-based dish, served hot and usually eaten during cold months. Khash is made by boiling its main ingredient, cow hooves, in water overnight. Other cow parts can be added such as the head and the stomach, but flavoring only happens before you eat it and not during the cooking process. The strangeness of this dish, though, is not from its taste (because it can be very palatable) but from how it looks, often pasty and gelatinous, which most people find less than appealing.
10. Stuffed Camel
Here's one for the books. Of all the dishes in this list, this one is still met with skepticism. It's treated as if it's a myth or an exaggerated folklore because of the absurdity of its preparation. Stuffed camel is said to be a traditional wedding dish of the Bedouin, an Arab ethno-cultural and semi-nomadic group who live in Arabian and Syrian deserts. It holds the record for being the "largest item on any menu in the world" in the Guinness Book of World Records. In a nut shell, the Milwaukee Journal describes the preparation of stuffed camel as such: “Cook eggs. Stuff eggs into fish. Cook the fish. Stuff the fish into cooked chickens. Stuff the cooked chickens into roasted sheep. Stuff the roasted sheep carcass into a whole camel...now cook to taste.”
People are naturally adventurous and as you saw from the list, food is no exception to our appetite for discovery and experimentation. And the world is strange enough that even rotten, colossal and illegal food finds its way to the table. Have you tried any of the dishes in this list? What other bizarre food from around the world do you know? Share it in the comments!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Althea del Barrio
Althea del Barrio (author) from Manila, Philippines on August 25, 2020:
Oh, I'm sorry to make you feel that way, Cynthia. That was not my intention.
Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on August 24, 2020:
Reading this article made me very squeamish and sad for our planet where more and more animals are becoming extinct because of humans' enormous and "celebrated" appetites for unusual flesh foods.