Surströmming (Sweden). If you don’t think this is gross then you are either an absolute mental case or a hardened Swede. A tasty sounding little number from Scandinavia, surströmming is fermented canned fish, usually herring. Herring is placed in a barrel with about half the salt needed to cure it, so rather than curing it putrefies. After a month or so of rotting in a barrel it’s canned in containers specially designed to expand as the fermentation process continues. The smell is so unbelievably disgusting that it is banned on numerous airlines for fear it could be used for acts of terrorism.
To eat, the can is usually opened underwater and the fish thoroughly rinsed before being served up with onions or sliced potatoes on toast, sometimes with a form of sour cream. The stench is considered so foul that a can should never be opened indoors. A Japanese study has suggested that upon opening a can of this Swedish delight you can expect to be met with the most putrid smelling food in the whole world. Unsurprisingly this is something of an acquired taste.
Escamoles (Mexico). Escamoles sometimes known as insect caviar, are the eggs or larvae of the giant black Liometopum ant. These bugs make their homes in the root systems of maguey and agave plants in Mexico. They are considered somewhat of a delicacy with a cottage cheese like texture and buttery, nutty taste that is surprisingly pleasant. What isn’t pleasant is collecting the eggs.
To procure the escamoles men must dig as far as two foot into the ground to get to a larvae nest. The bite of these ants is particularly painful and they have a real blood lust for invaders of their nests, their highly venomous bite is not easily avoided and makes their collection a fairly extreme job. Escamoles are most popularly eaten in Tacos with a side of guacamole and a screw loose.
Casu marzu (Italy). Run away screaming now! This Pecorino cheese from the Sardinia region of Italy is a perfectly good sheep’s milk cheese with the small addition of live freaking maggots! The kings of decomposition, fly larvae (Piophila casei), burrow into the cheese digesting the fat solids and leave behind a weeping, stinky abomination oozing liquid known as lagrima. Even the cheese itself knows what an atrocity it is; lagrima is Sardinian for “tears”. Some may call the process advanced fermentation it’s fair to say it is extensively rotting cheese.
Casu marzu is considered toxic when the maggots in the cheese have died. So only cheese with live maggots is eaten. It also holds the unique title of being the only cheese with a need for eye protection. The maggots are able to launch themselves out of the putrid cheese about 6 inches into the air! And if that’s not bad enough the taste alone is so awful it can burn the tongue! Still not put off? If the larvae are not carefully chewed until they are dead, they can pass undigested, and unaffected by stomach acids, into the digestive tracks. They can survive long enough to breed!
Still not worried? The little buggers have mouth-hooks powerful enough to lacerate stomach linings or intestinal walls to bore through internal organs and cause vomiting and bloody diarrhoea and that’s if you’re lucky! The Cheese is so terrible it is outlawed! The only place in the world people -want to eat the stuff and its bloody illegal! If that doesn’t speak volumes I don’t know what does. Nevertheless the local delicacy is readily available on the local black-market although it may set you back a few Euros.
Baby Mice Wine (China). I’ll give you three guesses what this is… no it’s not wine made specifically for consumption by baby mice and ‘Baby Mice’ is unfortunately not a brand name. Last guess?…Baby Mice wine is essentially wine with baby mice in it, but not just in it, they are plucked from their mothers teat, tossed in the wine alive, drowned and left to ferment for a year!
What’s the difference between this wine and ‘Echo Falls, White Zinfandel’? Well Echo Falls doesn’t have a pile of dead babies in the bottom for starters. Perhaps that’s a good thing, I mean it doesn’t sound particularly appetising and after consumption you’re even supposed to eat the poor little things. But then again what are the health benefits of the ‘Come Dine with Me’ sponsor? Supposedly nothing in comparison to its Chinese mousy counterpart. The beverage is believed to be a cure-all health tonic used to tackle asthma and liver disease amongst other serious ailments.
So as the mother mouse sobs uncontrollably at the loss of her precious babies and watches their lifeless bodies bob around the bottom of a bottle of rice wine at least she can take some comfort in the thought their deaths will not be in vain, because they’ll go on to cure the world! Or at least the few people mad enough to drink this concoction.
Deep Fried Tarantula (Cambodia). In the market town of Skuon tourists may indulge themselves in a local delicacy, fried spider. Made from tarantula about the size of a human palm the snack is made with spiders bred in holes specifically for eating or with spiders foraged from nearby forestland. The critters are then deep fried in oil. It is unclear how this practice started but it is widely believed to have come about out of desperation, when food was in short supply, during the years of Khmer Rouge rule.
The taste has been described as somewhere between chicken and cod and not dissimilar to crab meat. The texture is crispy-chewy with a crunchy outside and tender middle. Also there is a black/brown greasy juice that comes out of the abdomen, this could be a mix of organs, eggs and even poo… sounds like it’s about as appealing as it looks then.
Kopi Luwak (Indonesia and the Philippines). Reported to be the best tasting coffee in the world, Kopi Luwak is certainly the most expensive and least produced variety of coffee on the planet. So what makes it so special? Is it made from a particularly rare type of coffee bean? Does it go through some ancient, secret process of preparation? Well it definitely goes through a process of sorts but perhaps if you were going to drink it you’d rather not know.
Kopi Luwak is made from the excrement of the Civet (a small cat-sized mammal). Yep, you read right, it’s made from poo. Wild civets eat only the finest red coffee berries and then defecate the beans whole and undigested. They are then harvested, thoroughly washed and lightly roasted as not to destroy the complex flavours. Sold almost exclusively to the US and Japan this coffee can sell for anything between $120 and $600 per pound!
Jellied Moose Nose (Alaska). This Traditional Alaskan classic is almost exactly as it sounds, the snout meat of moose preserved in jelly. If you fancy making this little number yourself you’ll firstly have to acquire a moose’s face. Proceed to cut the upper jaw bone just below the eyes before placing it in a large pan of scalding water, leave your snout to boil for 45 minutes. Remove and chill in cold water. De-hair your chunk of moose nose and wash thoroughly; the last thing you want is for guest to find a hair on their plate. Place the nose back in the pan and cover with fresh water adding onion, garlic, spices and vinegar to taste, simmer until the meat is tender then let it cool overnight. Next morning you should wake up to a nicely cooled moose snout, remove the meat from the broth, and discard the bones and cartilage. There’ll be both dark and light meat from the different parts of the upper jaw. Thinly slice the meat and alternate layers of white and dark meat in a loaf tin. Final steps now… reheat the broth till boiling then pour over the meat in the loaf tin. Let the whole thing cool until the jelly has set. Slice and serve cold. Mmm… moose nostrils!
Kumis (Central Asia). Although not strictly a food, the drink, Kumis, still deserves a place in this list for its most definite weirdness. Essentially it is a sort of mouldy, fizzy, alcoholic milk made from the secretions of a female horse. Kumis is made by fermenting raw unpasteurized mare’s milk. The process can take anything between a few hours and a few days and is often done while stirring or churning in a similar fashion to making butter. During the fermentation, lactobacilli bacteria increase the acidity of the milk, and yeasts turn it into a carbonated and mildly alcoholic drink. It has been described as “Milk Champagne”. It is regarded as being a highly nutritious health drink with the unfortunate side effect of being quite a powerful laxative, so if you manage to keep this revolting beverage down it won’t be long before you’re running for the loo.
Corn Smut (Mexico). Another strange offering from our Central American friends in Mexico, Corn Smut, you know from the name this is not going to be good. Wait until you hear what the Mexicans call it! ‘Huitlacoche’ is a Nahuatl word believed to mean ‘Raven’s Poo’, well that sounds lovely. Fortunately it isn’t actually the droppings of ravens but it is still pretty terrible. Corn Smut refers to a disease of maize!
The infection can affect any part of the plant but usually enters the ovaries causing the kernels of the cobs to grow grey mushroom-like tumours. It’s like cancer for corn. Amazingly in Mexico it is considered a delicacy and is sold for a higher price than healthy corn. When cooked it is said to have a flavour which is not dissimilar to mushroom. It is sweet, savoury, woody, and earthy.
Century egg (China). The Chinese are popping up again. They really do have some odd tastes. A far cry from what you’d expect to see adorning your local takeaway’s menu. Century egg or Pidan refers to duck, chicken or quail eggs preserved in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime, and rice straw for anything between several weeks and several months.
The result is a dark green creamy textured yolk, with a strong stench of sulphur and ammonia the same smells you might experience in an enclosed space with a friend whose let rip a silent-but-violent fart. The white on the other hand becomes a dark brown, transparent jelly with little taste or flavour. Century eggs can be eaten as they are, either on their own, as an accompanying dish or chopped and used as an ingredient. The issue is that however you like your Century eggs in the morning you’ll still be eating rotten egg. Personally I’d have my green eggs with ham, Sam I am.