Casu Marzu, Italy
It amazes us that the country which invented pizza, lasagna and tiramisu could ever come up with Casu Marzu. Translated in the local Sardinian dialect, casu marzu means rotten cheese, although even ‘rotten’ seems to be a tad inadequate. Ever thought of leaving a roll of goat cheese outside so that flies can lay eggs in it and its larvae ferment it to piquant perfection? Oh you really should! Maggot cheese is a specialty in this delightful island off the western coast of Italy, and although the product was banned for a few years (why on earth, we wonder?!) it has recently been labelled a ‘traditional food of cultural importance’ and is now widely available. Sometimes, UNESCO has a lot to answer for… Pick the maggots off before you eat it or do as the locals do and eat the whole damn thing. But beware…if the maggots survive the whole digestion bit they can burrow into your intestines and live happily ever after. Buon appetito!
Casu Marzu, one of Italy’s strange foods! Wikicommons: Sharden
Rocky mountain oysters, US
When you first set your eyes on a delicious looking tray of mountain oysters, battered, crumbed and deep fried, you’d be forgiven for thinking this won’t be all that bad. Except it will be…because in certain parts of the United States (primarily Montana, Colorado, Arizona and anywhere else hardy cowboys live) ‘mountain oysters’ are none other than bull’s testicles. Yes, you read that right. Still want a side-serve of cocktail sauce to dip yours in? Although it must be said that in this case, the culinary practice arose from a needed veterinary castration practice of farmed animals. Waste not, want not!
Rocky Mountain Oysters Flickr: Jan Go
Ox penis, China
If you think Americans are the only ones who consume copious amounts of animal genitalia, boy are you in for a surprise! Ox penises are a delicacy in China and said to improve virility, although, obviously, not for the ox in question. Often found cooked in elaborate soups or simply frilled and served with a side of soy, ox are only one of several ‘members’ profusely used in Asian cooking. Donkey, yak, sheep, snake and deer are also featured extensively in dedicated menus. Head to Beijing and book a table at Guolizhuang Restaurant and you’ll have the enviable chance of trying them ALL! Num num
Ox Penis Flickr: Joey
Wasp Crackers, Japan
There’s only one thing worse than mistaking a sultana cookie for a chocolate cookie. And that’s mistaking a WASP cookie for a chocolate cookie! Head to Omachi in Japan and delight your taste buds on a delectable wasp cookie. It is said to give you a culinary buzz, although the fact that the wasps retain their nasty stingers during the cooking process, do take that in the most literal sense possible. Yes, it may sound crazy to add some wicked insect to your cookie dough, yet when you consider that you’re talking about a country whose most famous delicacy can actually KILL you (the pufferfish), a wasp cookie to go with your cup of tea starts to sounds a little lame.
Japanese Wasp Cracker Wikicommons: Foodfanatic83
Ice cream lovers of the world unite, for we have found a mouth-watering gelato made with seal oil, reindeer fat, fresh snow and berries! Yummy! Oh…wait…made with what??!! Hey, we’ve all been guilty of using whatever’s in the pantry in times of need, but Eskimos seem to have taken that to a revolting extreme. This recipe dates back thousands of years and is as culturally embedded in Alaskan culture as dog sledding and salmon fishing. Top up your bowl, serve with some hot chocolate fudge sauce and you’ll certainly be in for an unforgettable culinary experience. Our only question is: who in their right mind would be THAT desperate for ice cream?
Akutaq in Alaska Wikicommons: Matyáš Havel
Baby mice wine, China and Korea
Unsurprisingly, this recipe is said to have many beneficial effects for the consumer, although we assume this is only true if you actually manage to hold your liquor down. We’re not sure what’s worse here…the taste of the fermented rice wine, or the knowledge that the barely-born mice are actually bottled alive and left to drown in the concoction. If you don’t mind the taste of unrefined petroleum then you ought to have an easy time of downing a shot of this one. If you find this to your liking, then the next obvious step would be to upgrade your drink to a snake rice wine. Bottoms up!
Mouse Fetus Wine Flickr: Scott Edmunds
Bat soup, Western Africa
Found mostly on the tables of West Africa, this incredulous soup is thought to be behind the recent Ebola outbreak and government officials have taken the unprecedented step of actually banning it. This can only be good news, we imagine. Bats are not only served in soups, but also grilled to a crisp and stir fried with vegetables. The Toma and Guerze people of Guinea have been consuming bats since time immemorial, yet considering the fact that they also eat monkeys and rats one would assume the risk of diseases spreading is considerable nonetheless. Alas, this is not so, as bats are one of only a few animals which can carry zoonotic diseases, which readily jump in between species. Best steer clear of this we thinketh.
Bat Soup Photo – Shughai
Even the most dedicated seafood lover will struggle with a serving of rotten, fermented shark carcass, which has been buried for weeks, hung to dry for months and then served alongside a shot of very strong liquor. Apparently, the latter is an absolute must and that settles our argument. The only way to eat hakarl and to actually enjoy it is to show up at the dinner table drunk as a skunk. World-renowned chef Anthony Bourdain fervently declared that this unappealing dish was “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he’d ever tried, so we may just take his word for it and move right along.
Hakarl Flickr: Audrey
Kumis, Central Asia
Fermented mare’s milk is hideous enough, yet what’s worse is that if you travel through any country in Central Asia, it is nay impossible to avoid. The stuff is drunk everywhere and at any time of day, so getting out of trying it (at least 273 times on a month-long trip) is a futile endeavour. Although commercial production of this drink is made by using cow’s milk, nomadic tribes still make their own stash using authentic mare’s milk and are so proud of their efforts they absolutely insist all foreign visitors drink copious amounts of it. How nice of them. Kumis tastes like a sour yoghurt-off beer mix and, unfortunately, the alcohol content is not remotely high enough to make you forget all about the taste.
Kumis Photo – The Thought Spot
Tuna eye balls, Japan
Some people get totally freaked out when eating a whole fish, and must cover the fish’s eyes with a napkin before proceeding to feast. Well imagine how these poor souls would cope with eating a dish that was made up entirely of giant eyeballs! Tuna eye balls can be found staring up at you from selected gourmet supermarkets in Japan and are said to be an acquired taste, which could be the understatement of the year. If you can’t bear to cook it yourself, then look for maguro no medama-ni on restaurant menus and expect to be served a steamy bowl of tuna eye ball stew.