The Most Obscure Meals Around the World
Tong Zi Dan (Virgin Boy Eggs), China
These are just boiled eggs, but instead of water, the urine of young boys is used to boil them. Yes, you read that right. And as if the locals of Donyang cannot get enough of it, the eggs are cracked open and put back in the urine to soak up the flavor. The pungent smelling dish offers health benefits like increasing blood flow. What is truly amazing is the way the urine is collected. Buckets are placed in primary schools and healthy, willing boys are encouraged to pee into them.
If your senses are assaulted by a rancid odor from the restaurant nearby while roaming the streets of Iceland, you have probably found your way to the country’s national dish. Harking back to the Vikings’ attempt to purify the otherwise toxic meat of the Greenland Shark, the Hakarl is prepared by hanging fermented shark meat out to dry (literally!) over a period of several months. Even if you can get past the idea of consuming dried carcass, the strong smell of ammonia is enough to cause incessant hurling. Having said that, this dish is an intrinsic part of Icelandic culture and anyone adventurous enough should give it a try.
The second Friday of October is Peru’s National Guinea Pig Day. Evidently, the people have a huge place for them in their hearts – and their stomach. Cuy is a Peruvian delicacy and it consists of a guinea pig either fried, baked or cooked in a curry. It is popular in the other Andic South American countries as well, and its taste has been compared to that of rabbit. The animal is served in its entirety and even though it is shocking to see a common household pet on a dinner plate, the cuy is said to be the healthiest source of protein.
Even among the plethora of weird edibles found in East Asia, this dish from Japan is quite unique. Akin to cream cheese in its texture, the briny shirako is actually fish semen inside sperm sacs of male cod fish. If people are not grossed out by its origin, the Shirako can be enjoyed either raw on top of sushi or fried in tempura batter. This delicacy is not that much more disgusting than fish eggs, and when in season, it is quite pocket-friendly.
A dense soup with a piquant smell – dishes like these are quite common, especially among cultures that like experimenting with spices. But, what sets the Khash apart is its main ingredient, cow’s feet. The hooves are boiled overnight, without any other seasonings, till the meat is tender and separates itself from the bone. Doesn’t sound too appetizing? You may re-think that because Khash is always served with vodka, and dried Lavash bread (a kind of tandoor flat bread) is crushed and added to it, along with garlic, salt and even peppers on certain occasions.
Fried Tarantulas, Cambodia
Spiders have dominated popular culture for years but in Cambodia, it rules their local cuisine too. During the Khmer Rouge of the 1970s, the Cambodians turned to spiders due to the fierce food shortages. Today however, eating deep-fried tarantulas is a gastronomic delight. They are tossed in salt and sugar before being fried in oil with crushed garlic. The locals say that the best way to eat them is to start with the crunchy legs and then making way to the soft, gooey belly meat. Not only are spiders a great source of protein, Cambodian women believe that they also aid in increasing one’s beauty.
This dessert is a local favorite and is often referred to as Eskimo Ice Cream by non-Alaskan natives. Unlike anything you have ever tasted, this sweet dish is a strange concoction of whipped fat, berries, fish and sugar. Thousands of years ago, people there had come up with this recipe as a method of survival and Akutaq was often carried on hunting trips as a special traveling food. The dish can also be made with moose meat and fat, caribou meat and fat, fish, seal oil and other Alaskan things. Remember Rachel’s infamous English Trifle with beef and jam? This comes quite close to it in its mix of sweet and savory ingredients.
Silkworm pupae that resemble coffee beans in appearance and is a ubiquitous Korean street food. It gained popularity during the Korean War due to its excellent nutritional value and abundant quantity. Silkworms had always been employed in Korea for making silk and so turning to them for sustenance was not that difficult. For most people, the fishy, nutty flavor of Beondegi is an acquired taste. But once you begin to relish the crunchy outer shell and the juicy insides, you can either have them as a savory snack with salt and spices or the candied version with sugar.
Open all the doors and windows to facilitate good ventilation, or go outside the house to savor this deliciously smelly item. Surströmming — Swedish for soured herring – involves the fermenting of Baltic Sea Herrings that are gutted and salted in May and fermented in controlled temperatures until they are ready to be canned in July. The malodor is on account of the various acids created by the bacteria and enzymes. The long shelf life of the fish made it the obvious choice among Swedes. Just like tuna, this canned fish can be consumed in a sandwich using tunnbröd (thin bread) and ingredients like chives, dill and tomatoes to assuage the fetid smell.
Witchetty Grub, Australia
When talking about food that conjures an unsavory image, the Witchetty Grub deserves honorary mention. This is the larvae of a large, grey moth that is commonly found in the roots of the witchetty bush. Rich in assimilated proteins and fats, this food is especially important to women and children. It can either be eaten raw or quickly roasted on burning coals to infuse it with a slight charred flavor reminiscent of popcorn. Munching on this in a movie hall may not be the best idea, but if you are passing through Central Australia, give it a try.
Escargots a la Bourguignonne, France
Escargot or edible snail are cooked in a sauce of white wine, garlic, butter, and parsley and served inside their shells. If you can stomach the slimy mussels or clams, then eating this should be easy. In terms of hygiene, the snails’ digestive tracts are completely divested of all undesirable materials over a period of several days. Like most mollusks, escargots are quite nutritious with 15 percent protein.
As unbelievable and horrifying as it may sound, Balut is indeed a fertilized duck egg, usually between 12 to 20 days old. The egg is boiled and one is expected to scoop out the duck embryo and eat it. Some in the Philippines attribute the consumption of these eggs to a healthy pregnancy, while some also consider it to be an aphrodisiac. It is a cheap source of calcium and protein and was introduced in the Philippines by the Chinese in 1885.
Sannakji, South Korea
If you like raw food with a dramatic flair, then Sannakji is your dish. Most commonly found in Seoul, this dish serves a live young octopus cut into smaller pieces. The best part – the severed tentacles continue to wriggle as you warp them around chopsticks, dip them into sesame oil and pop them into the mouth. The meat is mostly chewy and salty. Despite animal activists protesting the slow, torturous death of the octopus, Sannakji continues to be a popular item on the plates of food experimentalists. In case you have grown up loving Squidward from SpongeBob SquarePants, this dish could successfully ruin your childhood.
Century Egg, China
The name may be an exaggeration, but this Chinese delicacy does toy with the limits of food preservation. The duck egg is preserved for several weeks or months in an alkaline solution, till the shell becomes freckled, the white part turns a viscous brown and the yolk attains a moldy green hue. The taste is similar to that of a hard-boiled egg, but the smell will remind you of the hydrogen sulfide and ammonia from the chemistry labs.
This sashimi dish takes ‘fresh fish’ to a whole new level. The name of the food hints at the way it is made since ikizukuri means ‘prepared alive’. There are different kinds of ikizukuri, such as odori ebo, meaning ‘dancing shrimp’ or similar versions made with fish. The dish relies heavily on the fresh seafood flavors and the accompanying sauces are usually mild.
The process begins with diners choosing the creature from the tank and then is served after the chef removes all the inedible parts. In case of a fish, one can actually see the beating, quivering heart on the plate.
Mopane Worms, Zimbabwe
Despite what the name suggests, mopane is actually a caterpillar of a certain kind of emperor moth species. It is considered a delicacy in certain parts of Southern Africa and boast of high protein, iron and calcium levels. On the streets it is usually sold as dried or smoked, but in high-end restaurants, mopane worms are served with onion, garlic and tomatoes. No matter what the ingredient, the true earthy taste of the caterpillar is quite hard to conceal.
Tuna Eyeball, Japan
Disembodied eyeballs are generally creepy and seeing them on the plate, probably isn’t a carnival ride either. Japanese chefs cook and serve these tennis ball-sized tuna eyeballs as appetizers. Tasters claim that they lack flavor, unless cooked in soy sauce or sesame oil and ginger. The inner squishy part can be easily sucked out like bone marrow. A friendly word of caution: avoid eating them raw as eyeballs are notorious for accumulating bacteria.
This traditional dish is eaten before Christmas and consists of a lamb’s head. The skin of the head is torched and once the brain is removed, the head is salted and dried. It is then boiled or smoked for three hours and served with mashed potatoes. Not that different from the ordinary smoked lamb shank, right? But, this dish can also be served with the brain cooked inside the head that needs to be scooped out with a spoon.
Jellied Moose Nose, Canada and USA
People in Alaska and Northern Canada consider this a rare delicacy. While moose meat is quite common in those parts, the nose was considered inedible until chefs found a way to turn that into a dish. The fur is removed and the nose is sliced and simmered with onions, garlic, and an assortment of other spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice, or mustard seeds. Broth is then added and the entire thing is allowed to refrigerate till it achieves the jelly-like consistency. Although this dish may not be commonly available in restaurants, be on the lookout for local feasts or simply make some at home.
By now we are quite certain that China is home to some of the weirdest dishes in the world, and so this exotic dessert should not come as a surprise. The Hasma is made from the dried fatty tissues found near the fallopian tubes of frogs. These irregular, flat pieces are added to sweet soups made with rock sugar to enhance taste and texture.
Bird’s Nest Soup, China
Want to spend $100 on a bowl of soup? Then do so in China. Made from the hardened saliva of swiftlet birds, this controversial dish has been a part of Chinese cuisine since the Ming Dynasty.
The soup is known to increase vitality, life-span and libido! The last reason is possibly why people are willing to part with a considerable amount of money to ingest this sticky soup, which is quite devoid of flavor.
Lutefisk, Scandanavia and USA
Stockfish such as cod is brined in lye and once the corrosive solution has been removed, it is steamed. Even though at this point the fish begins to flake, the texture continues to remain glutinous. Butter sauce is the best option when serving Lutefisk. This dish became a Christmas tradition due to Catholic restriction on meats while fasting and people turned to fish as the preferred food item.
Mosquito Eggs, Mexico
We attribute mosquitos to diseases, but Mexicans think of them as food. Mosquito eggs are dried and roasted to form a nutty filling for tortillas. Lime juice is squeezed on top to make them tastier.
Ying Yang Fish, China
A fish that is fried in oil and while the body is charred to a crisp, the head stays alive. Sounds horrifying? Apparently, it tastes amazing. The fish is scaled and gutted and its head is kept away from the pan. Once done, it is served with a sauce. The dish has attracted a lot of criticism since it relies on a phenomenon where the brains of certain fish (like catfish) remain functional even after decapitation. If you frequent websites that discuss laws against animal cruelty, you should stay away from the Ying Yang Fish.
Bugs that taste like cinnamon and act as aphrodisiacs – seems like something you can get on board with? Try the Jumil in Mexico. Eat them raw or as Taco filling, cooked with salsa and guacamole. Locals say that one you taste these, you will keep wanting more. If not for the taste, you can have them to alleviate pain due to its anesthetic properties.
Haggis is the national dish of Scotland. It is a type of pudding made of the liver, heart, and lungs of an animal, usually a sheep. This is minced and mixed with beef or mutton and oatmeal and seasoned with spices like onion and cayenne pepper. The mixture is then filled into a sheep’s stomach and boiled. Although a tad revolting, this dish is actually quite common and people have enjoyed it for years.
Black Pudding, England and Ireland
The British and the Irish have discovered a way to make blood less disgusting – by turning it into a delectable breakfast item. It is made from pork blood with pork fat and is the oldest form of sausage. Often described as a superfood due to its high protein and iron percentage, it can be baked, fried or boiled. Pair it with eggs or a cereal and you have the perfect meal.
Stargazy Pie, England
This Cornish dish is made with pilchards or sardines along with eggs and potatoes baked inside a pastry crust. The fish heads protrude through the pie, giving the impression that they are literally gazing at stars. The dish was first made in honor of Tom Bawcock from Mousehole who had caught seven different kinds of fish during a stormy winter. The fishes were then baked into one large pie that saved the village from starvation.
Fruit Bat Soup, Micronesia
Fruit Bats are native to the heavily-forested areas of Palau and feast on fruits and nectar. Even though today this dish is an expensive rarity, it is a great source of protein and is available in certain restaurants. The soup can be made by boiling the bats along with onions, ginger, salt and soy sauce.
Filipinos foray into swampy forests to extract these woodworms from dead tree trunks. Once their legs and head are severed, their excreta are squeezed out and then they are ready to be boiled in water with hot pepper. It is said to taste like a creamy, salty soup. The good news however is that the worms feel no pain. They die as soon as they are exposed to air.