From bugs to brains, what’s disgusting in one time and place may be a delicacy in another. Although disgust itself is merely a sensory and subjective experience, we often use that knee-jerk reaction to pass judgement or see the exotic in other peoples’ everyday lives. Let’s take a look at some seemingly ‘strange’ foods that are really quite normal for the people who make them.
Tasting Testicles in the USA
Some of the strangest foods come from the United States, and Rocky Mountain oysters are no different. These bear no relation to seafood but are instead deep-fried buffalo, bull, or boar testicles. Although long eaten by ranchers for whom bull testicles were in often abundance, this finger food has long fascinated outsiders, including gourmet sushi and chocolate-covered testicles. In general, Rocky Mountain oysters are peeled and boiled before being sliced into disks, rolled in flour, and fried. They are then served with sauce, as well as a sense that consuming such testosterone-rich food might just boost one’s masculinity.
Eating Embryos in the Philippines
Balut is a fertilized duck or chicken egg that is boiled and eaten with a nearly-developed embryo inside. The broth within is sipped before the embryo is eaten with salt and/or chili, garlic, and vinegar. Balut is common in Cambodia, Vietnam, and southern China, but has gotten attention in the Philippines because of efforts to preserve this culinary delicacy and folk belief that it may boost fertility or cure hangovers. Although this dish is most popular among ethnic Chinese families, there are gourmet variations, including adobo style and baked pastry filling balut.
Decomposing Cheese in Italy
Recently, the European Union banned a rare cheese made in Sardinia, Italy. This casu marzu or “bad cheese” is made by leaving sheep’s milk out for flies (Piophilacasei) to lay eggs. The tiny, translucent larvae hatch and digest the fats, fermenting the cheese to become quite pungent like a spicy gorgonzola. Since the bugs can jump several inches and may cause health problems from nausea to vomiting, locals remove the larvae or grind them into a spreadable paste. It is illegal to eat casu marzu, so you might pay a hefty fine for balut’s strong and lingering taste.
Chopping Octopi in Korea
Although sushi and other raw foods have global appeal, there are still some adventures to be had. In Korean fish markets, you can eat sannakji – a live baby octopus. Since it is cut up alive, the octopus’s tentacles will squirm when served. To avoid the active suction cups sticking to your cheeks or throat, dip pieces in sesame oil before chewing well. Otherwise, you could be one of six people who die annually from this dangerous dish. Consider trying the whole octopus wrapped around two chopsticks, too, as this purportedly gives the diner great strength.
Fermenting Shark in Iceland
As an isolated nation, Iceland has developed a unique national cuisine, including hakarl. This dish comes from a fermentation process developed by Icelanders to make Greenlandic sharks’ poisonous flesh palatable. A shark is beheaded and gutted before being buried for 2 to 4 months in a shallow hole covered with stones, sand, and gravel. While pressure pushes out poisons, the meat ferments. It is then cut into long pieces and dried for months until a brown crust forms on the putrid flesh. While outsiders are warned against eating hakarl, Icelanders can buy it year-round in stores.