Fugu – Japan
Most people don’t consider the possibility of death a reality during their daily meal, but for those eating Fugu, it’s something that must be considered. Fugu is a Japanese pufferfish that contains enough poison to kill 30 people. The chefs who prepare this expensive Japanese delicacy must undergo years of training. Served in a stew, grilled or as paper-thin sashimi, any small mistake in preparation could mean an untimely end to the consumer. Those wishing to try this deadly delicacy should visit Japan during October to March when fugu is in season.
Fried Spider – Cambodia
Available throughout Cambodia, but a specialty in the town of Skuon, these creepy crawlies have been deep fried in garlic oil until crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside. Typically of the tarantula variety, the practice of eating these spiders may have started during the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge when villagers had to find alternative sources of food. Spiders are often sold to travellers passing through town and looking for a quick snack. Besides being full of protein, rumour has it that they are even said to increase the beauty of the consumer.
Prairie Oysters – Canada
Not oysters at all, this delightful dish is made from bull testicles and also goes by the name Rocky Mountain Oysters. Found throughout cattle ranching country, curious eaters wanting to try the Canadian version are advised to head to Alberta. Buzzards Restaurant, located in Calgary, serves them up during the summer months and even has an annual Testicle Festival celebrating the dish. Prepared sautéed, fried or stuffed, the testicles are accompanied with herbs, spices, sauces and dips for a real taste of cowboy cuisine.
Balut – Phillipines
Eggs are a common food throughout the world but in the Philippines, they take it one step further by taking a developing duck embryo and then boiling it alive while still in the shell. Typically eaten with a little seasoning of chili, garlic and vinegar, all the contents of the egg are consumed including the visible wings and beak. A common street food, it’s often chased down with a cold beer – just crack, slurp and bite.
Haggis – Scotland
Considered Scotland’s national dish, this mixture includes sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, onion, oatmeal, spices, and stock. Traditionally stuffed into a sheep’s stomach and simmered, this hearty dish dates back to the 1400’s and today is served as the main course of a Burns supper on Robert Burns Day. Typically eaten with tatties and neeps (mashed potatoes and turnips), it is often served with a dram of Scotch whisky to get it all down. Today, Haggis is conveniently available ready-made from the grocery store and is a great source of iron and fibre.
Sannakji – South Korea
A South Korean delicacy, this dish of live octopus is eaten either whole or in pieces depending on the size of the specimen. Served raw and usually only with a splash of sesame oil, it’s so fresh that the tentacles are still squirming. Suckers from the octopus can attach themselves inside the throat of the consumer causing choking or even death, which makes eating this mollusk a scary proposition. Although the actual octopus is mildly flavoured, the live animal wrapping itself around the diners face as they try to swallow it down is surely an experience to remember.
Escamoles – Mexico
It may look like a grain salad, but this dish is actually made up of ant larvae. Often called insect caviar, escamoles are considered a delicacy in Mexican cuisine and consumption dates back to the Aztecs. Eggs are harvested from the root systems of the maguey and agave plants, and the tiny larvae can be found in tacos, omelettes or just on their own. Surprisingly pleasant, these little larvae are crisped up with butter or deep-fried and have a slightly nutty taste.
Hakarl – Iceland
Rotten shark may sound disgusting, but if the Greenland shark were eaten in its fresh form it would be poisonous. By allowing the shark to ferment and decay the fish becomes edible – if the eater can get past the ammonia smell and fetid fishy taste. Most first time diners involuntarily gag, and it’s recommended that the fish be chased with a shot of local spirit. Icelanders are able to eat their Hakarl year round, and the rotten fish is stocked, vacuum packed, in regular supermarkets.
Fried Brain Sandwiches – USA
Hamburgers, french fries and fried-brain sandwiches? In some areas of the USA, particularly in the Ohio River Valley, this curious sandwich is still found on the menu. Made from sliced calves or pig brains that have been heavily battered and deep fried, this dish was brought over by immigrants from Germany and Holland who were keen on eliminating any sort of waste. Heavy on the calories, this sandwich is typically served accompanied with mustard and pickled onions. Most of the flavour in the sandwich comes from the batter, with the brains having a mild taste and custardy texture.
Casu Marzu – Italy
Creamy and soft, this sheep’s milk cheese sounds appealing at first but the fact that it contains thousands of live maggots is sure to put off all but the most adventurous eaters. This Sardinian cheese is made by allowing flies to lay eggs on the surface of Pecorino cheese that has had the top cut off to allow for easy access. When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat through the cheese breaking down the fats and softening the usually hard middle. Strong and rich, the aftertaste of this pungent cheese lasts for hours.