What do fried brains, puffin hearts, and ant larvae have in common? They are all considered delicacies somewhere in the world. While most people probably do not consider the contents of their cookbooks too strange, to a foreigner your lunch could be the equivalent of a nightmare. How many of these global dishes would you try?
Fried Brain Sandwich
Largely a dish of the past, these used to be popular in the Central United States until mad cow disease became a concern. Although people still eat them, serving a cow’s brain that is over 30 months old is no longer legal in the United States.
Ant larvae harvested from the roots of the agave plant, these are considered to be a delicacy in Mexico. In fact, they are sometimes even referred to as “insect caviar.” They taste like slightly nutty butter.
Typically eaten in Iceland, this fermented basking shark is an acquired taste. Chef Anthony Bourdain described it as the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing he had ever eaten. We’ll take his word for it.
A dish developed during Pol Pot’s oppressive rule over Cambodia when people were forced to eat anything they could to survive, A-ping is now sealed as a staple food in the country’s gastronomy. These deep fried tarantulas are a cheap snack and rich in protein. Some Khmer women even think that eating a tarantula will make them more beautiful. Start by pulling the legs off and enjoy the crunchiest part first. Then, take in the gooey body, nutty, garlicky and salty, with a bitter aftertaste.
Sannakji is one of the strangest foods you will try if you have a flair for the theatrics. Made from a young, live octopus, chopped into small pieces, the food arrives on your table still wriggling on the plate. Many say the octopus is still alive, others believe that the commotion is due to the neurons present in the tentacles. Either way, the dish is not for the faint of hearts — the strong suckers in the tentacles are a choking hazard, killing approximately six people each year.
Locals consider Balut a powerful aphrodisiac, but for many of us eating a fertilized duck egg perhaps produces the opposite effect. This “egg” is actually a duck fetus that has been allowed to develop up to 20 days, some even featuring eyes, feathers, and beaks! Once peeled, the whole fetus looks like a super-compressed duckling molded into a tiny ball. For something that sounds or looks horrible, the taste isn’t bad at all.
One might wonder, how something that smells so off-putting can be a delicacy but that is the beauty of this strange food. Surstromming is a fermented Baltic Sea herring, a Swedish specialty. The fish is gutted, doused in salt, and left in open containers to ferment for several months in temperatures between 15 – 20° C, lending it the (in)famous pungent, overpowering smell. Due to the strong odor, it is not allowed in enclosed spaces like apartment buildings.
Rocky Mountain Oysters
While they might be from the rocky mountains, they are certainly not oysters. They are actually bull-calf testicles – peeled, flattened, and deep-fried.
Coming to us from Sardinia, this dish is sheep milk cheese containing live insect larvae. Although the larvae are only about 8mm long, they can launch themselves up to 15 cm when disturbed. Bon apetit!
Generally found on Mopane trees (hence the name), this caterpillar is an important source of protein for millions of people in Africa. Typically, they are dried out and eaten as a crispy snack.