Have you ever turned up at a restaurant whose cuisine you are not familiar with, looked at one of the dishes and thought, “Are you kidding?” They eat that! Well, as they say in the UK, it’s horses for courses. And no, that expression has nothing to do with the French people’s penchant for eating horse meat, but a term that comes from horse racing. It holds truth, though, what is strange to you might not be so strange for another, and vice versa. Elvis Presley may have thought a bacon, peanut butter, and grape jelly sandwich was a culinary treat to admire, but in other nations it would sound disgusting. People have also eaten some strange things in times of famine, scavenging for anything remotely edible, but today we’ll focus mostly on foods with a price tag, in this episode of the Infographics Show; Weird Food People Eat Around The World.
If you think Elvis’s calorific concoction is strange, head over to Scotland and you’ll find things you won’t believe people sometimes eat. A Scot after a night out and a few pints at the pub might make his or her way to the chippy, aka the fish and chip shop, but forgo the usual dish and order a deep fried pizza, or perhaps go for the deep fried Mars Bar or another deep fried chocolate bar. Head over to England and try one of their traditional English breakfasts and you’ll find a black patty on your plate with white dots on it. That’s called black pudding, which is a mix of congealed pig’s blood, lard, and oatmeal. In the north of England, a dish that is dying out but is still eaten these days is tripe. It’s basically the insides of a cow’s stomach, and in the north of England it was, and still is in some places, just pickled in vinegar, and so looks, and has a texture, that you can only imagine. One English chef trying to bring it back told The Guardian in 2011, “When you kill a cow, its guts probably weigh 75 to 100 kilos. It’s wrong that it all goes into dog food.”
Across the channel in France, we know a specialty dish is snails, but horse meat is also common. Another favorite in France is “Pieds de porc”, or pig’s trotters. They are common in many countries but apparently the French love chowing down on these feet. The French are also partial to a bit of “Tête de veau” which is basically a cooked cow’s head. It’s the brain that is the best part, and in France some people say it’s really good for your skin and bones. Over in Spain, cow brain is also considered quite the treat.
Like France, Italy is known as a culinary country, where it is doubtful a deep fried Mars Bar would go down well with the locals. Our favorite dish we found in Italy is dormouse. Apparently dormouse was such a specialty that a word developed for dormouse hunters (agglzjiraru). While we found some sources that stated that dormouse is still eaten today in a village near the Southern Italian region of Calabria, other sources say the only country that still enjoys a bit of mouse is Slovenia, although it’s very rare. But the winner in Italy is a dish that was actually banned for a while, and you might not be surprised why. This is called “Casu Marzu” or rotten cheese. This is a cheese that was left outside to allow flies to lay eggs in it, after which the larvae broke down the fats and fermented it. Apparently some people left the maggots in when they consumed it, but others would take the worms out. One American blogger that tasted what she called “maggot cheese” said, “I raised my slice, only to see that it was actually writhing with squirmy little worms.” She also said it wasn’t too bad.
Moving across to Scandinavia, one of the strangest, and for some people stomach churning, delicacies is the Norwegian dish of Smalahove. This is popular at Christmas time and nothing gets left, so if you miss out on the eyeballs, nose or ears, you can always scoop out the brain. As one Norwegian put it on TripAdvisor, “Does not look delicate perhaps, but taste is fine.” We must mention that some Norwegians don’t eat the whole head. In Sweden they have a specialty which is basically rotten herring. The BBC explains, “It is herring that has been fermented for six months then crammed into a can that bulges dangerously with putrid gases.” It apparently smells like a rotten corpse. The Japanese, according to the BBC, classified it as the very worst food smell in the world. Sticking with herring, the Russian’s have a popular dish called “Seledka pod shuboi” which translates as herring under a fur coat. It doesn’t look that bad actually, and is just herring under a bunch of vegetables and mayo that looks a bit like a coat.
Let’s leave Europe for now and go over to South America. One thing that was once seen as weird in Peru has actually recently taken off in the USA, too. That’s deep fried Guinea pig. Nearby in Brazil, they have something very similar to the Scottish delicacy called haggis. This is called “Buchada” and consists of a goat’s stomach opened up and then filled with all sorts of things we usually don’t eat, such as heart, lungs, and intestines. It’s all sewn back up and cooked, and like haggis, may sound a tad weird but it is supposed to be supremely tasteful. Up in Mexico, they have a dish that looks like a nutty piece of chocolate, but it’s actually what is called “Escamoles”. This is actually ant larvae and is apparently really good. Another dish in Mexico is “Huitlacoche”, which is basically rotten corn cobs covered in fungus. The name translated is “sleeping excrement”.
In the USA, they also have strange eating habits in some places, and we are not talking about deep fried Twinkies or corn dogs, which are stomach churning to most folks around the world. More natural strange foods still eaten in the US are Alligator and Rattlesnake. Apparently the rattlesnake at Tim Love’s Lonesome Dove Western Bistro in Fort Worth, TX, is particularly good. Other US dishes include smoked Louisiana alligator ribs, while turtle soup is popular in Pennsylvania and Louisiana.
No list of strange foods could be complete without mentioning Asia, but where do we start? One thing we won’t mention is the controversial consumption of cats and dogs, we already did that in another show. Vacationers in Thailand will soon find if they walk around Bangkok, fried insects are for sale in the street. This includes locusts, scorpions, giant water beetles, bamboo-worms, moth chrysalis, and crickets. In Cambodia, you can perhaps go a step further and eat a deep-fried giant tarantula. Maybe one of the most revolting things you’ll ever see all across South East Asia is chicken or duck embryo, sometimes a few of them on a stick. This almost formed creature looks as you’d imagine it to look, a soft embryo with a slimy beak. Not surprisingly, locals often wash this down with whisky and beer as perhaps even to them it’s a little off-putting. You can also find rats eaten in most Southeast Asian countries, but this is dying out and in some countries was merely survival food for the very poor.
Although, in Cameroon, the BBC reports that rats are still eaten and the reporter tried them. His verdict: “It was the most delicious meat I ever had in my life.” He also travelled to the Indian state of Bihar where he said very poor people ate rats. He said the meat was delicious, but the burning hair was a bit repugnant while cooking the rats. He also ate rats in other parts of Africa and India, and each time said it wasn’t too bad at all. So, there you go, rats are a decent meal.
The Japanese are no slouches when it comes to strange food, either. One of the worst things to look at is the massive slimy tuna eyeball, which looks as if it’s been plucked out of the live fish and ended up on your plate. One blogger tasted one on his travels and remarked, “The wall of the eyeball was rubbery and I couldn’t even get a piece off. Gag factor was minimal unless you let it get in your head.” The Koreans also have a liking for the very strange, and sometimes it’s still moving when you eat it. One of those dishes is the Spoon worm, nicknamed penis fish as that is exactly what it looks like. If eaten live, the things are wriggling around on your plate before you put them in your mouth. Live octopus is also eaten, which is known in Korea as Sannakji. Apparently this is quite daring, too, as the tentacles still work when consumed so you have to make sure to chew them very well lest you get those things sticking in your throat.
China could be a list unto itself, but we’ll pick out some of the best treats for you. You can basically add most of those other Asian dishes to the Chinese menu. But you could also include sheep penis on a stick served at a street side vendor, or maybe a bowl of boiled chicken testicles. One of the worst things the Chinese have been accused of eating is monkey brains, sometimes depicted as being eaten while the monkey is alive. This is urban legend, and there is no sufficient evidence it has ever happened, as a norm anyway. Nonetheless, the Guardian did report that “raw and cooked brain of dead monkey is widely consumed in the far east.”
Have you tried any of these foods? What’s the strangest food you’ve ever eaten? Let us know in the comments!