We all like to think we are adventurous - willing to push the boundaries of our norms, the decidedly mundane everyday minutia of our lives and our food. However, sometimes the thrill of the unknown becomes something that should, perhaps, stay that way - unknown. In the culinary world, the known and unknown can be completely different things to different people, and what is a homecooked comfort on one side of the world certainly can induce feelings of nausea and revolt in the mind of another. The familiar customs and traditions of some, such as the generosity of the offering of a raw seal eye, the fun of tangling with a living octopus for your lunch, or simply the daring feat of downing a whiskey shot from a glass adorned with a fermented human toe can seem to outsiders to be an irrational and downright disgusting culinary tradition. Whatever the case, there’s usually a limit to one’s ability to step outside the box when it comes to our stomachs.
This list represents both sides of the coin. The dishes depicted are decided delicacies of various cultures around the world. However, at first glance they might have you running to the bathroom, should you encounter them during your travels abroad, or maybe even whilst browsing the menu in an uncharted corner just outside your own neighborhood. You never know just what kind of situation you might find yourself in if you continue to say things like, “never say no to adventure,” or, “I’ll try anything just once!” and this list will make you think twice. So, reader, the challenge is up to you – next time you find your stomach facing the gastronomic challenge of a lifetime, it’s up to you whether to try it out or not – just know that we’re likely to give them a hard pass!
A delicacy hailing from South Korea, Sannakji is a dish best enjoyed... fresh. The octopus is served raw usually with a splash of soy sauce, chilis, or sesame oil. The octopus is freshly sliced from a live state, or sometimes simply served intact, in which case it continues to squirm on the plate! It is considered by most who partake in Sannakji as a fun challenge to consume the wriggling sea creature while it attempts to evade the inevitable by clinging with its tiny suckers to the plate, the chopsticks, and finally, your very own tongue in a terrific fight to the death!
22 Cobra Heart
We all know and love Anthony Bourdain for his limitless sense of culinary adventure. The charismatic host of former hit series such as Parts Unknown and No Reservations probably has one of the most impressive palates on TV and, in our opinion, takes the cake for world’s steeliest stomach. In one of his earlier TV shows A Cook’s Tour, Bourdain actually consumed the still-beating heart of a live cobra. As unappealing as the idea sounds, Bourdain likened the experience to that of chowing down an aggressive oyster – strange, and certainly disgusting!
Winter is here, which means everyone is busy planning their next trip down to Mexico to avoid the blistering winter ahead of us. Most will be heading toward the all-inclusive resorts filled with an abundance of international fare geared towards the taste buds of the thriving tourist sector, however, stray a little off the beaten path and you might find yourself enjoying a more traditional meal, perhaps some traditional caviar hailing from the Mesoamerican tradition. However, this is no ordinary fish egg caviar.
The pale-colored ant larvae closely resemble pine nuts and reportedly have a mild, nutty flavor accompanied by a pleasing, crunchy texture. You might not even notice what you're actually eating if you are less partial to reading menus while on vacation! Despite the hype, it’ll take some more convincing to get us to try this bizarre salad topper.
20 Hakarl (Fermented Shark)
A regional delicacy typical in Icelandic fare, Hakarl is simply rotten, fermented, shark carcasses. Traditionally the carcasses have been hung in sheds of hunters in Icelandic cultures, left to the elements to rot and putrefy over the long course of several months. The rancid smell of the meat is probably one of the worst things anyone could ever smell in their entire lives, and if the smell of a corpse doesn't turn you off, the actual experience of chowing down a hunk of rotten shark most definitely will!s
The rancid meat attacks the senses, first the nose, eyes, then the gag reflex kicks in uncontrollably for those with a weak stomach. However, to those carrying on long-lived tradition, it is an honor and symbol of pride to consume this horrific dish. Once a dried brown crust appears and the exact right ripeness of rancid aromas is achieved, the shark is ready for enjoyment.
19 Rocky Mountain Oysters
At first blush, the sound of rocky mountain oysters conjures up interesting imaginative notions of beautiful, rugged treasures from the sea – however, take a step back from that fantasy, because we ain’t talking about any creature dwelling in the ocean. This particular dish takes advantage of something that, quite frankly, in most butcher shops would be discarded as an inedible item for human consumption (or, so we’d hope!).
You guess it, bull testicles are on the menu with this specialty. Usually served fried or roasted, ‘calf fries’ as they have been historically nicknamed have been enjoyed for centuries in the west. Certainly not a modern invention, the practice of eating testicular organs dates back to Roman times and probably much farther beyond. Would you dare eat these unusual delicacies?
18 Balut Eggs
These rare culinary conundrums are intriguing at best, and probably disgusting to most. To put it bluntly, balut eggs are fertilized eggs that have been matured almost to the point of hatching. The eggs are then hardboiled in water until tender. The dish is served encased in the shell, hence the name balut, which loosely translates as wrapping. It’s a handy packaging for street food, which is usually where you’ll find this dish, late at night on street corners across Pacific Asia where it first originated.
A balut egg and a cold bottle of beer isn’t an uncommon pairing, in fact, the refreshing bubbles effectively cutting through the richness of the egg. If you can get past the squeamish factor of eating an unborn bird, this might just be a delicious treat!
17 Warthog Anus
The thrill of traveling the outback of Africa is considered only by the most adventurous. Located on the western coast of Africa, Namibia is home to some of the most iconic African beasts, such as the warthog. Hunted for millennia by traditional cultures, the anus of the beast is considered a delicious appetizer, the insides of the colon squeezed out but left unwashed as the organ roasts on a bed of white-hot coals and served al dente. The dish is best consumed right away, as the flesh retains a certain kind of tenderness - as long as it wasn’t overcooked. Because gee, who really likes a tough anus?
16 Paniki Manado
We are no strangers to consuming animals with wings, however, that usually doesn't extend to leathery, winged mammalian species. For most, including fictional pet-detective Ace Ventura, bats represent a horrific, devilish species to be avoided at all costs – not invited to be the main course at your dinner table! However, these tiny, winged creatures have become incorporated into many types of cuisines, from soups and stews to bats roasted on a spit, there is no end to the variation you’ll find around the world. The only catch – make sure you have a disease-free specimen before diving in!
15 Century Eggs
Originating from the long-lived Ming Dynasty, which began in the 13thcentury, century eggs, or hundred-year-old eggs, can really be made in less than six weeks. This rather unappealing dish is a delicacy that uses either a chicken or duck egg, which is then preserved using a combination salt, ash, and lime. The egg can be buried, wrapped in husks, or even encased in clay for several weeks until the salts have converted the yolk into a creamy dark green substance while the white is transformed into a gelatinous mass. Century eggs can be stored in the cupboard, unrefrigerated for several months. Try one today paired with a tofu salad or warmed up in a veggie stir-fry dish!
14 Calf Brain Sandwiches
This is one dish that has made its mark in America, from the early days of cowboys and pioneers to modern times, calf brains are being battered, deep-fried and served up in sandwiches across the south and beyond. Most recipes call for a heavy dredging in a seasoned flour mixture after being soaked and blanched in vinegar water to firm up the soft, mushy texture of the calf brains. Once battered and deep-fried, the brains are less off-putting, and the texture has been likened to that of deep-fried oysters. So believe it or not, it's not just Hannibal Lecter enjoying a meal of brains every once in a while!
13 Frog Legs
This amphibious adventure of a dish is enjoyed throughout the world. These meaty morsels invite the daring to put their stomachs to the test and sometimes appear as a satisfying substitute for traditional chicken wings in some decidedly fringy kitchens. To help disguise the ick factor, most recommend this dish be soaked in a hearty marinade then heavily battered with a generous helping of spices and seasonings. Take a peek at this recipe from Traeger Grills and you might get inspired to cook outside the box tonight for dinner!
12 Deep Fried Rats
We’ve all heard the horror stories of individuals who have found rats in their KFC meals or even in their Popeye’s Chicken, however, there are adventurous (or, desperate) souls out there who have taken the leap and purposefully incorporated the world’s most decrepit bottom-feeder into street food menus around the globe. Maybe sometimes you just have to take the plunge and try something you would never, EVER consider eating in your wildest dreams – just once!
11 Python Fillets
Personally, I was shocked to find python steaks in the freezer section of my local specialty grocery store - you know, the kind that sells diamond-encrusted water bottles for serious money. How do you work with the protein? How does one go about cooking python fillets?! My foodie imagination was flying into high gear as I looked over the package of vacuum-sealed chunks of snake.
It’s definitely not like chicken. In fact, python meat is usually compared to being somewhere between squid and an eel – a rubbery, muscular structure that needs to be broken down and tenderized. Marinating for several hours and roasting long and slow is highly recommended to avoid an incredibly chewy, rubbery python fillet that is largely inedible by that point. Many recipes incorporate a citrus element along with a soy-based marinade to really amp up the relatively bland profile of the snake.
10 'Stinky' Tofu
You guessed it – ‘stinky tofu’ is none other than partially rotted, fermented tofu that was accidentally discovered by a man in China centuries ago. The impoverished man was starving, and happened upon a discarded piece of rotting tofu. Popping the nugget into his mouth, Zhu Yuanzhang fell in love with the taste of the fermented soy product. Stinky tofu relies on the development of protease, which produces a ‘stinky’ yeasty aroma and taste in the tofu. The greyed tofu is usually fried and served with chilli sauce among other garnishes for extra savory flavors. Are we making your mouth water, yet?
The following beverage is one of those extremely confusing items that make most wonder, how in the world did someone think of making that? The origins of Yogurito are unclear. Versions exist all over the world, from Mexico to Argentina, however the biggest market in the world is that of Japan. Produced in Holland and shipped off to the Far East, this fermented yogurt beverage is usually found in the accompaniment of citrus flavours such as orange or pineapple. Do you dare buy one of the rare bottles online and try it for yourself? We probably won’t.
8 Roasted Sheep Testes
Another variation of the Rocky Mountain Oyster, roasted sheep testicle skewers are enjoyed as street food around the world or as a convenient camping snack for cowboys and shepherds sitting around the campfire after a long day of herding. Seasonings as simple as lemon and pepper have been used traditionally, but we’d recommend something a little more substantial to help disguise the obvious anatomical details. The dish as been popularly nicknamed ‘lamb fries,’ and the experts say as soon as they start popping, you’ll know dinner’s ready!
7 Raw Seal Eyeball
Part of ancient Inuit traditions, the seal is an integral part of the culture and culinary practices. Nothing is left to waste, even the sensory organs are utilized by members of the group. In particular, the eye of the seal is revered as a high sign of respect and generosity to offer to an individual, an offer that cannot be refused as popular TV host Anthony Bourdain discovered on a trip to the Arctic.
This was a special meal featured on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. Described as resembling a fat concord grape, Bourdain willingly accepts the gift and swallows the walnut-sized organ with relish.
6 Sheep’s Head
In North America, we are no strangers to waste. However, the concept is completely foreign in many cultures across the world who are diligent enough to use all of what’s available to them. In many parts of the world, the sheep is a prized animal for many reasons, the wool it provides, the meat and bones for stewing, and, of course, the head!
Believe us, folks, we really wish we were kidding. However, the head is considered a meal within itself. The appendage is usually boiled until tenderized, then brushed with spices and marinades before being roasted until crispy. One of the main intrigues about this dish is all the different textures the head presents: from crunchy ears to fleshy cheeks, this delicacy is enjoyed all over the world, from Africa to Iceland.
Coined the world’s most deadly dinner, Fugu preparation is exclusively entrusted to experts - usually sushi masters hailing from Japan. The risk of consuming puffer fish is paramount, and poisonings continue to occur to this day. In one recent incident, an entire group of adults was severely poisoned after indulging in a taste of Fugu testicles prepared incorrectly. (see story here) Because of the immense risk to consumers, chefs require a special license that requires years of training in order to prepare this expensive delicacy.
Traditionally, Fugu is prepared as sashimi, a raw preparation. The testicles, in particular, are illegal in most areas of the world because of a high concentration of toxins found in this particular organ. However, this aspect of the puffer fish continues to be treasured for its delicious taste and high concentrations of poison can be rendered safe through an extended period of pickling to dilute the poisonous compounds.
4 Eyeball of Tuna
Most people get queasy at the thought of their food having a face, and with this next culinary specialty, the meal will literally stare you down through two giant, glassy fish eyes, each about the size of your palm! The many healthy fats and oils of the tuna eye offer a rich, satisfying meal for the daring consumer.
It’s like taking sashimi to the next level, really, except to consume tuna eye safely, it must be at least partially cooked. Incorporation of traditional eastern flavor profiles is essential – a touch of sesame, ginger, soy, topped with sliced scallions and a squeeze of lemon to brighten the dish. The eye can be sautéed or boiled according to preference and can be paired with a light sesame salad of grated carrot and cucumber.
3 Casu Marzu
All right, as a die-hard cheese lover, this next dish breaks all preconceived notions of what cheese should be and replaces it with something that is just downright wrong. And I don’t say that lightly, because really, this delicacy pushes the envelope much too far for most ordinary palates, even most extraordinarily tolerate ones. We are talking about maggot-filled cheese, enjoyed while the larvae still squirm inside the soft curd.
To make this celebrated Sardinian cheese, CooksInfo recommends you take a hunk of fresh Pecorino Sardo cheese to be left out in the open in order to begin the process of infestation by a particular species of fly, which lays its eggs under the surface of the cheese. To hasten the process, a generous slather of maggots is applied directly to the surface of the cheese. When the maggots have saturated the insides of the wheel, the process is complete.
2 Fried Tarantulas
It’s well known that insects are enjoyed as a beneficial protein option in many cultures throughout the world, however, how far would you go in your daring to taste some of the larger, hairier species in the insect family? How about the great Goliath bird-eating tarantula? Arachnids offer a substantial amount of meat, however, they also require a substantial amount of gumption on the part of the unfamiliar consumer. But that does not stop the most adventurous from devouring these crispy critters!
This recipe from Epicurious describes how the goliath bird-eater is an especially difficult species to acquire and offers up a decidedly delicious meal option compared to other insects that have a thicker outer shell known as chitin. Even though the insides are described as juicy with a crispy breaded coating on the outside, just the look of this eight-legged dish staring you down on the plate is sure to turn off anyone with an aversion to arachnids.
1 Bird's Nest Soup
A beautiful, alluring transparent dish, Bird’s Nest Soup is another delicacy that hails from the Far East but has made its mark in the palates and imaginations of many around the world. Far from having pungent flavors and aromas, the profile of this prized and most expensive delicacy is subtle and elusive, relying more on a gelatinous texture originating from its bizarre ingredient: an actual bird’s nest. More specifically, the nest of a Swiftlet bird, a species that creates a nest on the side of a cave wall using its own saliva as its sole building material. The process takes about 30 days on average, and unfortunately, the bird is an endangered species, however, the dish is still considered a delicacy by many with an abundance of health and vitality properties.