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Food + Cooking

World's Scariest Foods

Published in Gourmet Live 10.24.12
And you thought airline food was bad…

By Siobhan Adcock
World's Scariest Foods

Freaky foods from near and far, clockwise from top left: Jell-O, lutefisk, blood sausage, scorpion pops, and protein-packed tarantulas.

This story originally appeared on Concierge.com, part of the Condé Nast Traveler network of travel sites.

Welcome to our international culinary chamber of horrors, where succulent spiders, gleaming sheep guts, and deadly seafood await your delectation. (Cue evil laugh and lightning bolt.)

Our global tour of freaky foods is all in good fun, if not in good taste. Just as one man's trash is another man's treasure, one culture's treasured culinary delicacy (or survival staple) is another culture's "eeew"—and perhaps no food culture is more guilty of culinary shock and awe than our own. After all, the United States food industry is responsible for Cheez Whiz, Jell-O, Cool Whip, and a parade of rampaging pathogens year after year, so who are we to be grossed out by barbecued bat?

Nevertheless, some of the creepy, icky foods in our gallery of ghoulish goodies are guaranteed to make you wonder "Who could possibly eat that?" Put away your lunch; take a deep breath; and read on, if you dare.

Barbecued Bat

What it is: Popular Halloween symbol transformed into crunchy grilled goodness
Where it's served: Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam
Want a bite? Bats are particularly plentiful in the limestone caves of Asia and the Pacific, and bat stew or barbecued bat are easy to find at restaurants and street carts in the region. Typically, the fur is singed off and the wings and head removed first (not much meat there); then, depending on the size of the bat, the body can be diced into bite-size chunks for a stew or stir-fry. Smaller bats are better suited to the popular street-meat preparation of seasoning, grilling, and eating whole—crunchy little bones and all. Even bat fans admit that the delicacy doesn't smell so hot: Aside from the aroma of singed fur, bat meat itself gives off a strong, gamy odor as it's cooked, which the chef can usually mask (in part) with plenty of garlic and chile. Mmm, leathery.

Black Pudding

What it is: Pig or cow blood cooked with a bit of fat until it congeals
Where it's served: Britain, Ireland, France, and Germany
Want a bite? Bloodthirsty Britons gobble blood sausage as part of a traditional breakfast, usually along with beans, mushrooms, bread, and perhaps a tomato or a fried egg—you know, for nutrients or whatever. It's known in Germany as Blutwürst and in France as boudin noir, but whatever you call it, it's basically congealed blood in a sausage casing—which, just to remind you, is itself usually an intestine. Fans say it tastes just like a regular sausage, except…well, you know when you floss too hard and you get that blood-and-iron taste in your mouth? Yeah, those are basically the "flavor notes."

Baked Guinea Pig

What it is: Your childhood pet, now in snack format
Where it's served: Peru and Ecuador
Want a bite? Cuy, as the dish is known, is actually a traditional and much-loved delicacy with a long history in Peruvian food culture…much the same way that cuddly little guinea pigs are a traditional and much-loved childhood companion with a long history in American pet stores. Cuy is special-occasion meat, generally served baked or grilled, and since guinea pigs are so tiny and chubby, typically a serving size is one pig per plate. We're told that the grass-fed, tender, delicious meat is reminiscent of rabbit, but we're too busy weeping softly over our memories of Mr. Fuzzbomb to care.


What it is: Cool, fruity animal hooves
Where it's served: Bill Cosby's house, the Golden Corral
Want a bite? Jell-O is, of course, just one of many flavored-gelatin dessert brands, but the process of making gelatin is fairly consistent: Simply grind up the bones, ligaments, and hooves of cows and pigs; pour acid on the results; and boil. (A similar process actually figures prominently in a chapter of Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho.) Scrape off what floats to the top, and add a little sugar, water, and artificial flavors and colors. Pour it into a mold and allow it to solidify in the fridge, and you've got yourself a sweet treat with absolutely no relationship to anything you could reasonably describe as "food."

Kopi Luwak

What it is: The world's most expensive coffee. Main ingredient: weasel poop
Where it's served: Japan, the United States, and southeast Asia
Want a bite? Americans and Japanese seem to be particularly enamored of anything difficult or expensive to produce. And both cultures love big-eyed furry critters with little button noses. No surprise, then, that Kopi Luwak is prized in both countries: It's made from coffee berries eaten, partially digested, and then pooped out by adorable Asian palm civets—and priced at hundreds of dollars per pound. Where do we line up? (You can purchase your very own pooped-out coffee beans on Amazon.com, in fact.) To be fair, the coffee beans do not go directly from civet butt to your coffee grinder: After having been defecated by the cute little mammals, the beans are cleaned and lightly roasted.

Scorpion Pops

What it is: Scorpion on a stick, here to rock you like a hurricane
Where it's served: China
Want a bite? Crispy scorpion on a stick is a common sight in China—by some standards, scorpion pops may be among the tamer items on offer at your average Beijing street-food market. The texture, as you might imagine, is horrible: brittle on the outside and mealy and gelatinous on the inside. But at least it isn't poisonous: Once the scorpion is deep-fried, its venom becomes less hazardous to humans, and of course, the smaller the scorpion, the less venom there is to worry about. If you're really craving a crispy crawling taste sensation, however, there's no need to go as far as Beijing: Hotlix.com, a California-based company that bills itself as "the original edible insect candy creator," will sell you a lollipop with a tiny, real scorpion inside for three bucks apiece.

Fried Rattlesnake

What it is: Battered, deep-fried, and sauced…but still a snake
Where it's served: Texas. Where else?
Want a bite? Every March, the humble burg of Sweetwater, Texas, hosts its famous Rattlesnake Round-Up festival, where one of the many attractions is the Cook Shack, offering "Deep-Fried Western Diamondback Rattlesnake" with hot sauce for dipping. The Sweetwater Jaycees' recipe calls for decapitating the snake (the head contains the venom); hanging the headless snake to drain for at least an hour; then marinating chunks of gutted, skinned snake in sweet milk for a couple of hours before coating them in cornmeal and deep-frying. Any brave cooks who feel they can do better are encouraged to register for the festival's cook-off, in which the best rattlesnake recipes have a competitive edge over those made with animals sans fangs. And for reptile gourmands, the rattlesnake-eating contest is the ultimate challenge.


What it is: Sheep heart, lungs, and liver, seasoned and encased in sheep stomach, then boiled
Where it's served: Scotland…and at annual Robert Burns parties everywhere on January 25, once everybody's had enough Scotch
Want a bite? As Burns wrote in his 1786 poem "Address to a Haggis," "Old Scotland wants no watery ware that slops in bowls… Give us a haggis!" One wonders, however, whether the venerable bard ever actually consumed haggis while not ragingly drunk. When sliced open after a good three hours of boiling, a cooked haggis spills forth its (literal) guts in what can be an alarmingly gloppy fashion—an effect Burns himself describes memorably in the same poem: "His knife sees rustic Labour sharpen, and cut you up with practiced skill, trenching your gushing entrails bright." If gushing entrails in a bowl are your pleasure, you're in good company, at least as far as Mr. Burns and his fellow Scotsmen are concerned.


What it is: Whole, palm-size spiders, stir-fried with spice
Where it's served: Cambodia
Want a bite? When something is described as crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside, generally speaking, you really, really want cheese to be involved. But tarantula aficionados, of which there are many, swear that the texture of a deep-fried tarantula is its most mouthwatering characteristic. The legs, like furry potato chips, are pleasingly crisp and tend to absorb whatever seasonings go into the pan with the spider. Bite into the body, and your succulent reward is a mouthful of something not unlike a hot fish eyeball. While the tarantula started its culinary history as survival food (each spider contains a fair amount of protein), tarantulas are now sold as much for shock value as for nutritional value, offered up by the heap on platters to tourists to eat on a dare.


What it is: Dried fish (usually cod or haddock) cured with lye and then rehydrated by boiling or steaming
Where it's served: Norway, Finland, Sweden…and Minnesota
Want a bite? Vikings ate lutefisk, although it has not yet been proven that the consumption of this revolting stuff is why they went forth and attacked and pillaged everybody who might have had better food. While this time-consuming, hideously smelly, gelatinous fish preparation has its roots in Scandinavia, lutefisk is now one of those old-world delicacies that's primarily consumed by second-generation Americans, mostly in Wisconsin and Minnesota, at lutefisk suppers that run from October to January. What draws all these otherwise-sensible Midwesterners together year after year? Fish soaked in lye until it practically turns into soap—the residue is caustic enough to dissolve the finish on silverware and plates. File under "stuff to eat before it eats you."


What it is: Baby octopus cut into pieces while still alive, served immediately (raw and still wriggling) with sesame oil and seeds
Where it's served: South Korea
Want a bite? So fresh it's still fighting to get off your plate (and out of your mouth), sannakji must be aggressively chewed before swallowing, both to remind the octopus of its place in the food chain and to prevent the critter's suckers from sticking to the inside of your esophagus, causing pain and presenting a choking hazard. If the 18th Saw movie sequel isn't grisly enough for you, the Internet abounds with video clips of ruthless octopus masticators, complete with wildly squirming tentacles making a desperate bid for escape from their mouths.

Rocky Mountain Oysters

What it is: Bull testicles
Where it's served: Wyoming, Colorado, and Montana
Want a bite? Late summer is, apparently, the harvest season for bull testicles: You can get a freshly reaped and deep-fried pair (or quartet) at the annual Testicle Festival (or TestyFesty) in Clinton, Montana, typically held the first weekend of August. As in the rest of Montana, at the TestyFesty, only the strong survive: Besides the obligatory Rocky Mountain oyster eating contest, there's bullcrap bingo (involving a large bingo board where the recently fed cattle roam) and a greased-pig-wrestling competition. At a three-ring biker circus like this, the oysters themselves are almost an afterthought—an afterthought that tastes like chicken…with veins.


What it is: A type of puffer fish poisonous enough to cause violent, swift death
Where it's served: Japan
Want a bite? Fugu is so dangerous that chefs who prepare it in restaurants must be specially trained, licensed, and certified. There are no prerequisites, however, for eating the stuff, except for fairly deep pockets. Fugu's cachet in Japan is a little difficult to understand, considering that a) it can kill you so effectively you almost think it wants to kill you, and b) it tastes exactly like rubber bands. Fugu is only available from October through March, and the classic fugu presentation is fugu-sashi, in which the wildly poisonous flesh is sliced paper-thin and arranged in the shape of a chrysanthemum, with grated radish and sauce for dipping. When radish is the least horrible thing on your plate, you know you ordered the wrong thing.


What it is: Miscellaneous pig parts, ground and mixed with seasoned cornmeal, then formed into loaves and fried
Where it's served: Pennsylvania
Want a bite? Pennsylvania's proud, hardy Quaker ancestors endured real hardships to tame an inhospitable land. Scrapple is our clearest extant proof that they actually enjoyed suffering. How else to explain this unspeakable fried pork mush? Scrapple renders unrecognizable meat trimmings (read: the parts no one wants to look at, much less eat) into a glistening, fatty loaf that tastes like dirty, greasy sausage. It is intended, we presume, to stand in for choicer breakfast meats—or sanity, when both are unavailable.


What it is: Partially developed duck or chicken embryos, served warm in their eggs
Where it's served: The Philippines
Want a bite? If you like your bacon with a side of OMG, balut is your best breakfast bet. Even adventurous eaters have a hard time swallowing this one: mature, fertilized eggs, eaten from their shells—partially formed bones, feathers, beaks, eyes, and all. The squawks of the easily-grossed-out fall on deaf ears in the Philippines, however, where balut is a cherished local favorite. Indeed, balut fans might point out that Americans eat bucketfuls of chicken nuggets, strips, loafs, tenders, and other cock-a-doodle-disgusting machine-extruded formats. To which we respond: Yeah, but McNuggets don't have feathers!