Traveling around the world can introduce you to many exotic cuisines, with many dishes that will not only satisfy your hunger, but also pleasure your taste buds. However, this isn’t always the case, for there are some edibles out there that might just make you cringe.
Photo By: Benny Artist
Photo By: Chorboon Chiranuparp
At food markets in parts of China and Southeast Asia, it’s not uncommon to find stalls selling bugs on a skewer. For example, on a stroll through the Hefang Jie district of Hangzhou, you can find vendors selling spiders, silkworms, centipedes, and the carnivorous and poisonous scorpion — all prepared for human consumption. Alive, scorpions can be quite dangerous, but fried, they can be quite tasty. At a glance, they don’t look too appetizing — in fact, they look like they might still be dangerously alive — but pinch the stinger off and bite down, and you have a crunchy snack that is sort of like a crunchy, salty soft-shell crab.
How fresh do you like your sushi? How about so fresh that it’s still moving? Odori ebi is a delicacy that literally translates from Japanese to “dancing shrimp.” If you’re at a kaiten-zushi (rotating sushi) restaurant in Tokyo, you’ll have to order them from the sushi chef — they’re made to order, because they come fresh from the tank. Shrimp are killed with one slice of a knife, and the heads are flash-fried to serve later. Then the tails are peeled and put on a bed of sticky rice, or simply served as sashimi. While the shrimp are technically dead, the muscles are still quite alive, dancing on the plate — and then in your mouth when you transfer it there with your chopsticks. How’s that for a dance move?
The thought of one lively shrimp tail in your mouth not enough for you? How about the eight legs of an octopus? In Korea, head to a sannakji restaurant, where octopi are prepared fresh from the tank. The head of the octopus is prepared for banchan (small dishes), but the main dish is a platter of the tentacles, cut into small pieces. Technically, the animal is dead, but the tentacle muscles still slither as if they’re alive — almost like a plate of squirming worms. Also, the suction cups on the legs are still very much active, often sticking to the plate when you try to pick one up with your chopsticks. Be careful when you put one in your mouth; it’ll stick to the roof of your mouth — and the inside of your throat if you don’t chew it down properly.
Fancy a mouthful of maggots? Travel to the Mediterranean, to the Italian isle of Sardinia for casu marzu, affectionately known as “maggot cheese” in gastronomic circles. Casu marzu is actually a sheep’s milk pecorino cheese fermented so long that maggots start developing inside the rind — and intentionally. The larvae are introduced in the cheese-making process to squirm inside and eat away the fats so that the cheese becomes livelier — literally. If you can get over the maggots wriggling in your mouth, the taste is quite sharp and lasting — it will linger in your mouth hours after you've digested the maggots.
Apart from Silence of the Lambs reenactments, the idea of living larvae in your mouth might not necessarily appeal. But mopane worms — caterpillars that evolve into southern African moths — are fortunately consumed after they've been killed. The critters can be found on platters, in food market baskets and even in cans at some grocery stores. As a staple protein source in many African nations, mopane worms are harvested, gutted, then dried or smoked. They're often added to stew, but on their own, they’re crispy, slightly sweet and with the taste of crab — although some would argue that they taste like chicken.