Food Month: the world's strangest food
Escamole (ant larvae, Mexico) These ant eggs, from the giant black Liometopum ant , are generally found in the roots of the maguey and agave plants in Mexico. Escamoles are used in certain Mexican cuisine, often served in tacos and with guacamole, and the difficulty in collecting them makes them a local delicacy. Supposedly these eggs have the consistency of cottage cheese and a buttery nutty flavour. Apparently. We’re not going to confirm that.
Tong Zi Dan (Urine-soaked eggs, China) These . . . umm, tangy . . . eggs hail from Dongyang County in eastern China. The spring-time delicacy – which translates as “virgin boy eggs” – involves soaking the eggs in the urine of young boys. Local elementary schools provide the “soaking liquid” and then the eggs are boiled in it. It is thought that the snack invigorates the body and promotes health. Photo credit nomnompaleo.com
Casu Marzu (maggot cheese, Italy) This Sardinian cheese – also known as formaggio marcio, which translates as “rotten cheese” – is made of sheep’s milk. A variant of Pecorino, its distinctive flavour comes from leaving it in the open, encouraging the cheese fly Piophila caseito lay eggs in it. These eggs hatch into larvae or maggots, which eat the cheese and cause it to ferment further than normal. The process leaves a pungent, very soft cheese which some say burns the tongue. And the maggots jump out of the cheese when you touch them. Mmmmm
Durian (pungent fruit, southeast Asia) Banned from public transport, hotels and public places in many southeast Asian cities because of its incredibly strong smell , the “king of fruits” has a thorny skin that covers a yellow-coloured flesh. Prized as a delicacy in both sweet and savoury dishes, its flesh is said to have a custardy taste, though detractors say the smell of rotting flesh slightly ruins the experience.
Hakarl (fermented basking shark, Iceland) Anything iron-stomached chef Anthony Bourdain calls “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he’s ever eaten deserves a spot on this list. This Icelandic dish is made by hanging shark and allowing it to ferment for four to five months Typically eaten in winter, the strong ammonia-like smell puts many off. Wimps
Witchetty Grub (large wood-eating moth larve, Australia) These chubby little guys have found fame on the “Bushtucker Trials” in I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. Usually found in the root system of the Witchetty Bush in central Australia, the grubs have long been seen as an integral part of the aboriginal diet. Whether cooked or raw, they are high in protein and “taste like scrambled egg”. They can grow up to 12cm long.
Balut (fertilised duck embryo in the shell, Philippines) Is it an egg? Is it a duck? It’s neither... and both. This Filipino delicacy comprises a duck embryo that has reached fertilisation. And then you boil it. And eat it with salt. Harsh.
Khash (“head and hoof” stew, Armenian) This stew is enjoyed across much of the Middle East and is a festive dish in Armenia – where it is enjoyed in the morning with lashings of garlic and vodka. Its name is basically a list of its components; cow’s feet, stomach and head are boiled together. Only after it’s been cooked are spices, salt, garlic and vinegar added. In Iraq a similar dish, Pacha, is made in a similar way using sheep and rice.
A-ping (deep-fried tarantula, Cambodia) You’ll need to be brave for this one; it’s said this Khmer speciality was borne out of necessity during the years of Khmer Rouge rule, when food was scarce. But even today, Cambodians love the crunchy snack whose centre, they say, tastes “just like chicken”. Yeah right.
Baby mice wine (what is sounds like, Korea and China) This isn’t technically a food, but if you want to ingest something strange, you’ll be hard-pressed to beat this “health tonic” . Hairless baby are thrown live into the wine and left to ferment. And just like the worm at the end of a bottle of Mezcal, when you get to the end, you’re eating those baby mice. Delicious. Photo credit thebwyd.com