As I hesitantly tried guinea pig and alpaca meat in Peru, a friend asked me, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten? I still don’t dare to try fried scorpions in Beijing or Bangkok, but I suppose Japanese shirako (cod sperm) is probably the weirdest on my list. There’s always some strange type of food, a local ‘delicacy’, in different cuisines around the world. I can’t even count the number of times foreigners have found century eggs in Hong Kong revolting, while it can almost be my comfort food when placed in a bowl of congee.
However, I definitely didn’t expect there to be such a list for European foods, until foodie/traveller, Elizabeth, shared the below with me…
Which would you dare to try?
(The below article was not written by me, and doesn’t represent my experiences of the dishes)
1. Sardinia’s casu marzu
If you’re not a fan of strong cheese, you may want to steer clear of this one. Casu marzu, translated to rotten cheese in English, is Sardinia’s famed pecorino cheese that lives up to its name as it’s crawling with live insect larvae. These maggots digest the cheese, with their stomach acids breaking it down into a soft, creamy texture.
Sardinians consider casu marzu an aphrodisiac, usually eating it on a flatbread – live maggots and all. The cheese is a controversial one, as it has been previously banned from consumption in the EU, and questions remain over its legality due to the health risks. However, as the Secret Traveller clarifies, you’ll still be able to find it easily enough if you ask around in Sardinia.
2. France’s escargots
Everyone seems to be aware of the famous (or perhaps infamous) French delicacy that is… snails. Cooked in a variety of ways, escargots are most commonly served in “persillade”, a dark green sauce of garlic, butter and parsley that fills the snail’s shell.
It may sound repulsive but many locals and tourists alike often comment on the incredible taste, likening it to mussels. This isn’t the only way to consume escargots, though – one of Heston Blumenthal’s most famous dishes is a snail porridge. Yummy.
3. Iceland’s hákarl
The concept of eating shark may be enough to test your stomach, but the Icelandic method of preparing the sea creatures for consumption is even stranger. A beheaded shark is buried under sand, stones and gravel for up for 12 weeks, allowing the carcass to ferment, before being cut into strips and hung to dry for several months.
Once a brown crust begins to form on the strips, it’s ready to be served. The taste of hákarl has been compared to old, sweaty cheese by some, as well as “the taste of broken dreams” by other frequent travellers – do with that what you will.
4. Sweden’s surströmming
As soon as you pierce a can of surströmming, you’ll know about it. The pungent aroma of Sweden’s tinned fermented herring is incomparable to anything else, except perhaps the taste of the fish itself. The smell is likened to “eggs rotting in open sewage drains”, so it’s likely you won’t be rushing to try it.
To produce surströmming, herring are caught and stored in barrels for up to two months. They are then transferred into tin cans and sealed, where they ferment for up to an entire year. The result is a soup-like product with bits of fish floating in it, which may indicate why it smells like it does.
5. Norway’s smalahove
One of Norway’s traditional dishes is smalahove, usually saved for the last Sunday before Christmas. What is smalahove, you ask? In essence, it’s a sheep’s head. After the sheep has been killed, the head is split in two and the brain removed. The two halves are then soaked in water for several days before being smoked and then boiled.
Although it seems like a barbaric delicacy, it’s one of Norway’s finest, with the meat around the eyes and the ear considered the best parts according to Dangerous Minds. Usually served with boiled potatoes and swede, it’s a tradition that you may actually enjoy trying.
6. Scotland’s haggis
You don’t even need to travel far to get a taste of something strange. Haggis is the renowned signature Scottish dish that is essentially a sheep’s stomach stuffed with liver, lungs and heart, alongside oatmeal, suet, onion and spices.
It may sound like a strange concoction but it’s the national meal in Scotland, with fans worldwide enjoying its mince-like consistency. Traditionally served with turnips and potatoes, expect to try the meaty dish at least once if you’re crossing over into the northern regions of the UK.
Image source: Flickr