Yes, people eat fermented basking shark. In Iceland, it’s a delicacy, and they call it Hakarl. That, however, is just one of the extreme foods that humans consume across the planet. Here is a list of food for adventurers, just in case you’re backpacking through China and find yourself hungry for some bird’s nest soup.
Bird’s Nest Soup (yan wo) – China
Whoever invented bird’s nest soup must have been very, very hungry. Whoever eats it today must be very, very rich. A bowl of bird’s nest soup, called “yan wo” in certain Chinese restaurants and found even in the United States, costs anywhere from $30 to $100. It is an adventurous and nutritious meal. Made from the saliva nest of certain asian cave swifts, bird’s nest soup is high in calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium. Did we mention: it is made of saliva nests? Just checking.
Balut – Philipines
Google “balut” at your own risk. Long a common streetfood in the Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam, balut, or gestated duck egg, is just now hitting menus of southeast asian restaurants in the western world. It’s unclear if the item is being sold for novelty or genuine gustatory purposes. What is clear is that balut can be prepared in hundreds of ways, and we can’t find one that seems appetizing. Maybe we’re just not used to it. Maybe balut is a genuine adventure all in itself.
Hakarl – Iceland
By now, Hakarl, or fermented and cured basking shark, is a relatively well-known abomination of the culinary dark arts. Gordon Ramsay vomited after eating it. Andrew Zimmern has described the smell of Hakarl as one of “the most horrific things I’ve ever breathed in my life.” Finally, Anthony Bourdain called it the “single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” that he had ever eaten. Wikipedia says Hakarl tastes like “a very strong cheese slathered in ammonia.” We call that an adventure of the mouth, although not one we’re hungry enough to embark upon.
Casu Marzu – Sardinia
There is a fine line between delicious Italian Pecorino and Casu Marzu. When that line is crossed, a delectable sheeps milk cheese starts to liquify, and insect larvae jump from it and into the skies. When the maggots jump, and they do, up to 6 inches, in fact, then you know the cheese is good. Casu Marzu is considered unsafe when the cheese fly maggots, have died. Casu Marzu is a funky cheese indeed, and one that is illegal in the United States. Sorry American adventurers, but you’ll have to leave the states for this one.
Live Octopus (Sannakji) – Korea
Do you want your mouth to go on the ultimate adventure? Then go to a traditional fine dining establishment in Korea and order the Sannakji. You’ll get more than you bargained for with a squirming cephalopod latching its suckers onto the roof of your mouth as you push it down your throat. That is, however, if you can peel the writhing creature off your chopsticks. Although Sannakji poses a mild choking hazard, this meal is relatively safe. Certain semi-cooked squids served in Korea, however, may not be as safe.
Photo Credit: izik / Flickr.com
Stinkhead – Alaska
While perfect snacks for bald eagles and raccoons, giant rotting salmon heads do not make an ideal meal for humans. The solution? Rot them more! The Yupik people of southwest Alaska wrap the remains of King salmon in grass and bury the partial carcasses in dirt. After waiting a month or more, the adventurous foodies dig up their quarry, which by this time has congealed into a pungent, fermented goop, with even the bones jelly-fied. Tourists are known to shy away from Stinkhead. They shy away from stinkeggs, too. We’ll let you figure out what that is.
Beating Cobra Heart – Vietnam, Cambodia
There are few things in the world nasty enough to be chased down with cobra blood. A cobra heart is one of them, and if you spend enough time asking around in Cambodia or Vietnam, you’ll eventually stumble upon a local willing to slaughter a snake in front of you and feed you the still-beating heart. Rumor is it tastes like metal candy, and you can still feel it pulsing when you finally gulp it down. Another rumor: it’s cheaper if you let your host hang onto the snake’s musculature, which is enough meat to make a meal for a small family. Just a few words of advice: give thanks to the cobra, its fanged jaws still gasping for air, after you’ve enjoyed eating its heart. It’s the least beastly thing you can you.