I don’t think I am ever going to convince anybody that what I do for a living — traveling and eating — could be counted as one of life’s tougher jobs. I am usually placed in the enviable position of spending time in fascinating places and eating amazing food prepared for me by talented and generous cooks.
That said, on more than one occasion I have been faced with a particularly challenging local delicacy that I have had to force down as enthusiastic locals watch for my reaction. Some are challenging because they contain ingredients alien to a Western palate, others because they are made using techniques like fermenting, which makes them an acquired taste. However, some are just objectively nasty and should be mentioned in the Geneva Convention.
Here are the 10 worst foods I have encountered so far.
Dende oil (Brazil)
This dislike is a purely subjective one. Dende oil is the cooking medium for much of the fried food in the Bahia region of Brazil. It is extracted from local palm trees, and the origins of its use go back to the cooking methods of African slaves. The taste of anything cooked in the oil is very strong, but you are unlikely to get that far, as the smell is reminiscent of an unwashed armpit.
Kopi luwak (Sumatra)
Time to fess up: I have never tried this one. Not because I have any great fear of drinking something that has passed through the digestive system of the Asian palm civet and then been collected by rummaging around in its feces, but because coffee is one of two things to which I am allergic (the other being oysters). Apparently kopi luwak is the most expensive brew on earth, so maybe I am missing something. I can learn to live with not knowing.
Let a fertilized duck or chicken egg develop until it is embryonic. Boil it and serve with chili vinegar, and you have balut, the street food of discerning Filipinos. There is a strict etiquette to eating balut. First, sip the liquid from the shell. Next, chew the remaining contents, making sure to crack the bones for good measure, and then toss the shell on the ground. For me, the only rule is to run as fast as possible in the other direction if I am ever offered one again.
Roasted camel (Morocco)
Butchers in the famous city of Casablanca advertise the origins of the camel meat they are selling by hanging the grinning heads of the animals outside their stands. Nearby, stalls are set up to grill your purchases for you, in kebab or sandwich form. The meat is tough and gamy. The locals seemed to like it, but it took more chewing than my sensitive gnashers were able to dish out.
Cod sperm (Japan)
In the spirit of adventure and so as not to lose face in front of a crowd of smart Japanese businessmen, I tried these small white sacks of slimy unpleasantness in a trendy sushi bar in Kyoto. I threw up, and they laughed a great deal.
I am not particularly sentimental and don’t have any great issue with people eating Fido if that is what their customs dictate. For the record, the meat tastes like gamy pork. However, once I found out that cooks like to beat the dog while it is still alive, believing that the added adrenaline in the meat will give virility to those who eat it, I made a vow never to touch it again.
Cane rat (China)
I totally understand that people have to use what resources are available to them to survive. However, the sight of a dried cane rat at a food stall in Yangshuo, in southern China, was not a particularly welcome one. Being a culinary adventurer, I felt obliged to try it. What can I say? It tasted just as one would imagine a dead dried rat would taste. Let us never speak of it again.
Durian (Southeast Asia)
Signs bearing the silhouette of a large prickly fruit with a line through it can be found on the doors of hotels, buses and trains throughout Southeast Asia. They are a firm warning that the dreaded durian is not welcome, and it is easy to understand why. Although the taste of the fruit is not at all unpleasant, the smell is enough to peel the skin off one’s face from one hundred paces away.
They say Mongolians are born in the saddle and die in the saddle, and it is certainly true that the horse is vital to their nomadic lifestyle. They also eat plenty of horse meat and manage to consume almost four liters of mare’s milk a day. Mare's milk is fermented in a cowhide container until it is a potent 5 percent ABV: having tried it, I have to wonder how any of Mongolians manage to stay in the saddle at all._________________________________________________________________________
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