Aug 4, 2009
1. This Cheese is So Gross It’s Been Outlawed…
Casu Marzu, a pecorino cheese and Sardinian specialty, surely wins among most disgusting cheeses of the world. The direct translation is “rotten cheese” and rightly so: blocks of otherwise beautiful Italian pecorino cheeses are purposely prepared to become the natural breeding grounds for nests of maggots—the natural harbingers of rot and putrefaction. As if pecorino wasn’t pungent enough…
Like many distinct ethnic practices and traditions, formaggio marcio, is a generations old culinary delicacy, with roots in familial history. The process of producing casu marzu, aka “maggot cheese,” is considered a process of finely metered fermentation. However regionally traditional the consumption of maggot-laced cheese, it hardly jives with modern food preparation and sanitation mores, therefore the offending cheese is officially illegal.
Don’t let that stop you from searching for a chunk along your Italian travels, even if it will run you a steep number of Euros and from a “black market” peddler. “Godfather, you want formaggio marcio? We’ll get you formaggio marcio, don’t you worry.” Reports are it tastes exactly as you might imagine: strong pecorino, the crawly snot-plump bodies of insect larvae, and the slimy fat they’ve made of the digested cheese. Oh, and the worms jump off the cheese while you’re eating it. Mange!
2. Mongolian Boodog
They don’t call it “Outer Mongolia” for nothing. Nomads, sans stainless steel gourmet kitchens, ages ago found more ingenious ways to cook a whole goat, sometimes marmot (but they may have fleas that host bubonic plague, so goat may be a better choice)—from the inside out, after you’ve hung it upside down, bled it and broken its legs.
The stuffing is a bit non-Western, too: smooth hot stones crammed into every cavity imaginable and even up under the leg skin where you would have yanked the broken the bones out. Blowtorch the beast ‘til desired doneness; it can also be roasted over an open fire. That’s authentic Mongolian barbecued meat, Boodog.
3. Soft-Boiled Fetal Duck
Balut takes a top spot by a landslide among the gross egg category, which should include 100-year old eggs. Balut is a fairly common and unassuming street food available in both the Philipines and Vietnam. It has also earned a widespread reputation as one of the all-time grossest ethnic delicacies. Most of the eggs with which Americans are familiar are unfertilized eggs.
The balut, though are fertilized duck eggs, incubated or allowed to grow invitro for a certain length of time, usually a few weeks. Peel back the shell and along with a typical soft-boiled eggy interior is also the small inert body of a fetal duck—small bones, feathers, beak and all, some more developed than others. Most accounts suggest slurping it right from the shell with a pinch of salt. There is a right way to “enjoy” balut.
4. Whole Sheep’s Head
Sheep’s head has been a traditional delicacy served in a number of world regions, including the Mediterranean and Northern Europe. You’ll find smoked versions and recipes for sheep’s head soup, usually presented whole and intact, sometimes with brains, often without (risky to consume). The eyeballs and tongue are particular delicacies.
In America, most meats are separated from their heads, their feet, their tails—so we can forget about the fact that we’re eating something that once had a head, feet and a tail and at that point we no longer call it cow or pig, but T-bone steak, and bacon. Herein lies the grisly factor in sitting down to a meal of whole sheep’s head.
5. Octopus, Straight-Up
Anything still alive and squirming is food for a “most disgusting” list. Raw seafood is legendary in most Asian cuisines, Japanese sushi and Korean kimchi are notorious raw realms. Raw octopus is common as is still alive octopus, served straight-up on a plate or in a bowl.
Baby octopus (sannakji) may be served cut into bite-sized, still-wriggling pieces, suction cups and all, or slurped squirming, whole. Octopus is exactly as you might imagine: rubbery, chewy and fairly tasteless and some brave adventurers report the suction cups sticking on the way down. Regardless, the dish has been a valued part of Korea’s cuisine for centuries and is considered a vitality enhancer and a health food.
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