Have you ever tasted mopane worms? Or taken a swig of mouse wine? The Disgusting Food Museum in Malmö, Sweden, displays nearly a hundred delicacies that are sure to make your stomach turn. Their goal isn't to make their guests sick, but to invite visitors to consider the cultural context that makes certain foods palatable and others off-putting.
Disgusting Food Museum
Creators of the Disgusting Food Museum didn't set out to leave their guests gagging. Instead, their mission is to present foods consumed from around the world, and demonstrate that what one person may find gross is another's idea of delicious.
"Disgust is cultural," said museum director Andreas Ahrens. "We like the foods we have grown up with [...] Disgusting Food Museum invites visitors to explore the world of food, and challenge their notions of what is and isn't edible."
Guests can examine 80 exhibits of real food eaten around the world, with dozens that can be smelled and some that can even be tasted.
Also on display at the museum but not included in the following list is balut, a developed duck embryo, commonly eaten in the Philippines and a favorite of Ahrens, and Icelandic shark, which curator Samuel West described as smelling like a mixture of "death and ammonia."
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Spicy Rabbit Head
Spicy rabbit head, also known as 兔头; tùtóu, is scarcely found outside of Chengdu in the Sichuan province of China. The dish was originally sold as street food to accompany a night of drinking and eventually adopted into the mainstream restaurant scene.
Each rabbit head is seasoned in spice signature of the Sichuan region. Diners often wear plastic gloves to take it apart, sucking out meat and brain matter along the way.
Su Callu Sardu
Su Callu Sardu, or goat kid's rennant cheese, is a rare specialty of Sardinian cuisine. It's made using the stomach of a baby goat filled with its mother's milk. One end is tied and it is left to mature for two to four months. It can be eaten spread on local flat breads or sliced and fried.
Casu Marzu, another delicacy of Sardinia, is translated as rotten or putrid cheese, although many anglophones know it best as maggot cheese. The sheep's milk contains live insect larvae and are fermented using the larvaes' digestive enzymes. Experts say the process results in an advance level of fermentation that breaks down the cheese's fat and leaves the texture of the cheese extremely soft. The cheese is eaten inclusive of the larvae and some consider the cheese unsafe to eat once the maggots have died.
"The little maggots can jump up to 15 centimeters (6 inches), so you have to cover your eyes when you eat it," said museum director Ahdreas Ahrens.
Casu Marzu is considered illegal according to European Union food safety regulations, but can still be purchased on the black market.
Pickled Sheep's Eye in Tomato Juice
After a heavy night of drinking, outer Mongolians have a go-to secret recipe to cure their hangover: a pickled sheep's eye in tomato juice. The concoction is said to hail from the era of Genghis Khan.
Century eggs or preserved eggs, also known as 皮蛋; pídàn, is common throughout China and Taiwan. Traditionally, the dish is made by soaking chicken or duck eggs in a mixture of salt, limestone and ash then wrapped in rice husks and pickled for several weeks. The yolk becomes dark green and creamy after preserving while the egg white becomes a jelly-like texture. Today, consumers can easily buy them at grocery stores or restaurants, where it is often served in porridge, with tofu or on its own as a cold appetizer.
Jell-O salad, a dish common in the United States in the 1960s, is made with flavored gelatin and fruit salad, while varieties might also contain grated carrots and other vegetables, marshmallows, nuts and mayonnaise. Jell-O salad continues to be served in states like Utah, where Jell-O is an official state snack.
Haggis is a Scottish dish made of a sheep's stomach stuffed with its heart, liver and lungs, and mixed with onion and other spices. It is considered to be a pudding and said to be savory with a nutty texture. While it was traditionally prepared because its ingredients were cheap and easy to come by after hunting, it is now commonplace in Scotland, where it can be easily found in restaurants, fast-food chains and even frozen or ready-made in grocery stores. Haggis is often served as a part of a traditional Burns Supper, a day that celebrates the birthday of 18th century Scottish national poet, Robert Burns.
Nattō, or 納豆, is a common Japanese dish of fermented soybeans. It is known for its pungent flavor and its slimy and sticky texture. Nattō is often served with mustard and soy sauce to cover the taste. It is believed nattō was invented by accident, by soldiers cooking beans while fleeing from war in the 11th century. It is now cooked and fermented with a strain of bacteria, then refrigerated to produce the stringy texture. Today, it is often served for breakfast and can be eaten over rice and a raw egg, in sushi or on its own.
While pork is the most consumed meat worldwide, predominantly in Asia, the Americas and Europe, it remains controversial and sometimes illegal among Jewish and Muslim populations as it is not considered kosher or halal. Today, there are many ways to prepare pork – breaded and fried to make Japanese tonkatsu, cured to make Spanish jamón or processed into sausages and hot dogs in the United States.
Baby Mouse Wine
Baby mouse wine is exactly as it sounds – 3-day-old mice drowned in rice wine and fermented for about a year. The drink is made and consumed in parts of China and Korea and is thought to have medicinal properties.
Kumis is a fermented dairy drink similar to kefir made with horse milk. While not easy to come by, the drink is popular in Central Asia and contains a minor alcohol content due to the sugar levels in a mare's milk and has a much higher lactose content than cow's milk.
While licorice is considered a candy in the United Kingdom and the United States, salmiak liquorice is a savory and almost numbing variety found in Scandinavian countries. It gets its flavor from salmiak salt, which contains more ammonium than table salt, and anise oil. While its origins began as cough syrup, it is now often enjoyed as candy and its texture can range from soft to a hard pastille.
Kopi luwak – "kopi" meaning coffee and "luwak" being the local name for the Asian palm civet (an animal that slightly resembles a raccoon) – is a coffee made using the partially digested and defecated remains of coffee crops eaten by the mammal. It is produced mainly on Indonesian islands like Bali and Sumatra, and is considered the most expensive coffee in the world at $700 per kilogram. Experts believe this production method ensures the best coffee since the civets only eat the best plants and the digestive process changes the composition of the coffee.
Kiviak or Kiviaq is a traditional food prepared around wintertime by Greenlandic Inuits. It is made using up to whole 500 auks – a small bird in the puffin family – stuffed into a hollowed-out body cavity of a seal. The seal is then sewed up and sealed, then left under a pile of rocks to keep air out for 3 to 18 months to ferment in the seal's blubber. The fermentation process causes the auk to soften and can be eaten raw after the feathers are removed. While preparing kiviak is a difficult process, it prepares an essential food source for Inuits during the winter months when food becomes scarce and hunting becomes more dangerous.
Kalle-pache, or کلهپاچه in Persian, is a specialty of Iran although it is consumed through southeastern Europe, the Caucases and parts of Asia. The dish consists of boiled sheep or cows' parts, and often features the head, feet and stomach. The delicacy varies regionally, but is most commonly served in a broth and accompanied by alcohol or as a hangover cure.
Despite the name, root beer is a sweet, non-alcoholic soft drink popular in Canada and the United States. It was traditionally created with sassafras, a tree native to North America, but is now made with artificial flavors after the FDA ruled the plant a carcinogen. A similar beverage was originally developed by Native Americans before the arrival of European settlers, and is now commercially produced and sold in grocery stores all over North America.
Bull penis, sometimes known under the euphemistic name beef pizzle, is sometimes eaten in parts of China and Korea. In traditional medicine, it is considered a male aphrodisiac, with libido-enhancing qualities. The cut of meat is also found in other cuisines around the world, including Latin America where bull penis soup, caldo de cardán, is thought of as a hangover cure and a natural energy booster.
Mopane worms, the caterpillars that become Emperor moths, are eaten in some southern African countries like Botswana. They're handpicked in the wild, pinched at the tail to expel their innards like toothpaste and then dried or smoked. Some families eat them dried like a crunchy snack while others may rehydrate them and fry them with onions, tomatoes and other spices. Mopane worms are a common addition to the diet in places where protein is scarce.
"Many people are disgusted by the idea of eating insects [...] If we can change our notions of what food is disgusting or not, it could potentially help us transition to more sustainable protein sources," museum curator Samuel West said.
Cuy, also known as guinea pig, is a major part of the diet in Peru and other countries in the region of the Andes Mountains, including Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia. The dish has origins in Incan culture, where cuy was only eaten by nobles or used in sacrifice. Today, it is farmed for meat, and either baked or barbecued whole. It is high in protein, low in fat and cholesterol and similar in taste to rabbit or fowl.
The large, spiky fruit is common in Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia and is known for its smell. After removing the flesh from its thick rind, the durian can be consumed by itself, as a sweet dessert over sticky rice or cooked into savory dishes like curry. While lovers of the tropical fruit describe it as sweet, those who can't stand the taste say it smells of sewage.
Garum is a fermented fish sauce condiment with roots in the Byzantine Empire and Ancient Greece, but gained popularity for its widespread use in the Roman Empire. The liquid is made using the intestines of tuna, eel, anchovies and mackerel and became so popular at one point that trade routes sent garum around the world. It was used as a condiment to season food but also drunk either on its own or with water.
Garum is believed to be the origins of many modern day condiments, including ketchup, colatura di alici and southeast Asian fish sauce.
Fruit bats are considered a delicacy along the Pacific Rim and Asia, including Laos, Guam and Vietnam. They are often hunted using nets and guns and can be grilled or barbecued whole or used as a protein in stews. Many compare the texture to chicken and consider it to be a cleaner meat since their diet consists only of fruit.