The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

RETURN TRIP: Seven deadly dishes — global grub to die for

While our writers take off on what they hope will be enchanting August breaks, The Displaced Nation will occasionally be reissuing some posts that, for one reason or another, enchanted our readers. Enjoy these “return trips”!
Some months ago, The Displaced Nation explored the theme of Gothic tales — the idea that many of us return from our world travels with some horrific stories to tell. That’s assuming we return at all, of course. Displaced Nation writer Kate Allison contributed this piece on deadly dishes as part of our “It’s Food!” category. It’s one of our most popular posts to date.

A Briton abroad spends a surprising amount of time defending his native national cuisine. I remember going to a steak house in Connecticut where the waitress, upon taking our order and hearing our accents, said brightly, “From England, huh? I hear you don’t get anything good to eat over there. ” When she brought the filet mignon to the table, she did so with the pitying smile of one delivering alms to the starving.

British super-chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver may be taking the US by storm, but still this delusion of bad food persists. To which I say: whatever the perceived faults of English cuisine, at least no one has to take out extra life insurance before eating Yorkshire pudding.

Yet there are quite a few delicacies from countries without this dismal food reputation, where a top-up premium might be useful before you take that first bite.

In ascending order of danger or toxicity:

7. Snake wine – Vietnam, Southeast Asian, Southern China.

An assortment of herbs, small snakes, and a large venomous snake are steeped for many months in a glass jar of rice wine, then consumed in small shots for medicinal purposes. Fortunately, the ethanol renders snake venom harmless.

6. Surströmming – Sweden.

Fermented Baltic herring. Stored in cans, where the fermentation continues, causing the cans to bulge. In 2006, Air France and British Airways banned surstromming from their flights because they said the cans were potentially explosive. According to a Japanese study, the smell of this Scandinavian rotten fish is the most putrid food smell in the world.

5. Fried tarantula – Cambodia.

Tarantulas, tossed in MSG, sugar, and salt, are fried with garlic until their legs are stiff and the abdomen contents less liquid. The flesh tastes a little like chicken or white fish, and the body is gooey inside. Certain breeds of tarantula have urticating hairs on their abdomen, which they use for self-defense. If the spiders are not prepared properly – i.e., if the offending hairs are not removed with a blow torch or similar – these hairs can cause pharyngeal irritation in the consumer.

4. Sannakji – Korea.

Small, live, wriggling octopus, seasoned with sesame and sesame oil. The suction cups are still active, so bits of tentacle may stick to your throat as you swallow, especially if you’ve had one too many drinks before dinner. The trick is to chew thoroughly so no piece is big enough to take hold of your tonsils. Some veteran sannakji eaters, however, enjoy the feel of longer pieces of writhing arm and are prepared to take the risk.

3. Stinkhead – Alaska

Heads of salmon, left to ferment in a hole in the ground for a few weeks. Traditionally, the fish was wrapped in long grasses and fermented in cool temperatures, but then someone discovered Baggies and plastic buckets, which increase the speed of the process. Unfortunately, they also increase the number of botulism cases.

2. Casu Marzu – Sardinia

Made by introducing the eggs of the cheese fly to whole Pecorino cheese (hard cheese made from sheep’s milk) and letting the cheese ferment to a stage of terminal decomposition. Locally, the cheese is considered dangerous to eat when the maggots are dead, so you eat them live and squirming. As the larvae can jump six inches in the air, it is advisable to cover your cheese sandwich with your hand while eating to prevent being smacked in the face by grubs. An alternative is to put the cheese in a paper bag to suffocate the maggots, then eat it straight away. The maggots will jump around in the bag for a while, making a sound, I imagine, not unlike that of popcorn in the microwave. Although the European Union outlawed this food for a while, it has since been classified as a “traditional” food and therefore exempt from EU food hygiene regulations.

1. Fugu (Puffer fish) – Japan

Considered to be the second most toxic vertebrate in the world, puffer fish is a delicacy in Japan, but preparation of the food is strictly controlled, with only specially trained chefs in licensed restaurants permitted to deal with the fish. Fugu contains tetrodotoxin, a poison about 1200 times stronger than cyanide, which is most highly concentrated in the fish’s liver — the tastiest part. Sadly, for gourmets who like to live life on the edge, fugu liver in restaurants was banned in Japan in 1984.

Question: What is the most adventurous dish you’ve ever eaten?

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6 responses to “RETURN TRIP: Seven deadly dishes — global grub to die for

  1. Jack Scott August 20, 2011 at 5:32 am

    Oh my God. I feel sick!

  2. Spinster August 20, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    All of these – ILL. 😐

    Most adventurous? A very small piece of cow tongue some years ago, and emu sausage in Australia almost 2 years ago.

  3. Jennifer Avventura March 18, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Awesome! You’ve mentioned Casu Marzu from Sardinia! I haven’t tried it, but know plenty of locals who love the stuff! I’m slightly gagging as I type this, the thought it too consuming! Great post!

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