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10 Bizarre Cultural Foods Guaranteed To Make You Lose Your Lunch
Food is one of those things that transcends cultural boundaries. Everybody eats, and one of the greatest gestures of goodwill toward another person is sharing your food with them. But as much as we all love trying new dishes, most people would balk at the idea of slurping down an emulsified animal or a tortilla that’s literally crawling.
If you’re eating anything right now, you might want to stop.
Ptarmigans are large birds that live in the Arctic and look sort of like a more graceful version of a chicken. They’re a valuable source of food to the Inuit in Northern Canada because, unlike the Arctic’s migratory animals, they stick around through the harsh winters. In a region where hunters can go months without bringing in a large game haul, a readily available food source is worth its weight in gold.
Because of that, the Inuit have found ways to use every single part of the ptarmigan—even its feces. But ptarmigan droppings aren’t a trail nibble that you can pick up for a quick snack on your way to the closest seal nursery. There’s a very delicate procedure for making the dish taste right. Before anything else, the droppings are collected in winter and brought inside to thaw and dry out. (The fresh stuff doesn’t have the right flavor.)
Next, you need to kill a seal.
Cut the raw seal into chunks, chew on the chunks, and spit the chewed pieces into a bowl. If you feel like spitting some extra saliva into the bowl, it’s all the better. At this point, you can combine the dried ptarmigan droppings with the masticated seal meat, stir well, and drop in some rancid seal oil for extra flavor. According to people who have tried it, it doesn’t taste that bad.
Every November, families all over Taxco, Mexico, gather for one of the most important culinary celebrations of the year. During the festivities, the city comes to life. The tantalizing aromas of hot corn tortillas, fresh-ground chilies, and ripe tomatoes waft from building to building, and the markets pulse with vendors hawking their dishes to the visitors crowding their city streets. And if you stop at one of the many food stalls for a quick bite to eat, you won’t get away without a heaping handful of the main ingredient—live stink bugs.
Known as jumiles, these green, crunchy insects are a culinary treat in Southwestern Mexico. They appear en masse in November and stick around until the end of February, during which time the locals will harvest them by the basketful. Live jumiles are usually added to tacos, but they can also be ground into salsa, fried in their own oily secretions, grilled, roasted, toasted, or boiled. If you don’t want to wait, nobody will look twice if you simply pop a live jumile into your mouth. The taste is often described as “cinnamon-like.”
To unindocrinated Westerners, the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine is sushi. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you might try slapping your chopsticks down on some odori don, but that’s usually as far as it goes.
It’s a shame, because Japanese food gets much more diverse than that. Take shiokara, for example. Shiokara is seafood served in its own fermented entrails. The result is a sort of lumpy, chewy, pungent slurry in various hues of beige, depending on what animal was used to make the dish. The most common version is ika-no shiokara, which is made from squid, although there are dozens of different varieties. It’s usually served with booze, and the conventional wisdom is to take a large bite of shiokara followed immediately by an even larger gulp of sake or whiskey.
On Mangga Basar Street in Jakarta, the cobra stalls open near sunset and stay busy into the wee hours of the morning. Here, customers can partake in one of Indonesia’s most unique and grotesque medicinal practices—a shot of fresh cobra blood mixed with palm liquor.
The setup is simple. Next to each stall is a cage writhing with angry black cobras. When a customer is ready, the vendor whips out his trusty butcher’s knife and lops off the head of the calmest cobra he can grab. Then, in front of the customer, the vendor holds the snake’s body upside down and squeezes every last ounce of bright red blood into a glass, all the while chatting about the myriad health benefits of the sanguine slurry. These include increased sexual stamina for men and firm breasts and clear skin for women, to name a few. These guys make up to $100 a night. After the snake has been completely drained, it’s filleted, and the meat hits the grill, shish-kebab style.
In Vietnam, cobra blood nightcaps get even more hardcore. The setup is mostly the same, but instead of lopping off the cobra’s head, they tear out the cobra’s still-beating heart and chuck it into a glass filled with the snake’s blood and a few shots of rice wine.
Even in the 21st century, Mongolia maintains a strong nomadic culture that still practices the customs of their ancestors, many of which began in the era of the great Mongolian Khans. Faced with the ever-changing world outside of their isolated steppe between China and Russia, nomadic Mongolians have found ways to integrate patchwork technologies with their traditional way of life. It’s almost like stepping into the 13th century only to find that a time traveler has beat you to it: You travel on horseback to a small village, where children play barefoot and water is still pumped by hand. However, beside each round, tent-like ger is a gleaming solar panel, so goat herders can move around and still have electricity.
While much of Mongolian life has caught up with the times, some traditions are entirely unchanged from the way they were centuries ago. Bodog is one of these bastions of the past. Also called Mongolian barbecue, bodog is a dish made by cooking goat meat inside the goat’s own hide. It’s an intricate process that takes hours of preparation and still more hours of slow cooking. After a goat is killed and beheaded, it’s hung by the top of its severed spine while the chef painstakingly removes every bone, organ, and scrap of meat from the inside of the hide, taking care not to pierce the goat’s skin. The viscera is dropped in steaming hunks for the dogs to pick off the snow-dusted ground, while the meat and bones are laid aside and seasoned.
Eventually, the goat becomes an empty sack, which means that it’s time to start cooking. Hot stones from a fire are stuffed into the dangling limb cavities, followed by a layer of meat, and then more hot stones, layer by layer until the goat is full. Then, it’s tied shut at the neck and left to cook from the inside out. Periodically, the whole package is seared on the outside until the fur has burned off, and the former goat has become a white balloon inflated with the steam from the cooking meat’s juices. It is now a bodog.
Peru is one of the most geographically diverse countries in the world. From the lush Amazonian lowlands to the windswept peaks of the towering Andes and down again to pearl-white beaches brushed like a painting along the rim of the Pacific, it’s a country that offers anything and everything, a visual casserole of nature’s most savage beauty. It’s the home of ancient Machu Picchu, the ice pyramid Alpamayo, and the mysterious Nazca lines of the Sechura Desert. It is, in most respects, a very cool place to visit.
But what isn’t cool is a tradition that you’ll find happening every day at open-air markets in Lima, the capital city. Here, vendors prepare a special concoction that has its roots in centuries of Peruvian folklore and mysticism—jugo de rana, or “frog juice.” Simply put, it’s a frog thrown into a blender with a dash of spices and herbs and a squirt of honey. It’s supposed to be good for everything from anemia to erectile dysfunction. When it’s made with an endangered species of frog called the scrotum water frog, it’s called “Peruvian Viagra.” However, any frog can feature as the main ingredient, and they’re used indiscriminately regardless of conservation status.
According to the BBC, vendors can sell over 100 of these smoothies each day, each one with a freshly blended frog as the creamy centerfold. The fact that the drink’s sale continues so openly is a prime example of the clash between tradition and modern conservation laws that’s become an issue in Peru of late. If 10 jugo de rana stalls are closed down one week, 10 more open up the next week. It’s an effort akin to staying dry in a hurricane by swatting raindrops, but if the practice isn’t curbed, enitre species of Amazonian frogs could go down the hatch in the time it takes to chug a mug of slimy, green, frog-flavored Viagra.
At the beginning of 2015, a few photos started to make the rounds on the Internet. They showed a cracker with dead wasps baked right into it, sort of like chocolate chips. Far from being a hoax, these wasp crackers are real and apparently pretty popular around Omachi, Japan.
More of a fad than any kind of delicacy, the crackers are made from digger wasps that are harvested from the wild. The wasps are thrown into a pot of boiling water, dried, and then added to the traditional mix used to make rice crackers, or senbei. Supposedly, the idea was started by a group in Omachi who hooked up with a local bakery to create the crunchy treats. According to RocketNews24, a Japanese news blog, the wasps taste like bitter raisins, and the only real downside is that every now and then you might get a leg stuck between your teeth.
3Dragon In The Flame Of Desire
China’s cuisine doesn’t beat around the bush. The food is vibrant, in your face, and full of life, a culinary kaleidoscope cultivated from centuries of historic tradition. According to the old Chinese saying, they’ll eat anything with four legs except a table, and our money’s on the six- and eight-legged critters, too. However, even in China, some dishes are considered a rarity. The Guolizhuang Restaurant has had a particularly hard time getting its dishes into the mouths and hearts of Beijing’s citizens for very good reason: They’re all made out of penis.
When you order a dish such as “The Essence of the Golden Buddha,” “Lotus Flowers with 1,000 Layers,” or “Dragon in the Flame of Desire,” what you get is an ox penis, a donkey penis, or a yak penis, respectively. Every dish on the menu is some sort of penis, except for the testicle entrees. The menu also offers a single dish made from tiger penis, although it comes with a hefty price tag of $5,700 and has to be ordered months in advance so that the relevant parts can be procured. If you aren’t sure which particular penis you’d prefer, you can order the “hotpot” which, with six types of penis and four testicles, is like the Applebee’s sampler plate of genitalia.
If you travel anywhere in Southeast Asia, there’s a good chance that you’ll stumble across a bottle of snake wine at some point. Found everywhere from Ho Chi Minh City to Hong Kong, snake wine comes from a long tradition of holistic medicine. It’s said that the snake infuses the liquor with healing properties which can treat anything from skin conditions to arthritis. The medicinal effect is believed to come from the snake’s venom seeping into the wine.
Whether or not that’s true, there’s definitely something morbid about the sight of a curled-up snake floating in a jar of amber booze. According to Vice, the production of snake wine is even more unsettling. A live snake is coaxed into a bottle, and the alcohol—usually rice wine—is poured on top of it, drowning the snake alive. A shot of the stuff certainly packs a bite, but it’s not always from the alcohol. There have been several stories of people making snake wine at home, only to find the snake still alive after months of storage. In 2013, a woman in China supposedly went to the hospital when the viper in her wine leaped out and bit her.
1Virgin Boy Eggs
For centuries, spring has hailed the arrival of one of the most revered traditions in Dongyang, China. As the weather warms, and the first signs of greenery begin to grace to hillsides, egg vendors make their yearly pilgrimage to the region’s elementary schools. There, they’ll find rows of buckets laid out for them, all ready to pile into their trucks for transport back to their market stalls.
Over the next few days, a new scent will fill the air. It’s the “smell of spring,” according to some Dongyang residents. And if you wander down the city’s streets, you’ll probably see large pots filled with eggs simmering in a clear, yellowish liquid.
It’s the urine of young boys.
Virgin boy eggs have been a part of Dongyang’s culinary heritage for hundreds of years. Nobody can remember how the practice came about, or why the urine has to come from boys, but that’s the way their parents did it, so that’s the way they do it. Once the urine is collected from schools (the boys are encouraged to urinate in the buckets instead of in toilets), eggs are dropped into the pots and boiled. Then, the eggs’ shells are cracked, and the eggs are dropped back in to soak for a few more hours. It takes a day to make a batch of virgin boy eggs, and they sell for twice the price of a regular boiled egg.
Eli Nixon is the author of Son of Tesla, a novel about love, friendship, and Nikola Tesla’s army of cyberclones. Look for it at your nearest Barnes & Noble, and keep an eye out for the eye-searing sequel, Mind of Tesla, this fall.