Fun Guide

Culinary Creepshow: Freaky Foods to Terrify the Palate

We take a brief tour of some of the world’s freakiest foods, including one from right here in Utah. 

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Illustration by Dung Hoang.

I hate cilantro. There, I said it. To me, fresh cilantro ruins everything from Mexican street tacos to chicken vindaloo. It tastes like soap. But then, there are folks who would put cilantro on everything if they could. Which is just a way of saying that it takes all types to fill the freeways. 

What is horrifying to me might just be heaven to you. So, it is with a large grain of salt, and hopefully, not too much jingoism, that we take a brief tour of some of the world’s freakiest foods, including one from right here in Utah. 

I like octopus. Grilled. But if you’re looking for the strangest octopus eating experience I can think of, you’ll need to book a flight to Korea, where the sannakji craze is fully blown. If you don’t believe me, just do a search on YouTube for videos of people eating live, wriggling, young, raw octopus. According to the Internet which is always accurate, right? an average of six people die each year from choking on live octopus. 

What a way to go. 

The next time you’re in a fancy Italian restaurant and the cheese cart comes by, you might want to pass on the casu marzu. It’s a stinky cheese from Sardinia that literally translates as “rotten/putrid cheese.” That’s because casu marzu goes beyond fermentation to a stage of decomposition caused by larvae of the cheese fly translucent white worms about a quarter inch long. I’m told that casu marzu has an intense flavor. I’ll bet. 

Can’t find your pet guinea pig? Maybe it’s on someone’s plate. In Peru, guinea pigs are farmed for their meat, which is called cuy, is usually grilled, and supposedly tastes like chicken. (Doesn’t everything?) You can even find it in some Peruvian and Ecuadorian restaurants here in the US. 

Back when I was in college, my friends and I would occasionally venture over to Severance, Colorado, which is home to Bruce’s Bar. What is Bruce’s Bar known for? Well, country music and dancing, for one. And Rocky Mountain oysters for another. Yes, in addition to chicken fried steak, burgers, steak dinners and such, Bruce’s is best known for their world famous beef and buffalo balls as in testicles. This is truly nose to tail butchery at its most literal. 

And while we’re on the topic of foods that may disgust some, let’s not skip over Utah. If I told you I was going to make you a nice salad, side dish, or dessert made primarily of animal bones and skin, you’d probably say “No thanks.” But that’s precisely what gelatin is the key ingredient in Jell–O, along with things like artificial flavors, adipic acid, disodium phosphate, fumaric acid, sodium citrate, and, in the case of Strawberry Jell-O, red dye #40. 

While we’ve got red dye #40 in mind, how about a helping of Kool-Aid pickles? In the Mississippi Delta region, some folks are wont to liberate pickles from their standard vinegar and salt brine and submerge them in Kool-Aid for a week or so. Doesn’t really matter what color or flavor blue, red, purple, green those pickles are going to taste both sweet and sour, thanks to their sugary Kool-Aid bath.

The Scots have their haggis, of course. But did you know that something similar exists right here in the good ol’ USA? Yep. In southern Louisiana you can track down a dish rooted in French Acadian cuisine called chaudin (also called ponce). It’s a Cajun preparation of pig stomach which is stuffed with things like herbs, pork, rice, veggies, and spices and then typically smoked, sliced, and served over rice. 

Thanks in large part to Mario Batali, Italian lardo became a gourmet treat in this country. And, most of us have cooked with lard and/or bacon fat. But in the Ukraine there’s something called salo, which is straight up pork fat from the back of a pig served cold, usually with bread, and maybe not surprisingly, often followed by a shot of vodka. 

Na zdorov’ya!

RELATED CONTENT:

HALLOWEIRD—More Fearfully Freaky Foods for Fright Night 

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