Nibbles That Give Me the Shivers (or, Sh*t I Wouldn’t Eat Again)

The key to eating grilled mutton is to chew and swallow it before the fat cools and congeals on the roof of your mouth.

Our guerrilla eating tip for Central Asia

“You guys seem to have only good things to say about your experiences, especially the food. Have you ever had a bad meal? Something disappointing, gross, or even repulsive?”

You bet.

First off, I understand that what one eats is based in great part on habit and how one was raised. So chicken feet in the morning will never do for me what it might do it for the boy we met in Guizhou, China. But I do enjoy peanut butter on toast, something that repulsed our Tajik, Kyrgyz and French counterparts when we served it in the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan.

And before I’m accused of throwing cultural stones from my glass house, I understand that the United States knows some of its own rather questionable delights. When we queried the Twitterverse about gross American foods, things like Cheese Whiz, Velveeta, Spam, refried beans in a can, root beer, pop tarts and pizza rolls topped the list.

So here’s a sample of treats — that we’ve encountered, eaten or both — that render me thankful for different cultures while giving me culinary pause.

1. Guinea Pig

As a child, I never owned a pet guinea pig, but some of my friends did. And I never harbored even the slightest interest in eating their furry little friends.

Roasted Cuy (Guinea Pig) - Vilcabamba, Ecuador
Grilled guinea pig for dinner in Ecuador.

Then we visited the Ecuadoran Andes. We priced guinea pig at the market, we photographed guinea pig farmers.

Then came time to eat it.

In the words of our table mate, a fellow traveler who was totally stoned: it’s like “a frog in a chicken orientation with the skin of a duck, almost like pork crackling.” (Coincidentally, I highly recommend eating guinea pig with friends who are baked — very amusing.)

And he took great interest in inspecting – and eventually eating – the little guy’s testicles. We opted for the other bits and were underwhelmed.

On a side note, the owner of the restaurant in Vilcabamba, Ecuador serving the critter told us that pet stores in U.S. cities with large Ecuadoran and Peruvian populations are careful who they sell to because they know their goods may end up on the dinner table.

2. Blood bouillon

Two words that simply do not belong together.

Blood Bouillon - Luang Prabang, Laos
Blood bouillon at the market in Luang Prabang, Laos.

But the blood bouillon chunks are cheap as chips and ready to take away at the otherwise beautiful Phousy fresh market in Luang Prabang, Laos.

3. Goat blood soup and “Five Fingers”

Goat, the gift that keeps on giving.

Our horse-trekking guide in the hills of Kyrgyzstan killed and drained the animal. Then we were invited to a Ramadan feast that involved eating every last bit — and every last drop — of it.

Goat Head at Osh Market, Kyrgyzstan
Staring right back at you. Goat head in the market in Kyrgyzstan.

Your impression of beshbarmak (meaning “five fingers” in Kyrgyz) will depend entirely on whose five fingers are fingering your noodles.

4. Anti-Pizza

I’m all about going outside of my comfort zone, except when it comes to pizza.

Can You Really Call this Pizza? Argentina
The Anti-Pizza in Argentina

To my dear Argentine friends reading this: referring to a crust rubbed oh-so-minimally with tomato sauce and piled high with ham slices, marinated palm hearts and thousand island dressing as “pizza” is almost criminal in my book.

Criminal.

5. Sea Horse

Eating a sea horse strikes me as belonging to the class of offenses that includes “eating a penguin.”

Seahorses for Dinner - Beijing, China
Sea horse on a stick, Beijing night market.

6. Sheep-head somsa

We understand that in the photo below, the Uzbek (or Kyrgyz) somsa looks quite tasty and delicious.

Tea and Somsa - Nukus, Uzbekistan
A beautiful somsa in Uzbekistan. But what’s inside?

Now, imagine it being made:

I once described the filling of a somsa as “akin to a sheep doing a swan dive into a meat grinder.” Head, legs, and all.

I stand behind that assessment.

7. Bats on a Skewer

I just don’t eat rodent, even when it has wings.

Smoked Bat Vendor - Bagan, Burma
Bats on a skewer, Burma (Myanmar).

This Burmese bat vendor had such a sweet smile, but not quite sweet enough to entice me to break my rodent fast.

8. Bugs

Yeah, I know. Everyone does bugs. Everyone loves bugs. It’s a rite of passage for the world traveler.

Grilled Bugs - Battambang, Cambodia
Palmetto bugs as an afternoon snack. Chewy. Crunchy.

I chewed this palmetto bug looking thing for at least five minutes. The texture reminded me of a nightmare I once had where I was forced to eat a bag of shrimp shells and wash it down with licorice-flavored printer cartridge ink.

Would I try bugs again?

Only if I were guaranteed an invitation to a Cambodian Buddhist wedding blessing.

9. Cow Stomach in a Peanut Sauce

Take a cow’s stomach, turn it inside out, cut it into little cubes and stir it into a peanut-based sauce with some potatoes and you’ve got something the Andean folks call guatita.

The peanut sauce has its moments.

But those stomach-y bits — that’s where things start to go wrong. Besides being rubbery, their texture reminds me of dryer balls.

Cow Stomach Dryer Balls

Should your digestive constitution remain intact after the completion of today’s reading, make your way to Ibarra, Ecuador. You’ll find guatita served at night on the main plaza for a tidy $2.

10. Balls

Until I encountered this scene in southern China, I kept a partially open mind regarding testicles as a culinary experience.

Testicles for Sale - Guizhou Province, China
Testicles at the market in China. So many varieties.

Not anymore.

———-

Would we do it all over again? Whether we ate it or just sniffed it, I’m certain we’re all the better for it.

Or are we?

Either way, we’ve only just begun. The world is big…and we are hungry.

———

Editor’s Note: We ask you to excuse the censored profanity in the title. It’s the author’s (Dan’s) birthday, so he’s allowed to do whatever he wants today.

Enjoy this?

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Comments

  1. says

    what a gross list!!! i would be proud of this list, if I don’t vomit first. :P I’m all about trying them at least once, and recently tried turtle egg, got similar feeling to your seahorse experience. But I don’t know if I can handle the sight of this goat head on the floor!

  2. Millie says

    Wow! Some great foods there… I’m not sure I would try any.. but so interesting! Well – actually if I were there, I would probably try a bite or two. Happy Birthday Daniel!

  3. says

    Happy birthday Daniel! Wow, that last one is something we didn’t see anywhere – even in China or South Korea (and South Korea has some crazy food.)

  4. says

    Bleh. Double bleh. I envy your ability to stomach this stuff, I just can’t do it. I know I’m a lesser person for it, and I admire your ability to dig in to whatever ends up in front of you.

    Now, I feel a little queasy, I’m going to go eat some plain toast. :)

  5. says

    You ate a seahorse? Did you go punch a unicorn in the face when you were done? :)

    I’ll agree that cow’s stomach is pretty bad. Human teeth are not made to chew through stomach muscle; it’s a bit like having cow flavored gum.

    By the way, the next time we meet, I’m totally laying into you for eating balls. There are way too many jokes to let that one go!

  6. says

    We had starfish on a stick in China… no surprise, they were kind of gritty and fishy. We’ll go ahead and check those off the list of never again items.

    Fun Article, thanks for sharing.

  7. says

    Wow. I was hungry before I read this. Now, not so much. I think it was the testicles that did it. Somehow I couldn’t look away. The blood bouillon was particularly nightmare enducing too. I would like to keep an open mind about eating weird stuff but I’m not sure I would be able to stomach some of these. Maybe the guinea pig and bugs. And the somsa… it is usually better if you can’t tell quite what it is. Hey, I love haggis and it’s all the nasty bits of the sheep right?

    Anyways, I really enjoyed this post in a vaguely horrified sort of way. Happy birthday!

  8. says

    You guys are much braver than me! I could see eating the guinea pig or maybe the somsa if I didn’t know how they made it but the rest – doubtful at best. And I agree, that pizza is just wrong! I did get excellent pizza in Buenos Aires though.

  9. says

    Oh man. I love to eat my way around the world but I would definitely draw the lines at some of those dishes – especially the sheep head somza!
    I think everyone’s reaction upon eating guinea pig in Peru was that it tasted just like fatty chicken. Guess that makes sense, since they usually look like they’re just fried whole :)

  10. says

    Wow- the guatitas actually sound pretty good to me! Here in Chile they’re usually prepared with vegetables (a la primavera) but peanut sauce sounds much better!
    Will pass on the bugs & bats though!

    So what’s the most unusual birthday dish you’ve come across?

  11. Olivia says

    Ugh, that pizza is bad! I’ve been craving good pizza lately and spicy Indian. We discovered a good fusion place in Palermo Hollywood, Azema. Although it promised spicy and didn’t deliver, it was very flavorful!

  12. says

    I’ll just say that none of those items look terribly appetizing to me although I’d still rather eat any of them than Velveeta! I’ve tried the blood bouíllon and I found it to me somewhat more enjoyable than I imagined, although I didn’t go out of my way to find it in SE Asia.

    And I’m with Kyle on this one…a seahorse?? A seahorse?

  13. says

    Oh, how I love me a “bizarre foods” blog! I agree with you that there are just some things that people eat in this world that I just cannot bring myself to eat, I am (for the most part) willing to try them. One thing I love about international culinary..ahem, differences, is that it is quite amusing and it can be the catalyst for a shared smile or laughter between two complete strangers. My English boyfriend was offered a durian by a woman in the street of Khuk Khak, Thailand. He had never been able to get over the smell of durian (not pleasant at all), but because the woman was so sweet, he took a bite. He managed to swallow his bite down but it was quite obvious that he did not enjoy it. The woman laughed as if she had just played the best joke on him. Perhaps she had. =)

    Happy travels,
    Connie

  14. says

    @Lilliane: Turtle egg? At first, I was appalled. Then I recalled once eating turtle soup.

    @Jetpacker: OK, you’ve drawn your line. But I have a question: are pigs cute? Do you eat pork?

    @Millie: Thanks!

    @Akila: Thanks! Be thankful you didn’t see that pizza :)

    @pam: Bon appetit!

    @Kyle: Cow-flavored gum…that is terrifically foul. I love it. I’ll look forward to having that conversation…over some Rocky Mountain oysters.

    @Beau: Saw the starfish, too. Loved photographing it, but didn’t feel drawn to eating it. Good eating fun, China.

    @Stacy: Fabulous comment. To leave the best (or worst) for last — that was the idea.

    @Verity: The testicles seem to be doing it for everyone. Haggis. Now there’s something I need to try. Next up, Scotland? It’s the bits of the sheep, and equally difficult to imagine eating.

    @Matt: Next time we head off to some exotic destination, we’ll take you along. And we can have lunch!

    @Jennifer: BA has some decent pizza, but they do stretch the pizza rules a bit.

    @Naomi: I didn’t think guinea pig tasted like chicken. It was more like duck, but oddly gamey. Fried whole, more or less. Ugh, I’m having trouble just writing about it.

    @Margaret: The guatita peanut sauce was OK, but the stomach bits were just not doing it for me.

    Hmmm, unusual birthday dish. Doesn’t qualify as an interesting dish, but I remember visiting Audrey in Estonia and being served cake and champagne in the toilet. That is another story.

    @Olivia: “Bad” is generous. It’s not pizza!!

    Spicy Indian. Now that = yum. Glad to hear your experience in Palermo was tasty, if not spicy. Time to pack some chilies in your purse.

    @Earl: Now there’s a man taking a stand: testicles before Velveeta.

    Next time we all get together — you, me, Kyle — we can dine on some capybara:
    http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/photos/picture/4347247723/

    Or maybe a toucan.

    @Connie: Food is absolutely a bridge to human connections and humor. Your durian experience is perfect evidence.

    I once bought a durian melon for a friend on his birthday. When we cut into it, it let out a foul-smelling gasp. There’s a reason that you’ll find “no durian” signs (imagine a durian icon with a big red X through it ) in hotels in Malaysia. Like a fruit grocer specialist friend of mine once said, “Durian: like eating kiwi fruit out of a toilet bowl.”

    Enjoy.

  15. says

    I think I unknowingly cringed throughout every description of these foods. But seriously, canned cheese is pretty gross if you think about it.

    I think I’d totally have to try some of these things out while traveling. The stories alone are so worth it! Other than my cringing I was definitely chuckling throughout this whole post. It was very entertaining :)

  16. Blaz says

    Sooo coool ! U talking about rodent feast but I thaught u did eat that guinea pig then …
    I loove the pic with the Burman kid – just great!
    Take care,
    Blaz

  17. says

    Tried the Guinea Pig in Puno Peru – not my fav. Found it a little too greasy for my liking. Though I think mine wasn’t fully cooked – at least the cold sweats and unwanted movements afterwards would dictate that!

  18. says

    Well done, I love this article and all the awesomely weird foods offered around the world. I absolutely love sampling weird foods and especially things with strange and repulsive textures. This is a great collection, I want to try those bats on a stick in Burma!

  19. says

    Great post! I have tried the guinea, the bats (in Burma, no less!), the bugs and the anti-pizza. Like Migrationology Mark, I love to try all the weird foods on offer as I travel and you’ve now added some new (crazy) ones to the list!

    -Jodi

  20. Jeffrey Noll says

    Wow! After number ten I knew it was time to move on and quickly. I don’t know how dinner would have gone had I read this prior to eating. I think I will just put it out of my mind.
    Oh and if you are thinking of pizza, just remember that little five letter word
    BUONA
    Love,
    Jeff

  21. says

    @Jason: Guinea pig wasn’t so bad, just underwhelming, at least for me. As for your other feelings, go with your inner wisdom.

    For whatever reason, your comment makes me think of Anthony Bourdain. He eats all sorts of things of course. On one occasion, I read or saw a video of him eating cobra hearts. Now I thought to myself, “There just isn’t any time of day when I think, ‘mmm, really could go for some cobra hearts.’”

    So, basically, I think all this adventure food stuff is a contest in the bizarre and gross. For my time and money, I really much prefer to eat things that are satisfying, interesting. And we’ve had plenty of that.

    @Blaz: No rodent feast. I don’t do mice.

    @Cam: Peruvians were trying constantly to get us to eat guinea pig, if only for us to compare it to the Ecuadoran variety (and of course, find it superior). I suspect that Peruvian guinea pig is better. It was certainly cheaper. Anyhow, I was over it. And with so much other beautiful food across Peru, I didn’t have cycles to burn on furry little critters.

    Umm, yeah. Cold sweats and unwanted movements. Word to the wise: make sure your next guinea pig is fully cooked.

    Am laughing. Not at you, but with you.

    @Mark: If you like strange and repulsive textures, I strongly urge you in the direction of some winged insects and cow stomach in blood bouillon. That ought to do the trick.

    @Jodi: See my comment to Mark. Perhaps you guys can swing a lunch date.

    @Jeffrey: #10 does it again! By the way, I’m laughing, laughing at some of the best *real* pizza in the world, spelled out for me in capital letters. I could go for some right about now. Oh, and a Krispy Kreme donut.

    @Eva and Jeremy: Not nuts. Just hungry ;)

  22. says

    I am so with you on the Guinea Pig. Cousins of mine had them for pets and I couldn’t get that image out of my head. The traveler next to us ordered the guinea pig dish so that it appeared just as it did in your photo above. I figured if I was going to get a bit of this down the gullet, I had to do something that did NOT resemble road kill.

    I went with the strips of guinea pig, thinking sure, it will taste just like chicken. Turns out I was wrong and lost my appetite on the first bite.

    You live and learn!
    Johanna

  23. says

    @Anil: Sounds like another satisfied customer ;)

    @Johanna: Guinea pig strips, now there’s a novel idea. I didn’t think there was enough meat on the animal to do that. Guinea pig shards, flakes, or fragments maybe.

  24. says

    I just don’t even know what to say…I looked at each photo with a horrified fascination and couldn’t stop scrolling down. Props to each of you for trying these – trying hard not to sound like a uncultured/priveledged traveler when I say some of these make me really glad I don’t eat meat!

  25. says

    @Shannon: You are not sounding uncultured or privileged at all. These experiences aside, our mantra has always been: “Mystery vegetables are better than mystery meat.”

  26. says

    Come on, toughen up! Balls are dead tasty. Blood – what, you never ate black pudding?!? Best bit of a sheep head is the eyebrows, by the way. Now where’s that haggis…

  27. says

    @Tom: Nice to see you here. Last time I had black pudding (or blood pudding, as I’d call it), I was in Estonia. I very vaguely remember it pairing nicely with vodka.

    As for the haggis, I thought I would leave it alone this time. It always manages to get bad press.

  28. says

    Doesn’t sound nearly as diguisitng as it was to eat, but I’d add Goose Wings to this list. Supposedly a specialty from the Chew Chow region of China’s Guangdong province, they were tough and filled with bones and cartilage. The only way to eat them was to stick the entire thing in your mouth and then spit out the bones and it’s something I could not stomach!

  29. says

    OMG! OMG! OMG! I’ve never read a more disgusting list in my life lol

    I was expecting to see food that I’d read how gross it was in other blogs, but your list came as a complete shock! WOW! just WOW! I can’t get over what I just read.

    And that “Mystery vegetables are better than mystery meat” is soooo true. You are one tough cookie that’s for sure!

    My eyes and stomach will never be the same after this.

  30. says

    I’ve seen a lot of this stuff in my travels, but it makes me start to hyperventilate by just looking at it, then it isn’t going in my mouth.

    I was just about to eat lunch, but I think I’ll “chew” on this post for a while :)

  31. says

    @Aaron: Thanks for your comment and addition. Goose wings. Sounds greasy, boney, and chock full of cartilage — like a Chinese specialty. Chicken feet still make me shudder a bit more. I like the visual of eating the wing whole, than having to power through and machine-gun the bones out when you’re finished.

    @Megan: Glad I could be of service. And sort of sorry that you’ll never be the same. To repair yourself, consider reading Peruvian food, something a little tastier:
    http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/2010/01/peruvian-food-more-than-just-ceviche/

    @Nancie: Welcome to the neighborhood and thanks for your comment. There’s quite a bit of potential hyperventilation on the road. This is really just the tip of the gross food iceberg.

    “Chew on it for a while.” — I really like that.

  32. says

    Those sea horses just look wrong!

    Cow stomach (tripe I think) is actually quite yummy. We eat it all the time in Nigerian soups. Liked cuy too. Then again, I grew up eating all manner of bushmeat.

    Brave man!

  33. says

    @Lola: Tripe can be yummy. It just depends on how you serve it. The Czechs serve something called drstkova, which is basically blended tripe. Now that’s decent. Guatita wasn’t so much gross (well perhaps to some the concept is) as it was underwhelming.

    In any case, looking forward to more bush meat!

  34. Paolo says

    That is one collection of really distasteful foods! I’d add Casu Marzu to THE list, though. Even as a resident of Sardinia (where it comes from) I can’t stand the idea of eating cheese with live maggots…

  35. says

    @Paolo: Now that is a profoundly foul and bizarre dish. Cheese with live maggots…really? That is the stuff of nightmares. What’s more surprising is that it comes from Sardinia, a place that is well-known for excellent cuisine. Thank you for your contribution — from the bottom of my now empty stomach ;)

  36. Morgan says

    I was reading this for a foods and nutrition project on strange and bizarre foods from aorund the world. Some of these are just too weird. Whoever came up with these had a creative mind for not wasting ANY part of the animal. I actually do want to try some of these. Can’t wait to try! Thanks for giving the name of the food and the name of the country so in the future i know where to go to try some of these foods :D thanks <3

  37. says

    @Morgan: Wow, nutrition research ending up on this page. Now there’s a story in itself. Am glad we could help you find some strange and bizarre foods, including where exactly to get them. Happy hunting!

  38. says

    Oh my god I laughed so hard about the Palmento bug and the peanut sauce/cow/dryer balls. I give you credit for tasting them. Those wouldn’t work for me. I have a queasy stomach about anything that is a bug. Hell, I don’t even like to look at bugs…lol

  39. Madhu Bhardwaj says

    I know who would love this article and all the things on it. The person who hosts the show about Bizarre foods on TLC.

  40. says

    @Lisa: Laughing? Mission accomplished! Eating bugs isn’t that bad, just not particularly notable. As for cow stomach, I’ve had it plenty. Again, not something I long for. As for all of this, you could always close your eyes when you eat :)

    @Madhu: I’ll give the Bizarre Foods folks at TLC a shout ;)

  41. says

    I both laughed and cringed whilst reading this list. I mean…SEAHORSE?!? Ewwwww who would eat a seahorse! Probably the same person who’d eat a penguin.

    That “pizza” IS criminal. Argentina, sort yo’ mess out!

  42. says

    Pig’s blood bouillon chunks is actually readily available in SE Asian countries like Taiwan and Hong Kong. It’s normally eaten in hotpots or with steaming bowl of noodles.

    Too bad it was banned in my country, Singapore.. We have one less fear factor food to boast now.

    But luckily we still have these top 5 fear factor foods to make any visitors cringe.

  43. says

    I know the CheeseWiz is a bit off, but these items take gross to a whole other level….and I’m actually planning to eat a bug during my travels! Animals still in there stiff form or bloody rubber squares are just too much. I do, however, appreciate this post and it’s photos. Maybe when I see these odd eats in person next year my jaw won’t drop completely to the floor (a complete lie – it will!)

  44. says

    I am going to die with hunger. I am a pure vegetarian guy. i can’t eat these stuff. if i would have no option left i would prefer to die.
    Can’t work for me.
    Oh .Goshhh…

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Nibbles That Give Me The Shivers (Or, Sh*t I Wouldn’t Eat Again): Please don’t read this if you’ve recently eaten.  We’ve all read posts about disgusting food before — come on, you totally have! — but Dan from Uncornered Market takes it to the next level, including disgusting things the likes of which I’ve never seen.  With photos.  PLENTY of photos. [...]

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