Not long ago, I did a little research on some of the world’s most famous delicacies. At the time, I was operating under the theory that all delicacies began as the food of the poor and went on to become elegant dishes for the rich. What I found was that while this may apply as a general rule, it is hardly absolute and universal. In addition, I also discovered that there are countless foods that fall under the heading of “delicacy”. Sometimes expensive, almost always challenging, these foods represent the creative, the desperate and the often unappreciated side of food. They remind us that there is far more to life than just meat and potatoes, bread and veggies…
So without further ado, and with the help of my good friend Katrina, here is another list of some of the world’s most disgusting, interesting and puzzling foods. Bon appétit!
Balut: A balut is a fertilized duck or chicken egg with a nearly-developed embryo inside that is boiled and eaten in the shell. Popularly believed to be an aphrodisiac and considered a high-protein, hearty snack, balut are mostly sold by street vendors in the regions where they are available, such as the Philippines and South East Asia.
Bird’s nest soup: A Chinese delicacy that’s been around for over 400 years and is one of the most expensive delicacies consumed by humans. A few species of birds, known as the cave swifts, are renowned for building nest using only the strands of their saliva. These types of nest are collected by scraping them off cave walls and then boiling them, providing both a unique flavor and texture. The most heavily harvested nests are those of the White-nest and Black-nest Swiftlet. These nests are supposedly rich in nutrients which are traditionally believed to provide health benefits, such as aiding digestion, raising libido, improving the voice, alleviating asthma, improving focus, and an overall benefit to the immune system. Whether or not this is true remains to be seen. It has been demonstrated; however, that the nests are rich in calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium. The soup comes in both the savory and sweet variety, the savory being made with chicken broth, pieces of nest, chicken breast, mushrooms, quail eggs, and sometimes ham while the sweet version relies on only the nest, rock sugar, and water.
Blood Pudding: Otherwise known as Black Pudding, this delicacy is a sausage that is made with animal blood. The blood is either cooked or dried and then cooled until it is thick enough to congeal, then it is mixed with meat and other fillers and then put into sausage form. Pig or cattle blood is most often used though sometimes sheep or goat blood is used. Blood from poultry, horses and other animals is used only in rare cases. Typical fillers include meat, fat, suet, bread, sweet potato, onion, chestnuts, barley, and oatmeal.
Kopi luwak: also known or civet coffee, this delicacy comes from Indonesia and is made from the beans of coffee berries which have been eaten and then passed through the digestive tract (ie. pooped out) of the tree dwelling animal known as the Asian Palm Civet. The digestion process is what gives the coffee its unique properties, aroma and flavor (which, thankfully, is not reminiscent of animal dung!) The beans are then collected from the dung of this animal, thoroughly washed, sun dried, and then roasted lightly before being sold. Widely produced in Indonesia, it is also available in the Philippines, East Timor, and Vietnam. Originally gathered in the wild by peasants for consumption either at home or in the royal courts, this coffee has grown to become the most expensive coffee in the world, noted for its lack of bitterness and strong aroma.
Durian: A large tree-grown fruit that is widely revered in southeast Asia as the “king of fruits”. The durian is distinctive for its large size, heavy odour, and formidable thorn-covered husk. The fruit can grow as large as 30 centimeters long and 15 centimeters in diameter, and it typically weighs one to three kilograms. Its shape ranges from oblong to round, the colour of its husk green to brown, and its flesh pale yellow to red, depending on the species. It is illegal to transport this fruit on aircraft because of its strong and unappealing odor, but the fruit itself is sweet and appealing to the taste. Easily identifiable as an ice cream shop flavor because it is the only one in the cooler that has a lid. It’s pungent odor would permeate the other ice cream were it not for the lid.
Guinea pig: here we have an interesting misnomer: an animal which is neither a pig nor does it come from Guinea. In fact, the Guinea pig is a rodent that comes from the Andes region of South America. They were domesticated by Andean Natives as early as 5000 BC and were one of the predominant sources of meat until the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. They remain a staple of many Andean people’s diet to this day and efforts are even underway to increase consumption outside of South America.
Prairie oysters: this one should come with a warning! No, these are not some kind of freshwater oyster that can be found in the many lakes that dot the Prairies. This delicacy is none other than the infamous bull testicle! It is a well-known novelty dish in parts of the American West and the Canadian Prairies where cattle ranching is prevalent and castration of young animals is common. Also enjoyed in Mexico, Spain, Central and South America, they are also known as “heuvos del toro” (literally “bull’s eggs”, eggs being a Spanish colloquialism for testicles), “criadillas”, “cowboy caviar,” “Montana tendergroins,” “swinging beef” or “Rocky Mountain oysters”.
Snake blood: believe it or not, snake blood is considered a delicacy in China and parts of Southeast Asia. Also known as snake wine, this delicacy is created by infusing rice wine or grain alcohol with a full snake or its blood. This custom dates back to the 8 century BCE where it was considered to be a powerful form of medicine by doctors in the Western Zhou Dynasty. It remains a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, used to enhance virility, prevent hair loss and treat farsightedness. The Huaxi street night market of Taipei, Taiwan, is a hotspot for snake blood wine as well as many other snake products.
Well there you have it. When it comes right down to it, we human being can eat just about anything… and often do. It seems that when it comes to food there are only two rules: one, if it was once alive and two, won’t kill you, eat it (although some delicacies can kill you – see fugu in delicacies part three – soon to come!) If its tastes horrible or leaves you nauseous, you can always score points for looking cool.
Want to read It’s a Delicacy Part I?