This traditional sheep’s milk cheese is full of wriggling maggots, whose translucent white worms stretch up to eight millimetres long across your taste buds. It can only be found in Sardinia now that it has been banned by the European Union. The flies lay their eggs in the rind before hatching into larvae, feeding on the cheese to aid fermentation. Since the maggots are eaten alive, making a last-ditch struggle to escape their fate, they jump out of the cheese as you’re eating it—leaping up to 15 centimeters. It is known locally as casu marzu. A similar variety can be found on the neighboring island of Corsica under the name of casgiu merzu.
This Asian delicacy is created from the nest of the swiftlet bird who, rather than collecting twigs for its nest, weaves a nest of its own sticky saliva. The nest solidifies as it is exposed to air into its edible form, but since it is often built high up on the top of cliffs, collecting them is a very dangerous task. There are many people who die each year trying to harvest them.
The egg is preserved in a concoction of clay, ash, and quicklime over the period of several months, after which the yolk turns a shade of dark green to black. The white becomes a dark brown clear jelly that stinks of sulphur and ammonia. Legend has it that this tradition came about 600 years ago in Hunan during the Ming Dynasty, after a man discovered duck eggs buried in a shallow pool of slaked lime used for mortar when his house was built two months before.
Another egg is Balut, a local delicacy from the Philippines, an 18-day-old fertilized duck or chicken egg that consists of a nearly full-developed embryo. You’re likely to find feathers, feet, beak, and claws still on this poor creature. Traditionally, it is boiled and eaten straight from the eggshell by many Filipino men when they are drinking gin and beer.
A fearless snake-handler opens the cobra cage and strikes at the snake with a four-foot long pole, hooked with a shepherd’s crook on the end. The angry five-foot specimen is slit open in front of your eyes and its heart lifted out. You plop the heart into a shot glass of straight vodka—sometimes mixed with bile—before eating it, using a pair of wooden chopsticks. If you squint close enough you’ll see it still beating, and people say you can feel the heart pulsing on your tongue. The tradition of eating a snake’s heart is associated with virility and enhanced male sexual performance. If you can stomach it, you can discover it first-hand in Le Mat, the “Snake Village,” situated 20 minutes from Hanoi.
Also known as “insect caviar,” the edible larvae and pupae of ants are harvested from the roots of the tequila plant to make escamole. It is a dish native to Central Mexico, and was once held as a prized delicacy by the Aztec people. Today, it is often pan-fried with spices, whose buttery cottage cheese taste fills tacos and omelettes.
This gruesome little dish, Khash consists of stewed cow heads, whose grinning skulls stare you out through cold dead eyes, occasionally with a smattering of cow feet. Found in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, it used to be a winter comfort food to get you through the grueling weather, but now it’s considered a delicacy. There are fierce rules surrounding its consumption, though. In Armenia, for example, you can only eat Khash in months that contain an “r.”
Known locally as shirako, which means “white children” and refers to the cod’s reproductive organs, it is a winter season food, sometimes going by the names of kiku and tachi, and is said to be soft and creamy on the tongue. It tastes best when steamed or deep fried.
The controversial practice of eating animals alive is still popular in many parts of the world, such as in Japan and Korea. The live octopus wraps itself around the chopsticks to avoid being eaten and can be dangerous if its suckers stick to your throat on the way down. Sannakji is a baby octopus sashimi that, even though it is served dead, looks like it is still alive because the nerves are still active.
Kopi luwak, otherwise known as civet coffee, is coffee made from half-digested beans eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet animal. It is produced primarily on the islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali, and Sulawesi in the Indonesian Archipelago, but also the islands of the Philippines—it sells for a fortune elsewhere. The idea is that the coffee is greatly enhanced, firstly through the process of selection, because the civets will only choose to eat the very best coffee cherries. Secondly, the beans passing through the digestion tract and out the other end is said to give it a unique new flavor.
Made world-famous by the TV series I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!, this grub is part of the Australian “bushmeat” family, and has been a staple food for centuries to the Indigenous Australians living in the desert. They can either be delved straight into raw, when its taste is supposedly akin to almonds, or lightly cooked, at which point the skin curls and crisps like roast chicken. A closer peek inside, if you can manage it, reveals something that looks like a scrambled egg.