By Zubin D’souza
Years ago, when I started Down The Road to become a chef, many people pointed at me, sniggered and told my mother that her son was going to become a ‘mesta’ which was a not too polite form for a cook. My mother took it in her stride, encouraged me anyway and prodded me on saying that one day I would be able to taste all the beautiful food from around the world. I did travel around the world and did taste some absolutely gorgeous food but then it was always the ‘weird’ food that excited me. I had munched on crocodile steak in Australia, raw beef in Africa, snake and turtle in China, Bihari ant chutney, Naga field rats, crisp fried Thai insects and Filipino dogs. Then I realised that it was time to up the ante. I had to reach out and find food that would shake me to my very core. I was looking for stuff that would get such a violent reaction out of me that I would seriously begin to doubt the intentions of both the server and the consumer.
Over the years, I have had the (mis)fortune of trying out several absolutely revolting food items that are too many for me to share today and so look out for the conclusion of the list next week.
I started with Balut which to me is a stepping stone into the realm of disgusting food. This Filipino delicacy is a boiled duck egg (nothing really wrong with that!) but (now comes a clincher of the but…) the egg contains the ten day old foetus of the duck. So can you imagine cracking open this egg to be faced with what could potentially be a cute Donald or Daisy. The eggs are normally eaten in the dark and are enjoyed for their unique crunchy texture.
If that was not the reason enough for you to throw up your substantial breakfast, you should try a dollop of Casu Marzu which is a sheep milk cheese from Sardinia, Italy. The cheese is illegal there which should be an indicator to how ghastly it really is. Imagine a food being illegal in the one place where people actually want to eat it. The cheese is infested with the larvae of a particularly repulsive fly that kind of uses the cheese as a maternity ward and dumps all her little kids around the place who will soon change their new environment into a maggot infested, garbage-dump-odour emanating, and decomposing lump of putrefying matter. If that is not bad enough, the larvae can jump several inches into the air which necessitates that the diner wear eye protection. To add to the horror, the larvae can pass through the body undigested occasionally stopping for a brief while to multiply in your intestines post which they try to bore holes through it and escape causing numerous maladies which may include bloody shit and shitty blood. Aficionados will risk all this to taste a cheese that if it sits too long, may potentially bore a hole through your tongue.
Once as part of our foray into understanding the food from the frozen north, I decided to import in some Hakarl. This specialty of Iceland is probably one of the worst tasting dishes in the world. It is actually a shark that has been caught, dropped into a pit to be covered in gravel and snow, dug out and then finally hung out to dry till it is as decayed, stinky and ***. To be fair the shark is poisonous when eaten fresh…. but to store it till it is mouldy?! Luckily, the shark died a single death because if it saw what it was to become, it would have died many times over. I could have ignored the entire sordid event if there was not an addendum to the episode. Hakari is often eaten and enjoyed at a meal where it shares table space with other winners such as ram’s testicles, pickled whale blubber, seal flippers and a sheep head jam which is lovingly referred to as ‘headcheese’.
Are you really going to eat that? (Part I)
By Zubin D’souza