Halloween is a time for trick-or-treating, dressing up as budget zombies and generally trying to terrify your friends and family. But despite all the supposedly scary things associated with this horrifying holiday, the food is actually pretty tame. In a world where Gordon Ramsay is scarier than most werewolves, bobbing for apples and putting candles in pumpkins just doesn’t cut it. So here’s a round-up of some truly fearful fare.
Balut - The Philippines, Cambodia, China
Imagine the nerve-jangling terror of cracking open a boiled egg, only to find the unhatched foetus of a duckling - beak, partially formed feathers and all - inside? That’s balut - a fertilised duck egg, prized in parts of southeast Asia for its supposed aphrodisiac properties. Oh well, whatever turns you on.
Hakarl - Iceland
There’s some stiff competition (from pickled whale blubber, to salted seal flippers) but hakarl must rank as Iceland’s most abominable bite. It consists of Greenland shark, which is beheaded and buried in the earth for up to 12 weeks. It’s allowed to rot, ferment and putrefy in its own vile juices, before being dug up and hung up to dry for several months. Most people don’t get past the ghastly whiff of ammonia, but it tastes like cheesy sick.
Sea Cucumber - China
You should never trust a creature that breathes through its anus, but that’s exactly what this slippery fellow the sea cucumber does. In fact, he’s not a cucumber at all, but an echinoderm, a sea-floor dwelling invertebrate, which makes him a liar too. With the texture of pork-pie jelly wrapped around a stick of cartilage, and the taste of nothing at all, he’s a real wind-up merchant, but the Chinese seem to like him.
Fugu - Japan
Not many foods can actually kill you, but the Japanese puffer fish has claimed more victims than most vampires. The skin and liver of this despicable delicacy contains tetrodotoxin, which has been known to paralyse and asphyxiate daring diners. Chefs in Japan need a special licence to prepare fugu, which is why it can cost the earth, and sometimes your life.
Pacha - Iraq
This terrible edible from the Middle East is like a cross between a Cup-a-Soup and a farmyard accident. Pacha is the boiled head - replete with eyeballs, brain, teeth and tongue - and hooves of a sheep, simmered in broth with a bit of bread thrown in for good luck. The eyeballs are awarded to honourable guests, so make sure you do something dishonourable before eating pacha.
Blood clams - China
If Bela Lugosi was a fishmonger, he’d specialise in these monstrous munchies. On the outside, the shells are black and hairy. On the inside the clams are red and bloody, thanks to high levels of haemoglobin. They can be steamed or boiled, but connoisseurs and maniacs alike prefer them raw.
Century Eggs - China
Popular with Chinese masochists, these mortifying morsels are traditionally preserved in alkaline clay and ash for several months. When shelled, the eggs are as glazed as a moron’s eyeballs, and when sliced open the sticky dark-green glutinous yolk reeks of sulphur and ammonia. Guaranteed to make your Marmite soldiers go AWOL.
Casu Marzu - Italy
Made by Sardinian lunatics, this is literally the world’s creepiest cheese. Normal Pecorino Sardo has its rind cut and is left out in the open to attract cheese flies. The flies lay eggs, which turn into maggots, which eat the cheese and produce enzymes that makes the fat in the cheese decompose. Only when it’s rotten, gooey and dripping with live maggots, is it ready to eat. That’s probably why it’s illegal.
Cockroach - Thailand
Alongside maggots, grasshoppers, ants, spiders and scorpions, these repugnant refreshments are a common sight on street food carts in Bangkok. They’re usually deep-fried, and have a flavour not unlike pork scratchings, which proves that one man’s nightmare is another man’s bar snack.
Cobra heart - Vietnam
This terrifying tipple consists of a shot glass and a still-beating snake’s heart. The Cobra is sliced open and the heart torn out and popped into the glass, ready to be slurped down in one. As Anthony Bourdain remarked when he tried it, you can still feel it beating on the way down.