29 World Delicacies That Might Make You Cringe

By Jake Schroeder
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Photo Courtesy: Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The idea behind what’s edible around the world has a lot to do with location, location, location. A dish that a citizen of one country can’t live without might make someone in another country feel like losing their lunch. Believe it or not, rotting fish, fried insects and live animals have places of honor on some menus around the world.

Adventurous eaters are in for a treat — or a trauma. Only the boldest foodies will make it through this list of bizarre meals. Get ready to try 29 world delicacies that might make you cringe.

Witchetty Grub

Down under in the Australian Outback, indigenous Aboriginal people have dined on a rich, juicy viable protein source for years. The practice of eating insects for nutrition is relatively new to most Westerners, but that’s not true in some parts of the world. In the bush of Australia, the natives prefer to eat the larvae of the ghost moth fried.

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Photo Courtesy: Sputnikcccp/Wikimedia Commons

The Witchetty Grub is one of the easiest "fast foods" to gather and make in Australia. Chowing down on a handful or two of the grubs brings to mind a cross of shrimp and chicken. The thought of eating fried larvae might make many people squeamish, but these Australian mainstays provide essential nutrients and vitamins to get anyone through the day.

Natto

If it's stinky, sticky and looks a bit gross, it must be tasty and good for you, right? Japanese dishes like ramen and sushi aren’t the only culinary gems the country offers. Fermented dishes like natto are treasured for their health benefits and unique flavor profile.

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Photo Courtesy: Carstor/Wikimedia Commons

Trying natto is not for the faint of heart, as it’s one of those dishes that definitely requires "an acquired taste." The pungent, nutty flavor and stringy texture of natto are created from fermented soybeans and bacteria. It may look intimidating — and smell off-putting — but it offers probiotics and immune-boosting benefits.

Fugu

Not all delicacies look or smell alarming. In Japan, fugu (pufferfish) comes with a high price tag — and a heart-stopping health risk. Chefs must undergo three years or more of training before they can prepare this sought-after fish sashimi, smoked or fried, and serve it to guests.

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Around 40 types of fugu are fished and served annually, but this fish has a deadly secret. The liver, intestines and ovaries of fugu contain tetrodotoxin, a poison more ruthless than cyanide. Eating the liver has been banned since 1984. Fugu just might be Japan's most notorious delicacy.

Shirako

Certain delicacies in Japan may shock foodies once they realize what's on their plate. Shirako may seem innocent enough with a name that translates to "white children" in English, but take a second look. Hold onto your chopsticks — shirako is a serving of cooked (or sometimes raw) codfish semen.

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It’s traditionally served fried in tempura, raw like a custard or on top of rice. Before you freak out over the idea of eating fish semen, the creamy, custard-like taste may redeem the dish. Japanese people believe eating shirako helps prevent aging. At the very least, the brain-like ball of fish semen provides vitamin B and protein.

Mopane Worm

Once humans understood the nutritional value insects provide as a meal, eating them wasn’t just for the birds. Instead of grabbing a handful of crispy potato chips, try snacking on mopane worms, a staple for the rural inhabitants of Zimbabwe. In urban centers in Zimbabwe, eating the mopane worm is considered a rare treat and a delicacy.

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Despite the name, it isn't actually a worm at all. It’s a sizeable caterpillar of the emperor moth. The misnomer comes from the caterpillar's habit of feeding on the mopane trees after hatching. Diners chow down on dehydrated mopane worms or cook them with sauce.

Huitlacoche

Normally, if a plant or animal had a disease, you would want to keep it far from your dinner plate. However, huitlacoche, or "corn smut," is an ancient and beloved food in Mexico and beyond. Instead of tossing out corn that is covered in the fungus Ustilago maydis, the locals collect and covet the contaminated corn.

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Eating huitlacoche has been a practice since the time of the Aztecs. The fungus has a mushroom-like taste and texture and is added to soups and used to fill quesadillas. Huitlacoche is prized when harvested a few weeks after it infects the corn and is identifiable by its signature grayish color.

Live Scorpions

In certain places in the world, people have discovered how delicious scorpions are when fried and served on a stick. Foodies who are a bit more daring might want to try eating live scorpions, a delicacy in China. Only 40 of the 1,500 species of scorpions are a grave danger to humans, so the odds are in your favor, right? Eat up!

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Okay, technically, scorpions should have their venom glands and stingers removed before eating them raw. In China, they are dipped into heated oil or a wine sauce and sprinkled with seasoning before they’re ready to eat. Eating a scorpion provides 80% protein, high calories and not much flavor when served raw, actually.

Live Octopus

Eating live animals isn't for the faint of heart and generally requires a steep learning curve to safely accomplish it without damage. In Korea, eating live octopus is also known as sannakji, or "wriggling octopus" in English. There are two ways to eat sannakji — both requiring a great deal of bravery and a strong stomach.

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Diners can either deftly wrap a whole live octopus around their chopsticks and pop it into their mouths, or the chef can cut the octopus into smaller pieces and serve it — still moving — immediately. Sannakji is a dish that can prove deadly, as those suckers on the tentacles of an octopus can be a choking hazard.

Tarantulas

Put aside any feelings of arachnophobia when you’re in Southeast Asia. Spiders are a popular snack in Cambodia. Due to deforestation and the growth of the country as a tourist attraction, overharvesting of tarantulas in Cambodia has made this delicacy even rarer. In the province of Kampong Cham, vendors sell fried tarantulas to both locals and tourists.

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The body of a fried tarantula is considered to be one of the best parts, but the crispy legs are good too. The flavor of fried tarantula is close to eating crab, and the spider pairs well with a cold beer or a glass of wine. The popularity of eating tarantulas developed as a result of Cambodian survival techniques.

Locusts

Forget about being a biblical plague, locusts make a delectable snack on the go in Israel. They are one of the few insects in the world that are kosher, crunchy and delicious dipped in chocolate. Instead of tolerating locusts eating farmer's crops, the tables are turned by turning them into a meal.

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Locusts are enjoyed in Israel battered and fried, and they contain vitamins and nutrients like zinc, protein and iron. Eating a locust tastes something like a cross between prawns, sunflower seeds and chicken schnitzel, according to those who eat them. The Torah has advocated the consumption of four different types of desert locusts, so it can't be a shonda.

Fried Rattlesnake

In the southern region of the United States, rattlesnake is a popular delicacy for locals in states like Texas and Arizona. Foodies flock to various restaurants or dare to capture a wild rattlesnake of their own for dinner. If you’re one of the brave ones, a rattlesnake needs to be at least 3 feet long to be worth the effort it takes to fry and eat it.

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Rattlesnake is a bit bony, but the flesh is light, chewy and has a flavor akin to chicken. Feasting on fried rattlesnake includes a tasty batter of flour, cornmeal and a host of spices. The meat requires a lot of tenderizing, and rattlesnake can still take some time to chew.

Rocky Mountain Oysters

Another culinary gem from the southern and southeastern parts of the United States is the fabled Rocky Mountain oyster. Sound delicious? Well, don't be fooled by the name. These "oysters" don't come from any creature that lives in the sea. In Canada, this delicacy is called "prairie oysters." The dish is served rounded or flat and fried throughout the Americas.

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Rocky Mountain oysters are bull testicles in disguise — battered and deep-fried to perfection. This delicacy is often served as an appetizer at restaurants, baseball parks and cookouts. The taste is a bit gamey for some, and the texture is similar to rubbery calamari.

Lutefisk

The world can thank the Vikings for the creation of lutefisk. At first glance, it has a gelatinous appearance because it’s processed with lye. Lutefisk isn’t just a popular delicacy in Nordic countries like Sweden and Finland; it’s also served in Minnesota in the United States.

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So what is it exactly? It’s created using aged whitefish or stockfish, which sits in cold water for up to six days. The fish is left to swell in a bath of lye and cold water for a few days before it’s soaked in water once more. Lutefisk is then cooked and traditionally served with a side of potatoes, green peas, butter and bacon.

Haggis

Haggis is Scotland's national pride in the culinary world, and it’s a flavorful delicacy with a rich history. Unlike puddings that are created to be a dessert, haggis is a savory dish, and creating it requires some effort and a host of ingredients.

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Traditionally, an animal's stomach is used to cook and contain minced onions, suet, spices and the heart, lungs and liver of a sheep. The ingredients are left to boil for about an hour before the haggis is ready. The origins of haggis are a mystery, but the dish is linked to old Viking tradition. Still, it’s one dish you can’t miss in Scotland.

Escargot

France didn't just give the world good wine, crepes and baguettes. Escargot (snails) are a luxurious delicacy but not for the faint of heart. The idea of eating land snails might seem revolting at first, but it has been done since the days of ancient Rome and is practiced around the world.

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The snail species Helix pomatia is the one most often served. The snails are removed from their shells and are traditionally cooked in chicken stock, wine and garlic butter. The tasty creatures fetch a pretty penny at fine restaurants and are served in their shells with butter, sauce and distinctive serving tongs.

Steak Tartare

Steak tartare is a surprisingly versatile dish. It’s either made from fresh ground beef, horsemeat or tuna. Adventurous food lovers may enjoy steak tartare served with capers, Worcestershire sauce, seasonings and a raw egg yolk placed neatly on top.

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Eating raw meat may make some people feel queasy, but it’s a carnivore's delight to enjoy this delicacy from the Slavic regions in Europe. Mongolia is believed to have influenced the creation of this dish through the tradition of finely mincing tougher cuts of meat from camels and horses so they could be eaten. Caution should be taken when consuming this delicacy because of the risk of E. coli and food-borne illnesses.

Boodog

There's something about cooking food in a sack that elevates a dish, right? Travel to Mongolia to discover the authentic cuisine known as boodog. Practicality and the ability to travel light were the inspiration behind this hearty dish, which requires an animal carcass in lieu of a pot.

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A marmot or goat is butchered from neck to groin and then re-stuffed with meat, seasonings, vegetables and hot stones. Boodog is typically cooked during the winter, and it’s ready to eat when fat starts dripping from the carcass' neck. The stuffed meat bag is barbequed over a fire, and any fur left on the outside is scraped off before opening the boodog to enjoy it.

Kangaroo

In Australia, the Aboriginal people knew eating kangaroo was a delicious and nutritious dinner choice. Kangaroos have often enjoyed protected status, maybe because even non-indigenous people in Australia now realize how tasty the tail is when roasted.

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The idea of eating a kangaroo might seem tough to swallow, but the meat offers an alternative to consuming beef and pork. Kangaroo meat tastes similar to venison or beef and is a choice ingredient for soup. Recipes for preparing kangaroo were big in the 1930s until falling out of public favor, but renewed interest is surging.

Hákarl

If you live in an isolated and challenging region like Iceland, maybe it's no wonder Hákarl is the national delicacy. This is not a dish for anyone with a weak stomach or a sensitive nose. The traditional dish gives off odors of ammonia and rancid, decomposing shark flesh.

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After the Vikings settled Iceland, they discovered an uncanny way to preserve shark, a staple in their diet. Hákarl is buried in a pit to ferment for up to 12 weeks. Then, it’s left to dry for several months. When the Hákarl is ready to eat, it has a dry, brown crust on the outside and is cut into small pieces for consumption.

Escamoles

Bugs are a resourceful ingredient in many delicacies around the world, and escamoles are a favorite in Mexico. Thank the Aztecs for letting the world know how delicious ant larvae, pupa and eggs are to eat. In central Mexico, eating escamoles is akin to dining on the finest of caviar.

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At first glance, the dish looks like small corn kernels, but it has a nutty, buttery taste. The texture of escamoles is similar to cottage cheese. Traditionally, they are fried, wrapped in tortillas and served as tacos. The eggs of the velvety tree ant, Liometopum apiculatum, are highly prized for their fattiness and distinctive odor.

Guinea Pig

Cuy, or guinea pig in Peru, is a delectable, traditional dish in the country. Since the time of the Incan people, guinea pig has been served with a side of salsa and potatoes. Pet lovers might be horrified at the thought of eating guinea pigs, but the Peruvian Guinea Pig is a relative to the cavy.

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Cuy has a gamey taste with a similarity to chicken but more complex. The meat is high in protein but low in fat. It’s typically served fried or roasted, and the head is one of the tastiest parts — if you’re willing to give it a chance.

Giant Bullfrog

Forget eating simple frog legs alone. In Namibia, it's common to dine on whole giant bullfrogs. Eating a delicacy like a bullfrog doesn’t come without risk, of course. The skin and organs of the giant bullfrog contain harmful toxins that could cause kidney failure or even death when eaten.

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The Pyxicephalus adspersus is the largest of its kind in Namibia. Despite being endangered, the frog continues to end up on the plates of locals. Eating the frogs before they reach maturity is a risky culinary adventure, but cooking the animal in a pot lined with dry wood reportedly neutralizes the toxins.

Cobra Hearts

Over the centuries, some cultures have sought to gain the powers and natures of the animals they consume as food. In Vietnam, it’s a common practice to devour cobra hearts and drink the blood of snakes. Just 20 minutes from Hanoi by cab, there’s a place known as "Snake Village" where diners can eat still-beating hearts.

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To serve a cobra's heart, an expert chef prepares the reptile while it’s still alive. While diners eat the fresh heart, the rest of the snake's body is prepared to be battered and fried or seasoned and sauteed. The blood of the cobra is enjoyed like a shot of alcohol.

Tuna Eyeballs

Madama, or tuna eyes, are a popular delicacy in Japan and throughout other parts of Asia. They can be picked up at grocery stores for a cheap price, or you can find them served at bars fried, steamed or stewed.

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The consumption of fish eyes didn’t come from necessity or ancient tradition. It popped up as a popular delicacy in Japan during the ‘90s. Tuna eyes are a good source of DHA and Omega-3, and they taste a bit like a hardboiled egg. The fatty part of the eye has a flavor similar to squid or octopus and is seasoned with mirin, soy sauce and sugar.

Balut

It goes without saying that some delicacies are not easy to swallow. In the Philippines and parts of Southeast Asia, balut is a strange street food to many outsiders. Coming from Tagalog, or Malay, the word "balut" translates to "wrapped" in English.

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It’s a fertilized duck egg that has started developing an embryo for two to three weeks. The egg is boiled and eaten directly out of the shell. If your stomach doesn’t churn over the sight of a baby duck embryo, and the tickle of feathers doesn't bother you, eat up. The embryo inside should be soft enough to chew.

Ptarmigan Droppings

When you found bird crap on your car, did you ever consider scraping it off and transforming it into an edible dish? In Greenland, the migratory Ptarmigan is like an Arctic chicken. It has served as a food source for the Inuit people of Northern Canada and other cold regions throughout history.

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The process of collecting bird poop and turning it into a palatable dish — and wouldn’t you love to know who thought of trying that, by the way? — requires some hard work and patience. First, the excrement of the Ptarmigan must be collected in winter, thawed and dried. When the bird crap is ready, it’s combined with chewed up pieces of seal meat and cooked in rancid seal oil.

Virgin Boy Eggs

The delicacy of virgin boy eggs in China is proof that any ingredient can be used for making dinner. In the eastern city of Dongyang, China, the urine of boys under the age of 10 is collected. Eggs are soaked in the urine and later boiled in it to create a beloved snack for the locals.

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No one knows exactly why the urine of young boys must be used, but the curious tradition has endured since ancient times. In Dongyang, people swear that eating a urine-soaked egg will prevent heatstroke and provide good health. The eggs are a favorite for their salty taste and fragrance.

Thousand-Year-Old Eggs

It’s called by many names in China: thousand-year-old egg, the black egg and millennium egg, just to name a few. The art of preserving duck, quail or chicken eggs for several months results in an exquisite final product. The eggs are left to transform in a mixture of ash, clay, salt and other substances until they turn dark brown in color.

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The texture of a thousand-year-old egg is jelly-like, with a creamy, dark green or gray-colored yolk at the center. The flavor of the egg is distinctive because of the presence of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. People note the salty taste, but most are put off by the egg's appearance.

Casu Marzu

In terms of strange foods on the planet, it’s hard to find something more unsettling than a plate of Casu Marzu. As a distinctive delicacy originating from the island of Sardinia in Italy, this cheese has no equal. Casu Marzu typically needs no introduction, because of the reputation this aged cheese maintains, but if you’re not familiar with it, the cheese is made from Sardinian sheep milk that is fermented and deliberately contaminated with the larvae of the cheese fly, Piophila casei.

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Cheese aficionados and Sardinians consider eating Casu Marzu to be an unsafe practice. Why? The Casu Marzu cheese should only be eaten when the maggots that live inside the soft, creamy cheese are still alive.