I have long been an aficionado of odd foods (not too odd, mind you – thus far things like casu marzu and balut have been off my menu), but there are others that I really enjoy, such as haggis, nattō, kimchi, and others.
I’ve mentioned Hákarl over at my Banquet from Hell – it’s one that I’ve long wanted to try, if only to see if I have a stronger stomach than Gordon Ramsay.
Pronounced “haukatł” – with that peculiar Navajo “L” sound – this Icelandic treat is one that I approach with some trepidation. From the Wikipedia article:
Chef Anthony Bourdain, who has travelled extensively throughout the world sampling local cuisine for his Travel Channel show No Reservations, has described shark þorramatur as “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he has ever eaten.
Chef Gordon Ramsay, after challenging journalist James May to sample three “delicacies” (Laotian snake whiskey, bull penis, and hákarl), finally vomited after eating hákarl, although May kept his down. May’s only reaction was “You disappoint me, Ramsay.”
On season 2’s Iceland episode of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, Andrew Zimmern described the smell as reminding him of “some of the most horrific things I’ve ever breathed in my life,” but said the taste was not nearly as bad as the smell. Nonetheless, he did note that hákarl was hardcore food and not for beginners.
There is no shortage of pages on the internet that describe how totally Satanic this preparation of fermented shark actually is. Yet the Icelanders continue to make it, and eat it. It may be a plot by the brennivin industry to bolster the need for consumption, but I won’t be satisfied until I can try it for myself. If I ever get the chance to visit Iceland, I’ll return and report. Provided I survive…
Wikipedia article on Hákarl
Now, it appears that there may be a new contender in the “Ogudjegmåkasteopp” category – Korean fermented skate, lovingly titled 홍어 (hong-uh), supposedly from the sound that patrons make when they first smell it.
Something about fermenting fish (read: letting it rot) creates a powerful ammonia smell. Last time I really smelled NH₃ was when someone dropped a bottle of it – the pure stuff – in a tiny, enclosed hallway outside a chem lab at my high school. Remember that the household stuff you use to eliminate streaking on windows is strong enough, and it comes in at between 5% and 10% dilution. So yeah, it was like eye-melting-lung-searing. It appears that hong-uh comes really close.
You can read more about this “delicacy” (a plate of it with steamed pork cost the writer about 80 bucks) over at the Korean Food Blog, whence I extracted the above image. Koreans keep shelling out large money to enjoy it, so I’m not sure if it’s something that really grows on you or whether it’s one of those things which, in a drunken stupor, illustrate how big your cojones are and how small your brain is.
At any rate, I’d be willing to try it.
Thus far, though, insects are still off the menu. A buddy of mine in Japan sent me a small bottle of hachi-no-ko (yellowjacket larva) to try, and it’s still sitting on my file cabinet. If I ever work up the guts to try them, I’ll let you know.
The Old Wolf has spoken.