Trying local dishes when traveling is part of the cultural experience. However, you rarely think that experimenting with new foods could be potentially dangerous, or even life threatening. Here are a few local, but deadly foods from around the world.
Japan: Fugu (Pufferfish)
Fugu is a Japanese delicacy served in many restaurants throughout Japan. What makes this a deadly food is the poison, tetrodotoxin, which is found in the pufferfish used in the dish. If this dish isn’t prepared properly then this poison can cause asphyxiation and paralyzation in a person. Fugu is usually served as sashimi (raw fish sliced into thin slices) or chirinabe (hot pot with vegetables). If served as sashimi it can be eaten by itself as a first course, or as part of a main course with rice and miso soup.
Korea: Sannakji (baby octopus)
Sannakji is a raw dish served throughout Korea. The dish consists of a baby octopus that has been cut into small pieces while still alive, and then seasoned with sesame and sesame oil and served up immediately. The octopus is usually by itself in a bowl and served as a first course.
Unlike Fugu, what makes sannakji a deadly food isn’t that it contains any toxins or poisons. It is actually the act of eating sannakji that is potential deadly. When the dish is served, though cut up, the octopus is still active – this includes the suction cups on the tentacles still being active. When swallowing the pieces of tentacles, it can cause a choking hazard, by sticking in the mouth or throat. So if trying this dish, make sure you take care while eating and maybe avoid any pre-dinner drinks.
Namibia: Giant Bullfrog
At certain times of the year, these giant bullfrogs are a stable part of the diet for the Namibian people. These bullfrogs can only be eaten during one time of the year, after they have begun to croak. If eaten at the wrong time, then the poison in the frog is at it’s highest and can cause kidney failure and death. Choosing the right time to eat the frog is only one step to ensuring that the bullfrog dish won’t be fatal. The way the frog is cooked also helps to neutralize the poison making it possible for humans to eat. Unlike the French, Namibians eat the whole frog, including the legs. The cooked frog is often served with vegetables in a stew.
Iceland: Hakarl (Greenland shark)
Hakarl is the national dish of Iceland and popular in throughout the year. Hakarl consists of a Greenland shark, which is cured by a fermentation process where the shark is hung up to dry for five to six months. When alive the shark has a high level of urea and trimethylamine oxide, which is toxic to humans. The fermentation process reduces the toxic levels making it possible to eat. It is important that the shark is fully fermented before eating. After the fermentation process the hakarl contains a large amount of ammonia, which if consumed in large amounts can make the consumer very ill. The hakarl is usually served on toothpicks or is cut up into cubes and served by itself. It is usually ‘enjoyed’ with a shot of a strong local spirit.
Sardinia: Casu Marzu (cheese)
Casu Marzu is a traditional Sardinian cheese made from sheep’s milk. Casu Marzu goes beyond the typical cheese fermentation stages. It is formed by the decomposition of the cheese by live larva that is purposely put into the cheese. Yes, that’s right. The cheese contains live insect larvae, commonly known as maggots. The larvae break down the cheese fats creating a soft cheese. The larvae are clear white worms, less then a centimeter in size. The cheese is considered to be unsafe to eat after the maggots have died, so the cheese, along with the maggots, are usually only eaten when the maggots are alive.
Be warned, due to the fermentation process the maggots usually launch themselves from the cheese, when being disturbed for the first time. The maggots must be fully chewed, otherwise there is a risk of the maggots setting up residence in your digestive system which will cause all types of problems, including serious lesions and bores through the intestine walls.
Caus Marzu is thought by the locals to be an aphrodisiac. The cheese is usually served as a block or cut into slices to have with flat bread, and a glass of red wine. Cheese and wine anyone?
Have you tried any of these deadly dishes before? If so, we would love to hear all about your experience.