The luxury world of the couture is an interesting place. People are always on the search for the newest, most shocking art or fashion to impress their other rich friends. The culinary world is no exception. While there are still people who love their lobster and fillet mignon, many modern chefs like to experiment with the newest and craziest ingredients, while others like to reach back deep into the past -say, the middle ages- for inspiration. As a result, there are some gourmet foods that are just too out there for the average man and woman to even begin to comprehend. I invite you, my friends, to travel this weird world with me, the strange land of the couture gourmets.
Eating a roasted bird isn't really that crazy, but the process leading up to the roasting of Ortolan birds has actually caused France to declare it illegal for humane reasons. Ortolan birds are nocturnal, sparrow-like birds. To prepare them for cooking, the live birds are trapped in a dark box. The darkness messes with their eating schedule and causes them to continually eat until they are about two to three times their original size. After a proper level of obesity has occurred, the birds are drowned in brandy or other liquor and then, finally, roasted.
Funny how a country that defends fois gras even finds this practice too barbaric. If tortured animals make yummier meals, than this little guy must be quite a treat.
9. Canard à la Rouennaise (Duck in Blood Sauce)
Have you ever ate a duck and thought, “I could get so much more out of those bones and guts?” If so, Canard à la Rouennaise is right up your alley. Basically, the recipe takes a nice roast duck, then places the carcass in a press and crushes the juice out of everything left over. The result is a very bloody, very rich “sauce” that can cost around $1000 a plate.
While the presentation may be quite interesting, as they crush the duck right at your table, I just can't understand paying that much for some blood. I know a lot of people love marrow, but isn't this just too crazy?
8. Huitlacoche (Corn Fungus)
Corn smut is a fungus that destroys corn crops. Like many indigenous people, early villagers decided to make the most out of a bad situation and ate the fungus that took over their crop. Nowadays, the smut is considered to be quite a delicacy and sometimes costs more than corn itself.
This is the only thing on this list I have actually ate, of course, that's probably because I don't have the money to be a real gourmet foodie. Surprisingly, it's very delicious if you get it from a good restaurant -preferably one actually in Mexico. It's similar to mushrooms and quite has a nice aroma.
Many people claim durian is quite good. The smell however, is one of the worst things on Earth. It is said that you can smell the durian fruit stands from all the way down the street. Some hotels and airports refuse to let people bring the fruit inside for fear that it will chase away their customers.
While many people hate the fruit -smell is closely associated with taste after all, many people are quite passionate about their love of durian. The fruit is said to be strongly flavored and savory, with a custard-like texture. Anthony Bordain may have described it the best when he said, "its taste can only be described as...indescribable, something you will either love or despise. ...Your breath will smell as if you'd been French-kissing your dead grandmother."
6. Live Baby Octopus
Here's a food that wouldn't be so strange if it was served in any other manner. Even other foods eaten alive, like shrimp aren't that strange, the main thing here is the whole life-threatening thing. Live octopi can choke you with their moving tentacles. It's a real-life kill or be killed situation.
Dipping your dinner in alcohol is said to help knock them out momentarily and make them less deadly, but that is to be debated. Truly skilled baby octopi eaters will barely chew their meals before gulping them down, but amateurs generally choose to chew them thoroughly -which can take up to 15 minutes. As you can see in the video, eating the treat can be quite a challenge for a novice.
5. De Jaeger (Snail Caviar)
French foodies flip over a lot of things, but two things they hold close to heart are caviar and escargot. So a pair of snail farmers thought, “why not combine them?” The flavor is said to be delicate and quite nice, but from what I hear, most people still prefer caviar.
The process to making snail caviar is a carefully guarded secret by the couple who invented it. We do know it involves very happy snails getting freaky in a huge barn and a hand review all of the eggs to make sure they are up to par. Between there being only one supplier and requiring quite tedious harvesting, all done by hand, the price of the snail caviar is quite high -about $82 an ounce to be more specific.
4. Bird Nest Soup
Bird nest soup, as the name suggests, is created using nests created by the nests of cave swifts. These specific birds create their nest from their own saliva, which hardens into a sort of shell. When boiled, the nest creates a unique flavor and jelly-like consistency that is quite popular in many parts of Asia -at least, amongst those who can afford it. The nests are one of the most expensive animal products consumed by humans. Just one bowl of the soup costs between $30 and $100 American dollars.
Of the multiple species of cave swifts that create these nests, the most expensive nests come from in a red shaded and are said to have additional medicinal qualities. These health benefits range from curing asthma to boosting the immune system to aiding digestion. Like many medicinal meals from the East though, this has not been scientifically proven as of yet.
3. Balut (Duck Fetus Egg)
Photo: Chadedwardxxx [Flickr]
Surely you've heard the urban legend that someone bought a carton of eggs, cracked one open and found a chicken fetus inside? Well, this is sort of the same thing, except it's not an urban legend and it's a duck instead of a chicken. Oh yeah, and it's on purpose.
Basically, you take your fertilized egg, boil it and there's your meal. Most people seem to eat the egg around the fetus and then snack down the baby duckling bones and all. The “ripeness” of the egg varies from country to country, but it can be eaten any time from being boneless and tiny to pretty much being baby ducks with tender bones and beaks.
2. Kopi Luwak (Poop Coffee)
I must admit, it was hard to choose the ranking positions for this list. It's hard to compare duck fetus to corn fungus to killer octopi, but I have to say that coffee beans that have been partially digested definitely deserve a place in the top three. If the title or photo of this one hasn't given it away already, let me be clear. Kopi Luwak is a very popular coffee blend right now, despite the fact that the beans get their special flavor by being eaten and then pooped out by a civet -a cute mammal from South-east Asia.
The coffee is one of the most expensive brews in the world, selling for between $120 and $600 a pound. Because the digestive enzymes of the civets break down the proteins in the beans that ordinarily make coffee bitter, the blend is naturally sweeter.
1. Casu Marzu (Maggot Cheese)
Casu Marzu is a sheep's milk cheese loaded with writhing, live fly larva. It is illegal in many countries for its obvious health dangers, but for some reason, foodies still actively seek it out. Even worse, the cheese can become toxic after the maggots die, so it has to be eaten while they are still very alive. The texture is rather creamy and it is generally served on Sardinian flat bread. Dinners are expected to keep their hands over the cheese as they place it in their mouth because these larva can jump up to 15 cm -potentially right into dinner's eyes.
This is one of the only things on this list that makes me want to throw up just by looking at it. I mean, this is one food that almost makes Gordon Ramsay puke -that alone says how disgusting this specialty is. Flies are filthy and eating the living bodies and excrement of their larva is just not right, regardless of where you're from.
Have any of you ever experienced these foods? What did you think of them? If not, what was the weirdest thing you ever ate?