Friday, 5 August 2011

Extreme eating: top four daredevil cuisines

Enthusiastic travellers love a bite of local cuisine, but for the full experience it's likely you'll be served up something altogether less appetising than a paella. Here's a menu of four of the most challenging dishes around the globe...

1. Rotten shark meat, Iceland. Raw shark is best not eaten, because of the strong ammonia smell and uric acid content. But Icelanders have masterminded a curious way to make it more palatable: dicing it, leaving it under gravel for several weeks, and retrieving it only when it's good and putrid. (Why didn't I think of that?) The delicacy, known as hakarl, is known to shock uninitiated tastebuds, so keep a strong chaser at hand, preferably local liqueur brennivin or the next item...

2. Diesel drink, Latvia. The offer of a shot of Black Balsam might seem like a welcome mouthful compared to rotten shark, but don't be fooled. The taste of Latvia's national drink is a fusion of raw lemons and battery acid, and this treacly liquid packs a punch that will leave you reeling (and set a flock of Baltic barmaids smiling wickedly, as you gurn and cough). This beverage sorts the men from the boys, or rather, the locals from the tourists. This is surely Latvia's most powerful weapon against the assault of stag parties on Riga.

3. Maggot cheese, Sardinia. Dinner party guests might jest that a slightly whiffy brie is so ripe it could wander right off your plate. But what about a cheese so alive it attacks you as you eat? Connoisseurs of casu marzu are known to cover their eyes as they eat this maggot-infested cheese, as the leaping larvae can strike snackers in the face. The reward for being assailed by the critters? A deep, rich flavour, like a very strong Gorgonzola, and the infinite respect (and revulsion) of your friends.

4. Duck embryo, Philippines. If you still haven't put down your fork, the final course of balut could well make you wince. The alien apparition of a whole duck foetus floating in vinegar is certainly challenging to the western palate. If etiquette demands you choke one down, take heart in its high protein content and aphrodisiac qualities. Personally, I'd prefer roses and chocolates...

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