PROLOGUE: The escargot dish is the only member of this list of weird foods in Europe that is relatively palatable to the masses. As much as I wanted to choose a completely disgusting and unappealing delicacy for the feature image, I thought it best to work our way into the disgustingness. Happy reading. 🙂
Recently Webjet asked me what my most memorable overseas dining experience has been to date, which got me thinking. Naturally, I turned my mind to all the weird and wonderful (read: utterly foul) things I’ve tasted during my time as a travel blogger. They asked me for one instance, but I can think of many.
The sheer act of eating many said ‘delicacies’ is never pretty. In fact, it tends to look like I’m about to star in my very own version of Silence of The Lambs.That being said, I don’t think I could convince anyone that my job – travelling the world stuffing my face with delicious foreign foods and writing about them – could be considered tough. So no, I won’t complain. But what I will grumble about, both verbally and physically, are the times when I’ve been faced with the necessity of swallowing a particularly challenging native food while enthusiastic locals stare at me waiting for my unwavering smile of approval.
However, just as Australia has our own fair share of weird and wonderful sustenance (think fried Witchetty Grubs and Vegemite), European countries have dishes that go hand-in-hand with their culture and traditions that you’d be a chump not to try when travelling abroad. But, you’ve been warned. Some local delicacies contain ingredients alien to an Aussie palate, which is why they’re rather difficult to keep down. In other cases, the act of fermentation is adopted (and not the yummy SauerKraut and Kombucha kind) which makes them an acquired taste. But some local foods are just plain nasty and should be reserved for the cast of Fear Factor.
This list of Weird Foods in Europe is a sort of PSA for those die-hard travellers who want to really get to know the local cuisine, balls and all (pun intended), of a foreign land and what these weird European foods actually taste like to an Aussie palate. So the next time you find yourself caught in alocal food crossfire, you’ll have some idea of what to expect. (You can thank me later)
Top 12 Weird Foods In Europe
Weird Foods in Europe – Casu Marzu
Location: Sardinia, Italy
What Is It: Literally means rotten cheese in Italian. A traditional (and now illegal) Sardinian specialty full of live maggots, this pecorino-style sheep’s milk cheese is made by encouraging ‘cheese flies’ to lay eggs inside a tiny hole at the top, and letting the larvae devour the cheese from the inside, decomposing the fats through digestion and excreting the remains. Yummo! Obviously this cheese is now illegal for health reasons, namely, if you don’t spread the live maggots properly onto the bread or cracker there’s a chance they could still pass through your intestines alive and cause a great deal of abdominal pain. The irony is, the maggots must still be living until the very last minute before the cheese is consumed, otherwise it will go ‘off’, whatever that means in this context.
Tastes Like: The smell is pungent, but not unlike any other strong cheese. Tastes like gorgonzola and black pepper, but leaves a greasy film on the tongue. Might be enjoyable, if you can forget the fact your swallowing writhing live worms.
Vomit Scale: 6/10
Weird Foods in Europe – Surstromming
Location: Northern Sweden’s main tourist trap and means of execution
What Is It: Cans consisting of fermented Baltic Herring (aka, letting that shit rot). While they are being shipped, the cans sometimes bulge due to the ongoing fermentation (aka, letting that shit rot further). Recently, a study in Japan found that Surstromming releases the most putrid odor of any food in the world.
Tastes Like: It’s not so much about the taste, but rather, the smell. “Surströmming smells like a dumpster full of fish, diapers and medical waste that has been left to rot for a month in the highest heat imaginable.” (quote taken from an actual Swedish man). If your body doesn’t spasm and your eyes don’t twitch at the mere smell of this godforsaken substance then you’ve won half the battle. And let’s just say that even holding your nose, with all 10 fingers, won’t help you.
Vomit Scale: 10/10…Somehow it makes sense that it’s usually eaten outdoors, if at all.
Weird Foods in Europe: Haggis
What Is It: Ah Haggis, the most infamous of the European ‘weird foods’. First take a dead sheep, then take out it’s heart, liver, and lungs (the offal). Then boil these organs inside the stomach lining for a few wee hours. Add oats. Lots of oats. And don’t forget the salt and spices.
Tastes Like: Spicy Oatmeal, with a hint of beef mince.
Vomit Scale: 1/10…If you don’t know what Haggis is, and you’re eating it, chances are you’ll actually like it.
Weird Foods in Europe: Breast Milk Ice-Cream
What Is It: It’s an actual thing, that’s what it is! A London ice-cream parlour created a commotion a few years back because the head chef decided to market a sweet snack made out of breast milk. Let’s just think about this for a second. This is ice cream made from women’s breasts – ¾ milk and ¼ cream to be exact… and some sugar to taste. Comes in flavours such as ‘Madagascan Vanilla’ and ‘Lemon Zest’. How refreshing.
Tastes Like: At first it’s just like vanilla ice-cream… but that’s until the tangy not-quite-right goats-cheese after-taste kicks-in which greases your tongue like a rubber sweater. From then on it’s just plain disgusting.
Vomit Scale: 9/10… Breast Milk…BREAST MILK? Sweet Jesus do we have no shame as a society? No… Just NO.
Weird Foods in Europe: ‘Cavallo’ (Horsemeat) Baby Food
What Is It: This is what unsuspecting infants eat in Rome, as grocery stores would have you believe. Horsemeat – 100% pure and pureed for your offspring’s culinary pleasure.
Tastes Like: I’ll be honest, I haven’t actually tasted this type of meat, basically out of principal (I used to have horses when I was younger). But I have it on good authority that horse meat is a cross between a good tender beef-steak and venison. Apparently you can’t really taste the difference…
Vomit Scale: 6/10…My personal love of horses lends this the higher-rating. Plus the fact that it’s given to kids. Huh?
Weird Foods in Europe: Lutefisk
Location: Scandinavian Countries
What Is It: Made from stockfish and lye, the corrosive alkaline substance also known as caustic soda is used to soak the fish for several days. When the fish is finally removed from the lye, it is so corrosive that it must be soaked in cold water for weeks, just so it doesn’t blow-up people’s insides.
Tastes Like: I think the word on everyone’s lips is ‘why’ rather than ‘what it tastes like’? Much like Surstromming, Lutefisk gives off an odor that could gag a goat, but is relatively less pungent to taste than it’s predecessor (if it’s made properly). It kind of tastes like a jelly-soapy-placenta-like-off-octopus.
Vomit Scale: 8/10
Weird Foods in Europe: Escargot
What Is It: Boiled snails picked from a garden.
Tastes Like: Escargot basically tastes like the sauce they are boiled in, usually garlic butter. On the rare occasion they are eaten on their lonesome they taste like a plain rubber balloon.
Vomit Scale: 1/10
Weird Foods in Europe: Salmiakki (Salt Licorice)
Location: Northern Germany; Netherlands
What Is it: A licorice lolly flavoured with hardcore ammonium chloride.
Tastes Like: If you’ve never tasted salty sweets then you’re not in for a treat. In fact, salt licorice is not so much weird as it is a veritable assault on the taste buds. As soon as it hits your tongue a sharp, acute sting spreads all over, made only slightly more bearable by your tongue’s half-assed attempt at over-salivating. These snacks have a tough, gooey, bitter texture right to the very end. Imagine licking a salt block filled with chilies, lick over and over and over again, and only then will you understand what real salt licorice tastes like. Did I mention that in Germany, there is a variety available that is silvered by a metal powder that, as a side effect, makes it electrically conductive?
Vomit Scale: 4/10…Bracingly bitter, they’re not called “bombs” for nothing.
Weird Foods in Europe: Mes 4 Croissants (Croissants in a Tin-Can)
What Is It: Even with the 1200 odd bakeries in Paris, why would you bother walking across the street to get your fresh ham and cheese pastry fix when you can just unravel one from a can in the comfort of your own kitchen? These things are the weirdest packaged foods I’ve seen to date, if only for the fact that they make a loud ‘pop’ sound when you open the can and the dough explodes from it’s tight confines like a party popper.
Tastes Like: Not as good as the real deal, no matter how well you bake it.
Vomit Scale: 0/10… just weird.
Weird Foods in Europe: Crow Pie
What Is It: Brings new meaning to the term “eating crow”. Considered an aphrodisiac, crow-pie is a traditional dish made from the meat of carrion crows. Cooked in oil on high heat, it is served on a plate of roast vegetables.
Tastes Like: I know chicken is used to describe everything, but crow tastes like chicken. Or quail.
Vomit Scale: 3/10
Weird Foods in Europe: Foie Gras BubbleGum
What Is It: I actually have no idea whether this ‘delicacy’ originated in England or abroad, all I can say is that one day I was scouring the local supermarket in Chelsea and I spotted this little tin of weirdness in aisle 5. Why, you might ask, has the controversial French fare been made into a bubblegum? That’s a really good question. And one I’m not equipped to answer. But I had to try it, just the same.
Tastes Like: I don’t think it’s supposed to taste like seaweed? Even if it is green on the outside…
Vomit Scale: 7/10… I would not buy this gum, ever. But if you’re going to buy Foie Gras then this is probably better than the real deal (humanely speaking).
Weird Foods in Europe: Francesinha (Meat and Beer Sandwich)
What Is It: It’s the best of both worlds (or so the promo says). Originally from Porto, the Francesinha sandwich is made up of two bread slices squeezing together wet-cured ham, linguica (portuguese pork sausage), fresh sausage, and steak or roast meat. The whole thing is covered with a thick layer of melted cheese and drenched in a hot tomato and beer sauce.
Tastes Like: Out of all the foods above, this one is the most likely to give you a physical heart attack as opposed to a mental one. Still, you can’t go wrong with meat or beer… (or cheese or tomatoes for that matter), so combining all of the above into a big, soggy sandwich is pretty infallible.
Vomit Scale: 1/10… You probably don’t want to consume if you’re on a diet.