MALMO, Sweden (Reuters) - The dead mouse in the Chinese wine sure looks nasty, and the maggots in the cheese tend to put people off. But nothing is more horrible to an unaccustomed palate than the Icelandic fermented shark. It’s the worst. Or so says the expert.
“It tastes like chewing on a urine-infested mattress,” said Samuel West, who, as curator of the Disgusting Food Museum, knows a thing or two about unpleasant victuals.
“It’s a fermented sort of rotten Icelandic shark,” he says. “Anthony Bourdain, the late TV personality, called it the single most disgusting thing he’d ever eaten, and I totally agree with him.”
From spicy rabbit heads to fruit bat soup, the collection, now on display in the Swedish city of Malmo, aims to challenge perceptions of taste and help visitors contemplate why one culture’s abomination is another’s delicacy.
Some visitors have a hard time of it.
“Has anyone thrown up here at the museum? Yes twice,” West said. But, “it’s okay to vomit because our entry tickets are not really tickets — they’re printed on vomit bags.”
Grasshoppers, cooked animals’ skulls and other body parts, including an eyeball, are on display in pots or on boards.
European fare ranges from Iceland’s cured shark, Hakarl, to Sardinia’s Casu Marzu cheese, which is riddled with insect larvae. There is Scottish haggis, made from sheep innards, and Sweden’s smelly Surstromming fermented herring.
Asian foods include the strong-smelling Durian fruit and stinky tofu. The fruit bat soup comes from the sparsely populated Pacific Ocean archipelago of Palau. Latin American dishes include Mexico’s Menudo tripe soup as well as Peru’s roasted guinea pigs, known as Cuy.
North America is represented by sweet treats: Jell-O salad and root beer.
Australian visitor Nichole Courtney said she was surprised to come across Vegemite, her homeland’s sandwich spread of concentrated yeast extract which is known to divide opinion.
“Things like Vegemite which we find really normal at home, like we’d eat that every day for breakfast, are next to things like the shark that I couldn’t imagine tasting and I think it is revolting so it’s quite funny for us.”
Reporting By Reuters Television; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Peter Graff