Often the success of a dish starts with the presentation; first impressions last, after all, and having good visuals is one of the main things that can make or break a dish. This is why hotel and restaurant food are so painstakingly prepared—because the dining experience doesn’t start and end with the eating. A complete dining experience delights all the senses, starting with the sense of sight.
There are some delicacies, however, that can be a bit uninviting at first sight but can prove to be a unique and pleasurable gustatory experience. Being good to the eyes is usually a good indicator of a sumptuous dish; however, there are a few delicacies that will initially turn your stomach—even scare you—but then surprisingly gratify your hunger for something deliciously out of the ordinary. This is proof that not everything that scares you is necessarily bad for you, especially when it comes to food.
After all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Below is a list of dishes that may not be eye candy but delivers when it comes to the taste department.
This may not be that extraordinary since you can see this in most Chinese restaurants, but this can still be a no-no for the less adventurous ones. Because it’s so common, it may seem unfair for it to belong to this list. It can still be an eyesore, though, especially if you’re used to “fine dining” fare. Made mostly of bones and scale-like skin, who’d think that chicken feet can be as delicious and tender as seasoned chicken meat? Because that’s exactly how it tastes like. When cooked and flavored properly, all you have to worry about are those tiny little bones that you have to spit out or remove beforehand so you can enjoy the meat—or what little there is of it.
Sannakji (live octopus)
Aside from the uncomfortably gooey appearance, this live octopus dish from South Korea can also be considered a gratuitous display of animal cruelty. If you’re wondering why, let’s talk about how it’s prepared. The tentacles are hacked off of a live baby octopus then served to customers on a plate. Customer eats the tentacles while they’re still wriggling and squirming about. If you’re not used to your food moving about, this dish can be quite disconcerting, especially since the tentacles stay “alive” for a long time after it’s chopped from the octopus’s body. If you’re planning on trying out this dish, remember to chew the tentacles thoroughly before swallowing, as there’s always the possibility of them choking you.
Probably one of the more versatile items on this list, tuna eyeballs can be served sautéed, braised, or in a cocktail aptly referred to as “tuna’s tears.” It’s a common sight in Japanese after-work pubs or izakayas and in restaurants that specialize in tuna dishes. Served as—if you can believe it—appetizers, the tennis-ball sized eyeballs are lightly braised in a mixture of soy sauce and mirin, a type of rice wine with low alcohol content, or sautéed in sesame oil and ginger. The exterior of tuna eyeballs can be a little too chewy to eat, but the softened inner eye contents can be easily sucked out like bone marrow. Many compare the taste to that of steamed squid, mussels, or soft-boiled eggs.
Also known as “maggot cheese” or, more simply, “rotten cheese,” Sardinia’s casu marzu isn’t for the faint of heart because it carries with it certain health risks. It’s made from Pecorino, an Italian cheese made from sheep’s milk, that has gone bad. The larvae of cheese flies is cultured within the Pecorino until they hatch inside and digest the fats. The cheese is then eaten while the maggots are alive and still inside; you have the option of either eating the maggots or not, but it’s important that the maggots are still alive. Otherwise, casu marzu is considered unsafe for consumption. Allowances can be given if it’s refrigerated as the cold kills the maggots, but why take your chances?
If you’re looking for some meat, a big, fat, juicy worm might just be up your alley. This meaty caterpillar of the Gonimbrasia belina, a species of emperor moth, is considered a delicacy in some parts of Southern Africa. Mopane worms are usually fried with garlic, onions, tomatoes, peanuts, and chillies or added to a stew to soften them up. For the more adventurous—or courageous—the worms can be eaten raw, picked fresh off a tree. Despite their appearance, though, Mopane worms are considered to be highly nutritious, and even delicious.
Regardless of how a dish may look, each has its own unique characteristics, whether it be an out-of-this-world taste, a tongue-numbing texture, or simply an excellent blend of flavor. The next time you see an unfamiliar dish, give it a taste first before making any judgments. As they say, “don’t knock it ‘til you try it.”