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Delicacy (n.) – Something pleasing and appealing, especially a choice food.


Sometimes literally.

The word ‘delicacy’ in a gastronomic sense is often just an amusing euphemism, at least as far as non-locals are concerned. But there is a certain kudos to be gained for those foodies who have the stomachs for some of the world’s more bizarre culinary creations.

Would you, or have you, sampled anything on this list?

1. Deep-fried tarantula

Fried tarantulas

Suffer from arachnophobia? You may want to skip this one. Deep fried tarantulas are the speciality of a town called Skuon in Cambodia, where they are considered a regional delicacy. Locals breed the hairy beasts – which are typically the size of a human palm and known locally as ‘a-ping’ – in nearby villages and then fry them in oil and garlic. Apparently the spiders taste like chicken (surprise, surprise) and are crispy on the outside, soft in the middle.

2. Fertilised duck egg

Fertilised duck egg - balut

Fairly brutal. A mother duck is left to incubate her unhatched duckling for about three weeks, at which point the egg is removed from the nest and plonked in a vat of boiling water. The result is a bony, feathery, so-called delicacy called balut. The correct way to eat balut, which is popular in various countries in Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, is to peel the egg and then sip the fluid surrounding the embryo before eating the baby bird inside. Crunchy.

3. Fermented herring

Fermented herring

According to the QI oracle that is Stephen Fry, this Scandinavian delicacy emits an odour so powerful it can cause birds to fall dead from the sky. Known locally as surströmming, is it created by putting herring into a wooden barrel and leaving it to ferment – aka rot – for a month. The fish are then tinned in a way that allows them to putrefy even further. If you can get past the smell – which Fry goes on to describe as “absolutely unbelievably disgusting… nothing as revolting on the face of the planet” – the fish itself is reputedly rather tasty. We’ll take their word for it.

4. Chicken feet

Fried chicken feet

If gristle freaks you out then you probably wouldn’t enjoy this particular delicacy, which is eaten in many countries around the world, but most commonly in China and South Africa. The sinewy, texturised treat is often served as a bar snack and mainly consists of skin, tendons and bone, making it difficult to eat for some. It probably tastes like chicken.

5. Cow brain sandwich

Cow brain sandwich

Proof that at least some Americans are more gastronomically adventurous than many give them credit for, cow brain sandwiches can be found in St Louis, Missouri and Evansville, Indiana. The brains are usually deep-fried, battered and served in buns. Although the delicacy has dramatically decreased in popularity since the mad cow disease scare, a handful of restaurants in the above regions still offer the unusual filling.

6. Codfish sperm sac

Codfish sperm sac

This is the flip side to caviar and particularly popular in Japan, where it’s called shirako, which means ‘white children’. See what they did there? It can be eaten raw or cooked and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s considered to be an acquired taste. Other forms of male fish sperm sacs – known generally as milt – can be found in Russia, Sicily and Romania, and vary from tuna to herring to carp.

7. Rotten shark meat

Rotten shark meat

A staple of traditional Icelandic cuisine, Hákarl, as it’s locally known, is created by burying a basking shark in a hole in the ground and allowing nature to take its course for three months. The shark is then exhumed, chopped up and hung to dry for a further few months (see picture). The reason Icelanders refuse to eat the shark when caught is because that particular breed is poisonous when fresh, which is fair enough. Whether or not anyone has ever suggested just avoiding shark altogether remains unclear.

8. Maggot-infested cheese

Maggot-infested cheese

This cheese, produced only in Sardinia and known locally as casu marzu, is actually dangerous. It’s prepared by removing part of the rind of a whole Pecorino cheese and leaving it outside. Soon it will attract ‘cheese flies’ (Piophila casei) which will deposit thousands of eggs, which will hatch into maggots, which will infest the entire cheese. It’s the maggots, rather than the cheese, which cause the danger. When disturbed they can leap about 6 inches into the air, meaning eye protection is necessary, and once ingested they can burrow through your intestine walls, causing bloody diarrhoea and vomiting. These days casu marzu is illegal but can still be found on the black market.

9. Bird nest soup

Bird nest soup

If you try this Chinese delicacy and spit it out you won’t be the first creature to do so, because the primary ingredient in bird nest soup is the saliva of the bird – usually a swiftlet – which built it. Unlike many of the delicacies in this list, bird nest soup, which has a certain gooey quality, is extraordinarily popular in its country of origin, not to mention expensive; in Hong Kong just one portion would set you back between £20-£60.

10. Fermented auk

Fermented auk

Still with us? Don’t worry, the ordeal is almost over. Right, so this one’s called kiviak, an offering from the Inuit folk in Greenland. If you want to see this yummy-looking grub on your plate, here’s what you need to do. Method: disembowel body of seal; stuff between 300-500 auks or seagulls into hollow body and then, um, seal; return a year later and claim your prize. Apparently the best way to eat the birds is to bite the heads off and use the neck as a funnel to suck out the juices.

11. Rocky Mountain Oysters

Rocky mountain oysters

Nothing fishy about these; the so called ‘oysters’ are in fact young bulls’ balls, deep-fried and served with BBQ dip. The dish can be found in the North American West, a region famed for its cowboy culture. It’s difficult not to feel sorry for the bullocks, but if it makes you feel any better their vitals aren’t removed for culinary purposes, rather to control breeding. The dish isn’t a mainstream delicacy, rather a novelty item that shows up at food festivals and such like.

Well, hope you’re not feeling too queasy after all that. Got any to add in the comments?