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18 Stinky Foods From Around the World
When it comes to smelly food, there is no middle ground - you either love it or you hate it. Here is a list of some of the stinkiest foods from around the world.
Indigenous to northern Sweden, surströmming is herring that is fermented in barrels for a couple of months, then put into tin cans for up to another year. The fermentation is so strong that the can actually bulges from pressure, and it has been banned by some airlines who say that it is an explosive safety hazard. Many people eat it outdoors because of the strong odors released when the can is opened, often compared to rotten eggs, vinegar, and rancid butter. This stinky food even has its own museum.
Here is a video of a guy trying surströmming:
I've never had this one yet and can't wait to try it :)
This Greenland delicacy is made by wrapping whole small sea birds (auk), feathers and all, in sealskin and burying it for several months to ferment. When it is dug up, the insides are decayed to the point of near-liquification and are reportedly sucked out after creating an opening by breaking off the head or some other means. Enough said.
Kimchi, also spelled kimchee, is the most well-known Korean dish and has become a household name around the world. A staple food in Korea, it is made from fermented vegetables and is often eaten at every meal – yes, even for breakfast. While I love it, a good example illustrating how it's strong smell can affect people is when my dormmate in college, an exchange student from Bangladesh, ran out of the kitchen when one of the Korean students made kimchi stew.
A popular dish at night markets in China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia, stinky tofu's name speaks for itself. Fresh tofu is added to a brine made from fermented milk, meat, vegetables and sometimes seafood. The brine can be so rotten that it will be infested with maggots – even people who like it often admit it's smell resembles rotten trash or feces.
Based on a report on takungpao.com.hk, some stinky tofu makers have been caught adding things like human excrement, rotten meat juice and chemical dies to the brine in order to give it the right taste in a shorter period of time. While this practice is not widespread, it gives idea of how strong this stuff can smell!
The taste and smell of stinky tofu varies greatly - after eating some from a street market in Taiwan, Andrew Zimmern can't even swallow this kind here:
A delicacy from Northern France, Vieux-Boulogne, aka Sablé du Boulonnais, was found to be the smelliest cheese in the world by experts and machines at a university in London. One reason for the unusually strong smell of this raw milk cheese is that it is dipped in beer during production, which then reacts with the enzymes in the cheese as it continues to ferment.
Natto is a Japanese dish of slimy, fermented soybeans. It is often eaten for breakfast with or on top of rice, in sushi or added to a bowl of noodles. A little soy-based sauce and Chinese mustard is added before the beans are mixed up in a circular motion with chopsticks, which creates lots of bubbles and gooey strings of, well, slimy fermented beans.
Natto is so slimy that after putting it in your mouth, you have to make several circles with your chopsticks to break the gooey strands hanging between your lips and the chopsticks.
Here is an instructional video on how to eat natto:
People often have very different reactions to natto and two people can describe the same batch as almost lacking in smell and flavor to being gaggingly putrid. Some people just can't get over the slimy texture.
I love natto and sometimes add things like kimchi, raw egg or wasabi, though my roommates in Hawai'i would usually leave the kitchen when I made a natto omelette....yum!
Hákarl is fermented shark meat and is a Icelandic delicacy. It is so delicate, in fact, that many people in Iceland never get around the trying it. One reason may be because it tastes like ammonia and causes humans to gag when they put it in their mouth.
Hákarl took on a new level of fame after appearing on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. Similar to Korean skate fish (hongeo), sharks expel urine (pee) by changing it into urea and passing it through the skin. When a shark or skate fish dies, the urea in its body turns into ammonia and this is what give hákarl and hongeo their gaggingly unique tastes.
What do the pros say? Andrew Zimmern said it tastes better than it smells, Anthony Bourdain said it was the worst thing he has ever had, and Gordon Ramsay couldn't even keep it down.
Watch Andrew trying it here:
Hongeo: Rotten Korean Skate Fish
Hongeo hoe, or hongeo sashimi, is rotten raw skate fish where the uric acid (pee) stored in the fish's flesh turns to ammonia. Ammonia can set off a natural gag reflex when humans smell it and it is quite the same when you put fish seeping with it in your mouth.
While hongeo fans rave about the unique flavor of this acquired taste, they usually try to mask and tone it's flavor down with generous amounts of kimchi, salted pork belly and makkeolli – a kind of Korean rice wine.
Hongeo is hands-down one of the worst foods I have ever eaten. As soon as I stepped into the hongeo specialty restaurant, my nostrils were assaulted by a smell of rotting fish similar to what you may find in the dumpster behind an Asian seafood market. It was too late to back out, however, and fortunately for me I was already tipsy from the soju we had for dinner.
When I got home I was relieved to be out of the restaurant but bummed that my apartment stank like rotten food. The problem was that no matter if I stuck my nose in the refrigerator or in the trash can under the sink, I couldn't find out where the smell was coming from. I finally realized that it was my clothes and it took three good washings to get the smell out. They should follow the lead from surströmming lovers and keep this stuff outdoors.
This is one of those foods that you can't understand how it tastes unless you actually eat it. Skip to 3:15 to watch Andrew trying to keep it down here:
Best known in the west as Funazushi eaten by Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods, narezushi is made from salted fish that is fermented with rice for up to 4 years. Narezushi is an ancient art that goes back over a thousand years. Fortunately, someone eventually realized that adding vinegar to rice created a more pleasant smell and mild taste than using fermented fish, and modern sushi was born.
I heard all about this from Andrew and his crew when I showed them around Okinawa, and I can't wait to try it next time I go back to mainland Japan.
Époisses de Bourgogne Cheese
One of Napolean's favorite, Époisses de Bourgogne was called "the king of all cheeses" by famed gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. This cheese is so smelly that it has been banned on public transportation in France according to the BBC.
Durian is the only food on this list that is not fermented and the fact that it is illegal to carry on public transportation in several countries in Southeast Asia says a lot about what to expect. Like many stinky foods, people often love it or hate it.
Here is what the meat inside looks like:
Here is a sign in Singapore telling people not to bring durian on public transportation:
Durian's texture is milky and custard-like and it's smell is distinctly recognizable. American celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain says it leaves your breath smelling like you've been frenching your dead grandma, and he likes the stuff. Another famous food critic, Richard Sterling, described it as "pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock."
How did Andrew Zimmern do with Durian? Found out here:
Durian tasted okay when I had it plain and great in a yogurt smoothie, which probably means that I will end up loving it once I've had it a few more times.
Known by many names, including hundred-year/thousand-year/millennium egg, a century egg is a preserved chicken, duck or quail egg. A paste made from tea water, clay, lime, ash and salt is packed around the eggs, then they are rolled in rice hulls to keep them from sticking together and left to sit for 3 years.
The result is a greening-brownish egg that smells like flatulence and urine, which is hopefully the only reason why it is called “horse urine eggs” in some Southeast Asian countries.
Lutefisk or 'lye fish' is a Nordic dish where they soak dried whitefish in lye to give it a gelatinous texture, then cook it after soaking it in water to remove the lye. Lutefisk is renowned for it's strong smell and the fact that it destroys sterling silver upon contact. It even has it's own genre of lutefisk humor.
Enthusiasts should go straight for the stuff made from cod, while lutefisk made from pollock or haddock is much easier on the nose and palette.
Kusaya is Japanese fish that has been soaked in salted brine (salty fish juice), then dried in the sun. The catch is that the same brine is used again and again and again and again, and the best kusaya comes from brine that has been in use for hundreds of years. It is important to note that this brine is not refrigerated and has basically been fermenting in a container for centuries! The name probably comes from the first word that comes to mind when you get anywhere near this stuff – kusaya means 'that stinks'.
Here is a video of kusaya being made:
Niijima Island is famous for having the best kusaya in Japan. Families often have their own pot of kusaya brine that has been in their family for generations and is something of an heirloom. It can be so old that the oldest people in the family often have no idea who made it!
While many people say the taste is much more mild than its smell, kusaya often comes in pre-grilled packages because grilling it inside is not something most people want to do. How bad does it smell? Check out this video of unsuspecting foreign women in Japan opening up a box:
Shrimp paste is popular in dishes from southern China and Southeast Asia. It is made from mixing salt with fermented shrimp that have been dried and grounded. However, if the shrimp are small enough they don't have to be pounded as long as they decay enough to no longer resemble shrimp. Needless to say, shrimp paste stinks and is famous for clearing out kitchens when it is thrown in the pan.
Anyone who has ever used small shrimp as groundbait on a blaring hot day will have some idea of what it smells like - just take that stench and multiply it by a hundred.
Westerners fooled by its innocuous name have been known to try and return it to stores in Southeast Asia thinking they were sold something that went rotten, and technically I guess they're right.
Here is a funny video of some guy who tries it plain...you may want to fast forward to 1:35:
Limburger is probably the most famous of the smelly cheeses. One of the bacteria that creates human body odor is that same bacteria used to make Limburger. When someone says it smells they toe jam, they are actually telling the truth.
The process of making Limburger is complex, though, so don't get any ideas about rubbing other kinds of cheese on dirty feet to replicate this unique flavor.
With the explosion in popularity of Southeast Asian cuisine, fish sauce has found it's way into more and more kitchens. It is made by salting small fish such as anchovy, putting them in a jar with plenty of salt below and on top of the fish, and covering them with a straw mat with rocks on it to help squeeze the juice out of. The fish jars are then placed outside to ferment in its own juices for up to a year.
To get the full aromatic effect, fry some rice noodles in a pan with fish sauce, rice vinegar and sriracha hot sauce.
Rakfisk is a Norwegian dish usually made from fresh trout or char that is salted, then fermented for two the three months in the juice that comes out of the fish. The rotten fish is then eaten raw and washed down with beer and potato liquor to help kill the deadly bacteria - and probably your taste buds.
500 tonnes of rakfisk is eaten in Norway every year, though many Norwegians reportedly don't like the stuff and a fair amount of it is consumed by tourists looking for an authentic meal.