You’ve seen the video – the one causing international panic, the one that inspired tired, racist stereotypes. This awful viral video showcases a young Chinese woman eating bat soup containing – you guessed it – a whole vampirish-looking bat. This spurred on a flurry of outrage from both keyboard warriors and established media outlets to condemn the eating habits of Chinese people and to regurgitate racial slurs referring to Chinese (and sometimes all Asian) people as barbaric, inhumane and deserving of suffering. The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has been terrifying and certainly warrants concern, but does it warrant the dehumanisation of the largest population in the world?
While the coronavirus is thought to have originated from Wuhan’s wet markets, which sell live animals, this has not been confirmed. A study in The Lancet showed that more than a third of the earliest cases of the virus had no connection to the markets at all. If anything, it is more likely that the virus spread owing to improper hygiene and food safety in these markets rather than to the types of animals sold. It was also discovered that the notorious bat video was not shot in Wuhan – in fact, it was not even shot in China at all but in Palau, Oceania.
While it is undeniable that “strange” things are eaten in China – century egg, shark fin soup, dog – this can also be said of the rest of the world. What we deem socially acceptable to eat depends on where we’ve grown up, our travel and culinary experiences and what we absorb through the media and people we’re surrounded by.
Here are some of the weird foods eaten outside China and Asia as a whole:
Scotland’s beloved haggis is a savoury pudding that contains sheep’s pluck (heart, lung and liver) that’s mixed with onion, spices and suet (the raw fat of beef or mutton found around the loins and kidneys) and then encased in the animal’s stomach. Delicious, right? Actually, it is pretty tasty, with a lovely nutty and savoury flavour. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!
Photo credit: W Hong Kong
Foie gras is an irresistible French delicacy, but the method by which it’s made is incredibly cruel. By definition, foie gras is the liver of a goose or duck that has been fattened by force-feeding the bird with corn through a feeding tube. This process, known as gavage, has caused much controversy around the world, with many countries entirely banning the production of foie gras. A German company called Foie Royale produces a high-quality foie gras that does not use the gavage process, and it has become popular with many Michelin-starred chefs around the world.
A name that leaves little to the imagination, frog’s legs (cuisses de grenouilles in French) are exactly as you’d imagine. Yes, frogs are also eaten in China, but their tiny legs are best known in French cuisine. Frog’s legs have a mild flavour that’s often compared to chicken. They are usually sautéed with butter and olive oil or breaded and fried. Frogs are also common as a food in northern Italy, where they are cooked in a variety of ways. However, the consumption of frogs is a significant contributor to the endangerment of amphibian populations. Frogs are also known to carry infectious diseases, but even in the most developed countries, there are virtually no measures in place to ensure that diseased amphibians do not get imported or exported. Ironically, both France and Italy have been called out as serious offenders of anti-Asian sentiment in light of the coronavirus.
Photo credit: @virgiliocentral
Ever looked at the always angry-appearing Amazonian predator and thought, mmm, tasty? Well, famed chef Virgilio Martínez of Central Restaurante in Peru sure did. In May 2019, the Chef’s Table star was stopped at LAX with a duffel bag full of toothy dead piranhas. Turns out, piranhas are non-poisonous, perfectly edible (albeit a little bony) and actually considered an aphrodisiac in parts of the Amazon. They’re said to taste very fishy, and while we have no doubt of Martínez’s talent, we find the thought of eating these creatures just as scary as eating a bat.
Photo credit: realtree.com
Ophidiophobia, or the fear of snakes, is one of the world’s most commonly reported phobias. You know what they say, if you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em! At least that’s what we think they say in the US South, where deep-fried rattlesnake is quite the delicacy. Rattlesnakes are venomous and the leading contributor to snake-bite injuries in North America, meaning they pose quite a threat. It’s not recommended you try frying up a rattlesnake unless you’re an experienced snake wrangler. Any foodies out there want to take on the challenge?
Photo credit: @cookingwithfuni
Mopane worms are large, edible caterpillars native to southern Africa. They’re a vital source of protein in rural areas and can be eaten raw (nice and crispy) or fried with onion, tomato and spices, often served alongside pap (maize-flour porridge). We firmly believe that insect proteins are the way forward as low-cost, low-maintenance and healthy alternatives to animal proteins and have explored this in detail at our annual Food’s Future Summit.
Khash is a popular dish in Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. It’s also eaten in many parts of Eastern Europe and the Middle East under different names. It is a traditional and often festive soup that is comprised of sheep and cow parts such as the head, feet and stomach. These parts are usually boiled with some veggies, salt, garlic and lemon. Apparently, it’s a killer hangover cure. Worth a try after your next night out?
The classic full English breakfast would not be complete without a touch of black pudding. It’s loved for its rich and gamy flavour, but do you know what it’s actually made of? Its other name may give you a bit of a clue: blood sausage. That’s right – it’s comprised of pig’s blood and fat. Yum!
Photo credit: @sardegnanascosta
Yay, cheese! Oh, wait. It’s moving… Casu marzu is a traditional Sardinian sheep’s milk cheese that contains live maggots. The cheese is considered unsafe to eat when the maggots are dead, so diners hold their hands over the cheese to prevent the maggots from leaping (they can jump up to 15cm). If you don’t wish to injest the maggots, you can pop them into a sealed paper bag, where they will be suffocated. Due to European Union hygiene and health regulations, this cheese has been outlawed, but you can still buy it on the black market.
Jellied moose nose
Why waste a perfectly good nose when cooking up a moose? This may sound strange, but in northern Canada and Alaska, moose are plentiful and a common meat product. The nose, however, is slightly more rare these days and a bit of a delicacy in those parts. After the nose is skinned, it’s sliced and simmered with garlic, onion and a range of spices – you can also throw in some bits from the ears and lips for good measure. The meat is then doused with broth and put in the refrigerator to solidify, and then the jelly is served in slices. It supposedly boasts complex flavours and textures. Hey, waste not, want not!
Photo credit: @michaelzechfoto
There are few things less desirable than a dish that Anthony Bourdain once described as “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible-tasting thing” that he had ever eaten. Hakarl is rotting, dried and fermented shark flesh. Its smell has been described as similar to ammonia. However, as the national dish of Iceland, there must be some people who enjoy it… right?
Rocky mountain oysters
Photo credit: @2rip
As you may have already guessed, these are not deep-fried oysters – that would be far too normal for a list such as this. Rocky Mountain oysters are deep-fried bull testicles. This is a popular dish in parts of Canada, where cattle ranching is practiced, and in the US South, Argentina, Mexico and Spain. A bull’s testicles are usually removed for non-culinary reasons, such as breeding control or temperament alteration, and the snack is just an added bonus.
WARNING: if you are already feeling nauseous or if you are extremely sensitive, please avoid this next insert
Noma’s dead duck extravaganza
Ah, noma. The two-Michelin-starred restaurant helmed by famed chef René Redzepi in Copenhagen is one of the most celebrated fine-dining establishments in the world. That apparently means that anything they do will be referred to as “visionary” and that diners will pay upwards of HK$3,000 just to experience it. In 2018, noma began offering a “Game & Forest Season” menu, which included a section referred to as a “duck feast”. We love roast duck as much as the next person, but this is not your classic Peking duck. Diners were treated to a duck brain cooked in butter and spices that was served inside a real-life dead duck head alongside a spoon made of duck beak – just in case you weren’t sure which animal it came from. Another part of the feast showcased a full mallard wing with the feathers still on; attached to the duck’s decapitated neck sat the mallard wing with seaweed butter and arctic thyme salt fried in sourdough tempura. Feathers are actually a major disease vessel, so noma worked with the Danish health authorities to ensure that the eatery’s process of boiling the feathers and spraying them with ethanol would make them safe for diners to touch. We’re still not sure if we would be able to stomach it though.
So what separates the animals sold for consumption in Wuhan from any of these dishes above? In some cases, very little. Certain delicacies on this list can very well carry disease, and there are little measures in place to ensure the health and safety of their consumption. However, in the case of noma and other high-end restaurants and eats, the main differentiating factor is cleanliness. Eating any food product that does not go through the proper sanitisation process makes you at risk of illness, whether that be the coronavirus or food poisoning, so one cannot point the blame towards an entire nation’s eating habits. Rather, the focus should be on encouraging and ensuring safe and sustainable eating habits for all.
To donate towards the medical efforts in areas affected by the novel coronavirus, visit directrelief.org