Tarantulas, monkey brains and maggot-infested cheese known as Casu Marzu might be delicacies in other countries, but we here in America have our fair share of strange fare. And we’re not talking about deep-fried Twinkies, Spam or cheese you squirt from a can — the U.S. will always corner the market on chemically-laden and fattening foods. We’re talking about natural food you can club, shoot or otherwise cull from the land that can seem wholly unnatural to eat.
Cuy, pronounced cui, is so named for the happy squealing noise the animal makes before it knows you’re about to eat it. Some New Yorkers are going gaga over cuy, a little critter about the size of a kitten and known here in the U.S. as a guinea pig. Cuy is big in Ecuador and Peru but it also seems to have made its way to barbecues and freezer sections of Latino neighborhoods in Queens. While no input is offered on cuy’s taste, its cute little face might be tough to stomach if your children ever kept one as a pet.
This venomous varmint is a tasty treat in the U.S. Southwest that decidedly does not taste like chicken, says the Rattlesnake Recipe website. It instead tastes a bit like frog legs or alligator or quail, with a gamey or seafood flavor. Boiling the beast works best, which lets the meat slither sweetly off the bones — perhaps even leaving behind a fine spine you can use for a bracelet, necklace or other ornamental novelty.
Get out the pot to cook up some ’possum, a delicacy in the South, especially where pickup trucks and shotguns are the norm. A choice recipe from Food.com outlines how to go about cooking the critter. Simply dress it as you would a suckling pig, the site says, which should definitely sum it all up. Removing the guts is a must, but feel free to leave the head and tail attached as you stuff it with onion, chopped hardboiled eggs and Worcestershire sauce and pop it in the oven for about four hours. The site does not mention if you are supposed to remove the fur. Opossum meat is described as “fatty,” “tasty,” and “peculiar.” It also seems to fall into the same foodstuff category as armadillo or javelina, the latter being a pig-like creature that roams the Southwestern deserts waiting to be made into stew.
Lutefisk, made from fish, is a tasty catch in the Midwest for folks of Norwegian descent. Thanks to its lengthy preparation process, it can also be viewed as the Scandinavian equivalent of Peas Porridge in the pot nine days old. The first step is to soak a type of whitefish — normally cod or ling — in a pot of cold water for up to eight days. As the fish decomposes and bloats to a swollen, jelly-like mass, it also turns caustic and plumped up with lye. Anyone who has tried consuming lye knows it is not the most pleasant thing to feed upon, so the fish is then soaked for another six days or so before it can be cooked and safely eaten. Even then, the odor of the fish can be nauseating for those unfamiliar with the dish.
6. Turtle Soup
Although turtles are known to carry around fun stuff like salmonella, if you cook them up right they can make a savory soup. The first step, says Bert Christensen on his weird recipe site, is to chop off their heads with ultimate care, especially if you’re going for a snapping turtle. Even after a turtle is dead, Christensen warns it can continue biting and its body can still scurry away after you behead it. You wouldn’t want your soup meat skittering all over the floor, would you? Turtle soup is popular in Louisiana and also standard fare on many Asian menus, although no one has come up with a clever way to use the removed shell as a soup bowl.
5. Brain Sandwiches
Tired of the same old tuna sandwich? Why not try some brain? Deep-fried brain sandwiches, made from calves’ brains, can be found at restaurants throughout the Ohio River valley, and they’re especially popular among those of German descent. Calves’ brains aren’t the only gray matter some people enjoy. Pork brains can actually be bought in some grocery stores. And in Appalachia, squirrel brains in particular are popular food for thought — or at least they were until a warning alerted they carry a fatal variation of mad cow disease.
Boots may be made for walking, but feet can be meant for eating. It all depends on the type of feet, of course, as horse hooves and lizard claws might leave a lot to be desired. Then again, chicken, duck and pigs feet might not seem so keen, either. Chicken and duck feet are frequent flyers at Asian marts and eateries while pigs’ feet are a typical treat at Polish weddings. Also known as trotters, pieds and hocks, pigs’ feet also make their way into dishes across the country, as evidenced by one Philadelphia restaurant that wraps them delicately into ravioli. Pigs’ feet taste like pork (surprise!). Duck feet taste like rubber. Chicken feet taste like, well, chicken.
As if feet don’t make a sweet enough treat, you can head anatomically north and dine on a delicacy that might make your mother blush. Anyone up for some testicles? Testicles, of course, are not billed as such on the menu. You will instead find them labeled as lamb fries, which are really lamb testicles, or the notorious Rocky Mountain oysters (aka prairie oysters, cowboy caviar and Montana tendergroins), which are really bull testicles. No bull. Buffalo testicles are another option, available through special order from places that pride themselves on exotic meats. These treats are quite popular in the Western United States, where towns hold “testicle festivals” and Coors Field in Denver sells Rocky Mountain oysters at baseball games. The standard way to cook up some testicles is to peel off the outer membrane, pound up the center, and fry them into a crisp, delicious tidbit — although the tidbit might not be too bitty if you’re going for the buffalo.
Move over mashed potatoes, dirt is the new comfort food. Actually, there is nothing new about eating dirt, termed “geophagy” by scientists. People have been eating dirt for centuries, and it’s extremely popular in sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers believe African slaves brought the practice to the Southern U.S., where people still eat dirt today. The craving is especially intense among pregnant women, and researchers believe they’ve discovered why. Dirt, it seems, contains many healthy minerals, including iron, calcium and copper. Not only that, but the red clay so prevalent in the South also binds with toxins, helping flush them from the body. Before you go out and load up on a nice, yummy plate of dirt, you should know that the Centers for Disease Control warns against the practice, pointing out the obvious hazards of parasites and industrial pollutants. And to think some people complain about schools that install vending machines packed with junk food.
If you’re on a tight budget or a consistently inadequate hunter, roadkill can be your answer to a free and meaty dinner. There are a few caveats to eating roadkill, such as opting for fresher carcasses that have not yet been invaded by maggots. You’ll also probably want to steer clear of dogs and cats, especially if you keep either as pets or find one with a tag bearing your next-door neighbor’s address. How many people eat roadkill? No one knows for sure, but there are dozens of websites and a number of books devoted to roadkill recipes. Depending on where you live, fair game for roadkill can include possums, rabbits, hedgehogs, otters, pheasant, beavers, squirrels, deer, moose, armadillo and bear. Although people have been eating roadkill since horse and buggies began killing things, certain states do have laws about eating specific animals. Either check with your local fish and game department … or drag away your prey when no one is looking.