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Why we don’t like eating ‘foreign muck’

What passes for a delicacy in one nation can still have people screaming in disgust in another. Our man Rhodri Marsden explores why we balk at eating snails but are happy to tuck into Gala Pie.

“I’m not eating that foreign muck!” Historically, the British have had something of a reputation for being intolerant of food from distant lands. We have cast our suspicious eyes on everything from wasabi to spaghetti, pushing it to the side of the plate and muttering darkly to ourselves. After all, what’s wrong with chips? Why can’t everyone restyle their food cultures to align with our own bland requirements?

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Of course, we eat plenty of stuff that other nations would label as “foreign muck”, from tripe and onions to Gala Pie. And the truth is, our intolerance has never been unique. We might have been unimpressed by the idea of eating snails, but the French would have been equally dismissive of faggots. We adore the food we grow up with, and it’s not always easy to make rapid adjustments and accept the reality of, say, turtle blood or cow’s thyroid gland.

This idea has prompted a load of viral videos in the last few days. In Americans Try Estonian Sweets unsuspecting citizens of the USA are asked to sample such Baltic delights as  kaseke. (“I wouldn’t waste calories on this.”) Millions of us have watched Americans Try Bizarre Russian Foods For The First Time, desperate to see someone eating raw pig fat for the first time, or pickled tomatoes. (“Like someone threw acid on my grandmother.”) And then there’s Japanese People React To Marmite, where unfortunate volunteers expect something akin to soy sauce but end up deeply traumatised. (“My face is broken.”) What’s so great about these videos – aside from the extreme reactions – is the reminder that even in this era of globalisation, our palates our still radically different. What passes for a delicacy in one nation can still have people screaming in disgust in another.

Having done some research amongst some friends of mine, I’ve pulled together enough ideas for a good few hours of these viral videos, if anyone fancies making them. Just sit some people down, and get them to work their way through the list below. (Those of a sensitive disposition may need to lie down after reading it.)


Vietnam: Rat stew. “I thought they were joking, so I ate it.”


Italy: Sparrows. “Six poor little blackened sparrows perched on a sausage. Their vengeful faces haunted me for weeks.”


Norway: Rakfisk (fermented fish). “Like eating the contents of a dead cat’s bowels.”


Japan: Natto (fermented soy beans). “Smells like creosote. For breakfast. But I got used to it and started to like it.”


Kazakhstan: fermented horse milk. “I made the mistake of finishing what I had out of politeness, but it was interpreted as a signal that I hadn’t had enough.”


Thailand: Deep fried spider. “I am arachnophobic.”


France: Andouillette. (Offal sausage.) “I have a cast iron stomach but what I was served up begets belief. I still shudder to this day and it was about 25 years ago.”


Thailand: Horseshoe crab. “It looks really like an Alien (the movie) and rather than eat the ‘flesh’ you eat the eggs out of a chamber in its head.”


Bolivia: Chicken surprise soup. “The surprise was the chicken claw that was lodged upright in the bowl and emerged as you started to eat. It looked like the hand of an old zombie woman.”


Lebanon: Braised sheep testicles.


Israel: Spleen.


Syria: Sheeps’ ball soup. “So very horrible. And I had to eat it as it was given to me as a speciality and everyone was looking at me asking me to guess what it was.”


Tibet: Tsampa. “Black tea with added rancid yak butter, mixed to the consistency of Play-Doh with barley flour. Awful.”


Italy: Raw pork balls with a salad of bitter herbs.


Peru: Barbecued guinea pig. “Presented teeth forward.”


China: Gazelle. “Edible, but a bit stringy.”


South Korea: Live baby octopus.


Burkina Faso: Goats head soup. “It was as if the rest if the goat was sitting under the table.”


Sweden: Surströmming (fermented herring). “You are required to eat it outdoors and you are not allowed to carry it onto aircraft.”


Kenya: Sundried caterpillar. “I had no idea until I crunched down and asked what it was.”


Sardinia: Casu marzu (Pecorino containing live maggots.) “You have to wear safety glasses to eat it.”


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