Worst. Food. Ever.
May 22, 2006 3:55 PM   Subscribe

I like to be taken on a journey far beyond my own culinary cultural milieu. What is the worst tasting food?

One of the local Japanese places serves salted fermented squid guts, which is pretty unbearable. Neither the chef nor the proprietor will touch it, and I find the smell makes me nauseous. I'm hoping there is something more disgustingly challenging to eat. I'm not really thinking of physically repellent bugs / kangaroo testicles etc, more stuff that actually tastes awful.
posted by roofus to Food & Drink (69 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of this will depend on how you grew up, what you generally like, etc.

That said, have you ever had Vegemite, the brown yeast spread? Horrid to an unaccustomed mouth.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:59 PM on May 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

You might get some ideas from Please Steve, Don't Eat It. Particularly episodes 6, 7, and 9.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:59 PM on May 22, 2006

I was just reading about this horrible concoction last night -
Iceland offers wide varieties of traditional cuisine. Þorramatur (food of the þorri) is the Icelandic national food. Nowadays þorramatur is mostly eaten during the ancient Nordic month of þorri, in January and February, as a tribute to old culture. Þorramatur consists of many different types of food, for example sour ram's testicles, rotten shark, burned sheep heads, sheep's head jam, blood pudding, dried fish (often cod or haddock) with butter.
So I'll just recap that: sour ram's testicles, rotten shark, burned sheep heads.

I've never tasted it. Never plan to, either. But it is the national food of Iceland, so somebody's eating it.
posted by brain cloud at 4:04 PM on May 22, 2006

My ex-bf, who is a definite culinary adventurer and prides himself on being able to eat almost anything, swears that yak butter tea is the worst thing on the planet.
posted by scody at 4:05 PM on May 22, 2006

Vegemite is only horrid to those who use too much AND are unaccustomed to it. Done right, even those that have never had it before think it's devine and want more. Americans don't believe me. I prove them wrong. :-)

I have heard of an Inuit dish that (and my memory fails me) involves something like taking a dead bird, and doing something to it (that probably doesn't involve cooking or defeathering) and burying it in snow or permafrost or something for a few months, and the result is a black sludge that you eat. That one doesn't sound very appetizing.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:07 PM on May 22, 2006

You might want to see if you can get past the smell of durian. It's supposed to be pretty rank.

And I've also heard natto can be very hard to stomach, smell and consistency-wise.
posted by MsMolly at 4:08 PM on May 22, 2006

All of this is subjective, of course, but a some people think that durian is one of the most repulsive foods available. (I am not one of those people.)

If you think durian is bad, you should check out Garden Wafers with artificial durian flavor. Even I can't eat these.
posted by murphy slaw at 4:10 PM on May 22, 2006

Not quite a food, but.. a Maori beer in New Zealand called Matai beer.
posted by wackybrit at 4:11 PM on May 22, 2006

Vegemite is delightful*, so take that back off your list.

Well, this is difficult. Everything I don't like someone else will like. Are you after something that is a legitimate food, but one that no-one really enjoys, but that some eat anyway? Or just something that you specifically won't like? I mean, that might mean that capsicum takes the win, or it might mean mushrooms. Some people really hate very normal foods.

Kava tastes pretty bad, do drinks count as food for the purposes of this question? I didn't like durian (the stinky fruit) very much, but I could eat it again, and it wasn't just because of flavour, but texture and smell. And flavour.

I don't think kangaroo testicles would be quite as bad you do. People eat other testicles no problem, I expect the flavour is... meat. And whatever sauces and seasonings were used in the cooking. I've had kangaroo (though not testicles) and it tasted like... curry.

* (On toast with lots of melted butter, or smeared under grilled cheese. Yummo.)
posted by The Monkey at 4:14 PM on May 22, 2006

Post-post: Seems durian is being mentioned a lot, thought I'd point out the strangest place I ever saw - as a filling at Dunkin' Donuts. (In Denpasar.) No, I didn't try it. I had the weirdest chocolate donut I've ever tried.
posted by The Monkey at 4:16 PM on May 22, 2006

i'll toss in a vote for balut, never tried, it's hard to get past, "fertilized duck egg with a nearly-developed embryo inside that is boiled"
posted by killyb at 4:22 PM on May 22, 2006

Lutafisk ..... mmmmmmm lye
posted by edgeways at 4:23 PM on May 22, 2006

I've had natto. It looks and tastes like something that sticks to the underside of a kitchen garbage can lid.
posted by matildaben at 4:23 PM on May 22, 2006

I second Durian.
posted by hermitosis at 4:23 PM on May 22, 2006

My grandmother's coddle.
posted by meehawl at 4:26 PM on May 22, 2006

Things that sound disgusting but are actually pretty good:
Sylta: Swedish headcheese dish. Tastes like liverwurst.
Cuitlacoche (say "hweet' la ko' chay"): A Mexican goo made from a disease that grows in corn.

And something that sounds pretty bad, and is actually worse:
Japanese sweet-potato ice cream.
posted by adamrice at 4:30 PM on May 22, 2006

I was gonna say natto, which I love. It's right up there with salted fermented squid guts, which is also awesome.

My Japanese friend who also happens to own a first class sushi restaurant took us to NYC for dinner. He ordered in Japanese. He and the waitress watched us with a little smile as we ate our 'sweet fish.' It was like biting a multivitamin. A baby rainbow trout with all the guts still inside, mmmmmm, liver.

When I was in Copenhagen the guy we were training saw us eyeing his box of licorice, which he encouraged us to try. Licorice soaked in seawater. He said it was one of the milder ones.
posted by fixedgear at 4:33 PM on May 22, 2006

On postview: Natto, how could I forget that. Even a lot of people from Western Japan won't eat that. It's not just a weird Japanese "food" item, it's regional.

And in the winter months, when the 7-11s in Japan have oden on the boil, I can barely stand to enter them.
posted by adamrice at 4:33 PM on May 22, 2006

A lot of this stuff is processed in nasty ways ensuring the overgrowth of foul-smelling bacteria.

In the other category, the one that doesn't involve decomposition, I'd like to nominate a freshly-boiled rutabaga. The smell is enough to make me retch.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:36 PM on May 22, 2006

The foulest food I've ever had was chòu dòufu in Taiwan Cafe in Boston.
posted by sohcahtoa at 4:37 PM on May 22, 2006

People defended Vegemite upthread, so I'll defend natto. Whenever topics about "unbearable" or "weird" food comes up on Metafilter, natto seems to always be there at the top the list, but it's *not* as horrible as people seem to think and it's really, really good for you. And the "salted fermented squid guts," is called shiokara and if it was "unbearable," it's probably because it wasn't very good quality. A chef and proprietor of a restaurant shouldn't be serving food they won't touch.
posted by misozaki at 4:46 PM on May 22, 2006

adamrice, are you kidding me? I freaking love oden. With the daikon, and the hard-boiled eggs, and the fish cake, and the big old slabs of konnyaku... you just can't get it around here! (N.B.: If anyone can tell me where to find real oden near Baltimore, I'll be everlastingly grateful.) But natto? Yeah. That's a cruel joke, is what that is. It tastes like somebody else's socks.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:48 PM on May 22, 2006

See? Like ThePinkSuperhero said upthread, there's no answer to this question. It's too subjective.
posted by misozaki at 4:50 PM on May 22, 2006

Response by poster: I agree absolutely, that so called "strange" foods, tend to be just outside of your usual cuisine. I actually like vegemite and durian (the latter especially good if chilled). I can handle natto, except at breakfast. The squid guts just has this strong odour and intense rotten flavour that makes it hard to really savour. Is it genuinely a delicacy, or just a macho thing?
posted by roofus at 4:58 PM on May 22, 2006

posted by fire&wings at 5:00 PM on May 22, 2006

roofus, in Japan, shiokara isn't a delicacy or a macho thing, it's just ...food. I don't like cheap shiokara either, because of the reasons you gave, but if it's good quality, it's not bad at all. So I guess I'm more upset at your local Japanese restaurant for serving bad food and creating the impression that Japanese people have this high tolerance for bad-tasting food.
posted by misozaki at 5:09 PM on May 22, 2006

personally, I find it entertaining how many people started off their entries with "I've heard ..." or "I've never had it but ..." It all sounds terrible, but, jeez, folks, don't knock it 'til you try it.

I mean, personally, I grew up eating balut and durian fruit and I find neither any more or less disgusting than, say, chicken livers or eggplant (whose texture I just plain don't like)

Rotten shark was memorable mostly because it's usually packaged in jars that are filled with concentrated brine. And it smelled like stale piss. Spend enough time in Third World toilets and you get used to it.

Now, Casu Marzu (Sardinian pecorino that's been purposefully infested by flies, is crawling with larvae, and has been fermented with their 'digestive action') that stuff's disgusting.
posted by bl1nk at 5:09 PM on May 22, 2006

Response by poster: I was in Sardinia recently, and could not find Casu Marzu anywhere.Had I tracked it down, I think it would have defeated me anyway.
posted by roofus at 5:17 PM on May 22, 2006

Well, if you're ever in Chicago, I can have my mother whip you up some of her liver and onions. I'm getting dry heaves just thinking about it.

Also, wasn't there a fad in Scotland during the '90's for deep fried Snickers bars? That seems pretty rank to me.
posted by maryh at 5:20 PM on May 22, 2006

The worst thing I've ever tasted was a brussel sprouts flavored soda from Jones.
posted by phrontist at 5:26 PM on May 22, 2006

maryh, like bl1nk said, don't knock it until you've tried it. I've had a couple of different deep fried chocolate bars and if you get the timing right (the meltyness doesn't last) they're really delicious.
posted by The Monkey at 5:28 PM on May 22, 2006

phrontist, I still have a bottle of that in my fridge. I've been trying to work up the nerve to taste it since November.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:31 PM on May 22, 2006

On the idea of food subjectivity - I recently read an article where food scientists were testing various spices and tastes with widespread cultures. Apparently, in several parts of Africa where traditional foods are still heavily favored, natives had never tasted cinnamon before and reacted violently. Gagging and puking was witnessed, among those the could be convinced to try it. These peoples associated the very smell of the spice with meat gone bad - seriously poisoned fair that could not be saved by cooking.

Man, we're talking cinnamon here.
posted by Dunwitty at 5:38 PM on May 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

Seconding the 'subjective' thing, but I'm voting for natto. Picture rancid beans which someone has hocked phlegm all over, then eaten and shat out again.

On the flipside, I'll vote against lutefisk. Fish packed in lye sounds vile, but it's actually very bland - the stuff's really just regular fish, albeit rather gelatinous and less tasty than most. It really doesn't deserve its reputation at all.
posted by ZaphodB at 5:39 PM on May 22, 2006

Sigh. "that could be convinced..." "poisoned fare..." etc. SpellCheckFilter.
posted by Dunwitty at 5:39 PM on May 22, 2006

There's nothing subjective about this question at all. Natto is the only food I have spit on the floor in public rather than swallow, and it was my brainstem that made that call.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:43 PM on May 22, 2006

I once tried pickled turnips in a Lebanese restaurant, and had to stay for the rest of the meal (to be polite), despite a nearly overwhelming urge to run out and shave my tongue to get the flavor off it.

I'm sure I'm insulting someone's favorite dish, and I apologize, Lebanese chefs and foodies, but this is a disgusting dish that might be more easily available than some of the other suggestions.

And now I am going to try that trick where you think of 10 things in a row in order to forget about something. And the something I am trying to avoid thinking about is balut. Sometimes wikipedia is not my friend.
posted by theredpen at 5:45 PM on May 22, 2006

As 1/4 Norse, I would like to repudiate ZaphodB and repeat the nomination of lutefisk. A Google search finds someone quoting...
From Of Norwegian Ways by Bent Vanberg p.111-112:

"...The lutefisk is rather unique... and controversial. Anti-lutefisk groups strongly maintain that this dish must have been among the chief reasons that the Vikings left Norway; others suspect it must more likely have been the Hardanger fiddle, or the complicated Norwegian language situation. If these groups are right, they should be reminded then that the discovery of America should also be credited to the lutefisk. Lutefisk connoisseurs do not readily forgive those statements which the opposing forces have issued, such as: '...inedible, a Norwegian horror, a Yuletide atrocity, a taste that can only be experienced and not described, painfully embarrassing to Norwegians, not adaptable to casual conversation, unsavorable, weird concoction, hard on the nerves, a nightmare, a mess you would set in front of your worst enemy, now it is there and now it isn't, lutefisk and other perversions.'"
Luckily, in my family, our embrace of our heritage during holiday meals did not go so far as to include lutefisk.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:00 PM on May 22, 2006

theredpen, that's weird. those lebanese pickled turnips are great, if you like pickles. i recently made a bunch (good recipe in Saveur) and have a jar in my fridge.
posted by rxrfrx at 6:11 PM on May 22, 2006

This Slate article from 1996 by Vogue food writer Jeffrey Steingarten, Learning to Eat Everything, might be of some help. Actually, it's a fascinating article:
By shutting ourselves off from the bounties of nature, we become failed omnivores. We let the omnivore team down. And that is only the beginning.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:11 PM on May 22, 2006

I'll second the nomination of 臭豆腐. It's the grossest food I've ever smelled... though it's said if you can get it into your mouth, it's delicious. I haven't tried.
posted by rxrfrx at 6:12 PM on May 22, 2006

Well, Ethereal Bligh, I'll see your repudiation and raise you first-hand experience. Speaking as someone who has even personally prepared lutefisk twice - do you Scandinavian folks just get a kick out of the reputation or something? It's really not bad. The worst part is the smell, which is vaguely soapy. If the most horrible part of a dish is a vague desire to rub it all over your hands and rinse, I'm pretty confident in saying it's not the worst food ever.

Now, natto on the other hand...
posted by ZaphodB at 6:14 PM on May 22, 2006

well, thousand-year eggs are pretty god damned funky.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 6:38 PM on May 22, 2006

the thousand-year eggs are a little funky if you eat them plain, but why do that? if you chop them up and mix them with soft tofu and scallions, well, there aren't too many Americans who'd dislike that.
posted by rxrfrx at 6:55 PM on May 22, 2006

I'm surprised no one has mentioned surströmming yet. I'm not sure I've ever heard of anything meant to be eaten which sounds quite as vile as that does.

Though I still think surströmming sounds worse, I'm quite impressed by the description of Þorramatur. I'd never heard of it before. Between it, surströmming, and lutefisk, Scandinavia does seem to have quite a number of fearsome foods...
posted by a louis wain cat at 6:56 PM on May 22, 2006

I live in Taiwan, so I'm used to people whining about durians and stinky tofu, but I rather like them. The key to eating durians is getting them when they're just ripe (the bottom is starting crack up) and refrigerating them. I prefer the texture that way. Deep-fried stinky tofu covered with minced garlic and chili sauce is perhaps my favorite dish here. The 麻辣 version with the pig blood and intestines is a bit too much for me, though.

The worst thing I'd imagine would be balut. The worst thing I've personally tasted was a mixture of yak butter and Tibetan flour. The butter was absolutely rancid.
posted by alidarbac at 7:41 PM on May 22, 2006

I'll second the nomination of 臭豆腐. It's the grossest food I've ever smelled... though it's said if you can get it into your mouth, it's delicious. I haven't tried.

I've had the fried kind and it actually tastes pretty good. The smell is reasonably bearable as well. The steamed kind on the other hand, I can't even bring myself within close enough physical proximity to look at.
posted by juv3nal at 8:01 PM on May 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

brussel sprouts. hands down.
posted by Rumple at 8:01 PM on May 22, 2006

I'm going to vote for subjective, as I love durian. The taste is totally different from the smell, and I have a bag of durian-flavored candy in the kitchen right now. No one will eat the stuff but me, though.

Mustard is the most horrible thing I've ever tasted. Yeah. Sujective.
posted by honeydew at 8:20 PM on May 22, 2006

Raw eel. It was like eating my own knuckle, a horror.

Brussels sprouts are wonderful split, cooked in garlic and braised with chicken stock, you have to get the little farty core of sulphur stink out of them is all.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:35 PM on May 22, 2006

Uni-sushi. I believe it's a sea urchin, or possibly sea urchin roe. Anyway, it tastes like bilgewater.
posted by pompomtom at 8:57 PM on May 22, 2006

Probably the worst thing ever to pass my lips was Pokemon branded sausage.

I saw it in the local Japanese market. It was in a yellow cardboard box, with an ebullient Pikachu dancing on the front.

C'mon - who could resist that?

I got the box out to the car and opened it up to find several fleshy-colored tubes of what looked like cheap baloney, pinched at each end with a metal ring. Upon selecting a limp finger of Pokemon sausage, I popped a metal ring off and was greeted by the smell of ocean.

Not good ocean, either, mind you. This smelled like Galveston on an August afternoon. It smelled like a sturgeon crawled up inside my colon and somehow managed to die a week prior.

"Hmm," i thought, "this doesn't look promising. I wonder what's in these?"

I flipped the box over to read the ingredients. Fish paste and krill ranked as the top two ingredients.

Fish paste.


Taking a moment to let the fact sink in that I was essentially about to eat sea monkeys, I closed my eyes and brought Galveston under my nose and past my lips.

"Our Father who art in heaven...," I thought to myself as teeth sank into something with the most obscene mouth-feel I could never have imagined.

I fall short of words when attempting to describe the way this product felt in my mouth. If I were the protagonist of some H.P. Lovecraft story, it would have reduced me to gibbering quietly to myself in a corner -- such was the power of its terrible and incomprehensible texture. I failed my sanity check. The closest I can come is describing the texture as sort of an unholy union betwixt baloney and Jell-O. You didn't chew it so much, as it just kept breaking into ever-smaller jiggling chunks.

At this point, about 90% of these chunks found their way to the asphalt of the parking lot, to be replaced in the offended mouth by a large swig of Lemon Squash.

The Pokemon instant curry wasn't much better. Don't ever eat Pokemon branded food. Iai! Iai!
posted by kaseijin at 9:16 PM on May 22, 2006 [16 favorites]

Oh, the Jones Soda 2005 Holiday Pack was pretty goddamned vile, too.

Brussels Sprout and Proscuitto flavored soda is an abomination.
posted by kaseijin at 9:19 PM on May 22, 2006

There's a food called Bondaeggi that's very popular here in Korea. It's a boiled silkworm larva thing that smells something awful and tastes worse. The kids can't get enough of it, though.
posted by shokod at 9:48 PM on May 22, 2006

Kaseijin, if you aren't a writer you should be. Your description was awsome! Had me in tears...

Sorry I can't add to this - the most awful thing to pass my lips was what I thought was a soda, but I picked up the wrong can (at a friend's) and got the can with cigarrette butts and chew tobacco spit. I can still taste it, years later. But it wasn't food, and I don't recommend it.

wife of 445supermag
posted by 445supermag at 10:14 PM on May 22, 2006

I've tried Sea Cucumber and Bitter Gourd but they will never pass my lips again.
posted by tellurian at 10:47 PM on May 22, 2006

I vote for yucca. I generally don't like many root vegetables, and last summer was introduced to yucca in a regional Colombian dish called sancocho. True to form, it was served for Sunday lunch following wedding festivities on Saturday night. I tried a few bites, but it was way too fibrous and not very flavorful. The rest of the meal, however, was delicious.
posted by emelenjr at 11:07 PM on May 22, 2006

I really don't understand why so many people dislike brussels sprouts, they're fine. Cook them well, then a bit of butter and some lemon juice, maybe a grind of salt & pepper, yum.
posted by The Monkey at 12:09 AM on May 23, 2006

Brussel sprouts are known to have a chemical in them that only some people can taste, isn't that the case? Or am I confusing them with asparagus?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:22 AM on May 23, 2006

Marmite is the British version of Vegemite, and is stronger and more salty. I like both.

The horriblest things I've eaten - sea urchin in Greece, calf's head in France (that one's very subjective, I'm sure some could eat it), salted licorice in Finland and Sweden, especially the double-salted kind that tastes of ammonia. The one that's just salty is OK in comparison with that.
posted by altolinguistic at 12:55 AM on May 23, 2006

It's all relative. I happen to love shiokara, the fermented squid guts. I have to pick up a jar of it for my Tokyo-born Significant Other whenever I see it. She laughs at me because I won't eat jellyfish - in her world, everybody eats jellyfish. Natto I can take, but she won't share hers with me. Tokyo people have a local craving for sour, slimey foods that makes a lot of other Japanese gag.

The Greenlandic bird delicacy is kiviak. Whole birds (small auks) are put in a greasy seal skin and buried in the permafrost for seven months, then dug up around Christmas. You bite the heads off and squeeze out the tart insiders, which are slightly intoxicatiung and taste like brie cheese. Hmmm good!

Deep End Dining eats that which you would prefer not to.
posted by zaelic at 2:35 AM on May 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Zaelic, that's a great link. Has it been posted to the blue?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:26 AM on May 23, 2006

E. Bligh: nope, don't think so.
posted by zaelic at 5:26 AM on May 23, 2006

I've heard from friends travelling in China that not only was this psychologically repulsive, but it also tasted terrible:

but the most exotic Guangxi dish is called Chia San Jiao, literally 'Eat Three Squeals'. It consists of live rat embryos laid out on a plate. The dish's name is said to have originated from the fact that the animal squeals once when picked up with chopsticks, a second time when dipped in the accompanying sauce and a third (and last) time when it is popped into the mouth. Mmmm!

see link:
posted by battlecj at 10:20 AM on May 23, 2006

or rather this link
posted by battlecj at 10:21 AM on May 23, 2006

I think battlecj won this one...
posted by contessa at 12:24 PM on May 23, 2006

You know those Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, made by Jelly Belly as a Harry Potter tie-in? Yeah. Specifically, the vomit flavored ones. Disturbingly accurate.
posted by Acetylene at 7:10 PM on May 24, 2006

Okay, stepping late into this thread (from here), but I can say with authority that boiled goat stomach sausage is the most disgusting thing I have ever put in my mouth.
posted by Deathalicious at 12:51 PM on May 11, 2007

brain cloud writes"So I'll just recap that: sour ram's testicles, rotten shark, burned sheep heads. "I've never tasted it. Never plan to, either. But it is the national food of Iceland, so somebody's eating it."

This would explain Bjork.

When I was a kid growing up in Minnesota, my grandfather forced me to eat lutefisk once. I would have just taken a good old fashioned ass-beating instead. It IS as horrible as people describe.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:35 PM on May 18, 2007

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