When you’re hovering on the verge of leaving this world, the last thing you want to feel is lingering regret about those unique foods you never had the chance to try and all those unimaginable flavours and textures you missed out on, or never knew existed. To avoid such a terrible fate, a list of 20 strange bucket-list foods has recently been compiled by a British news site and has been widely commented on in Japan, as it features two home-grown favourites: fugu and shiokara. Fugu is the poisonous pufferfish of Simpsons fame, while shiokara is a relatively harmless dish composed of shreds of meat from a sea creature (commonly squid) in a slimy paste of its heavily salted, fermented raw guts. I mean, viscera.

So my taste buds won’t spend an eternity regretting the tragic circumstances that left their fugu and shiokara cherry unpopped, I aim to get to the bottom of these Japanese dishes! Er, okay, maybe not right to the bottom. I’ll have a few cautious bites and see how it goes.

First off, let’s take a look at that bucket list. As you would expect, this list of out-there mean cuisine ranges from the potentially poisonous to various creepy-crawlies. You might want to keep a real bucket on hand, just in case. These excretal, fetal, reproductive, rotten (sorry, fermented) or raw treats leave no food group unmolested.

Warning: Even reading about the following foods may induce nausea.

1. Fugu, Japan
To prepare this risky fish, a special license is required.

2. Witchetty grub, Australia
This large white larvae is said to taste like almonds when eaten raw.

3. Sannakji, Korea
Still squirming octopus tentacles.

4. Puffin heart, Iceland
Eaten raw. Eat your heart out, Gordon Ramsay and Daenerys Targaryen.

5. Escamoles, Mexico
“Insect caviar”… or some would say, ant larvae.

6. Shiokara, Japan
Do you have the guts to try these?

7. Beondegi, Korea
Snack on steamed silk worm pupae.

8. Tong zi dan, China
Virgin boy eggs. Part of a longheld tradition of urine therapy spanning many cultures throughout history, these pee-soaked delights are said to “reinvigorate the body“.

9. Hákarl, Iceland
Fermented, dried shark—poisonous when fresh.

10. Baby mice wine, China/Korea
You can imagine. Although probably you’d prefer not to.

11. Cockscombs, Europe
Vital ingredient in legendary Italian sauce Cibreo.

12. Surströmming, Sweden
Due to the overwhelming odour of this fermented fish dish, it should be eaten outside.

13. Rocky mountain oysters, US
Don’t be fooled by the name, these are actually bull calf testicles.

14. Black Ivory coffee
Made from coffee beans which have been eaten by an elephant and collected from the resulting feces.

15. Balut, Philippines
Duck embryo in the shell.

16. Tepa (“Stinkheads”), Alaska, US
Fermented whitefish heads, traditional food of the Yup’ik peoples.

17. Snake wine, South-east Asia
Yesssss, doesss contain sssnakes.

18. Century eggs, China
These green-yolked preserved eggs only take weeks or months to make, not 100 years.

19. Fried spiders, Cambodia
A species of tarantula, fried with MSG, sugar, salt and garlic.

20. Grasshoppers, all over the world
Let me tell you, the sweet grasshoppers served up in Japan have got to be the most delicious!

So how did you score out of 20? The number you have tried may be directly proportional to your death wish…

Now let’s take a closer look at the two dishes from Japan, tried and successfully consumed by yours truly:

  • Fugu, poisonous pufferfish

Image: alq666

Fugu is generally served at restaurants that specialize in serving the dish—I strongly recommend that you don’t try this at home, as one wrong cut could be fatal. Fugu chefs undergo rigorous training to hone their expertise, and must be licensed. In Japan, you will often spot a tank full of fugu swimming around by the entrance.

The best place and season to consume this delicacy is generally agreed to be winter in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture (southern Japan). Sadly, I couldn’t make it down there, so I tried a full course meal in Tokyo instead. Hyped up on adrenalin, I found myself assessing my entire life up to that point. The first item on offer was the hirezake (fin sake), a shot of alcohol with a fugu tail floating inside, which my waiter kindly set on fire and extinguished for me. I gathered my courage and gulped down the sake, including the tail which was chewy and blackened. Ewww. Suddenly I started choking. Wait… that really didn’t taste like it was supposed to be eaten! I called back the waiter and frantically tried to explain my dilemma. Was I doomed? I could already feel the telltale tingling and numbness beginning in my fingertips.

▼ Fugu hirezake

 Image: Motohiro Takayama

The waiter confirmed that it was probably better not to eat the tail, but reassured me that I’d be fine. After I calmed down, I found the rest of the courses fairly bland, except for the outstanding karaage fugu (you can’t go wrong with deep-fried anything) and the arrangement of wafer-thin raw fugu sashimi slices was almost too beautiful (and potentially poisonous) to eat.

  • Ika no Shiokara

 Image: Rona Moon

Shiokara may be easier to come by than fugu. If you’d like to give it a whirl, try asking for it at your local Japanese restaurant or supermarket and you may win some respect for your culinary knowledge and refined taste. Just try not to ruin the effect by choking on it when it arrives!

Pronounced “shee-oh-KA-ra”, the most common kind is made from squid or cuttlefish, and it may be on the English menu as something like “fresh cuttlefish pickled”. One of the best ways to initiate yourself is to alternate gulps of shiokara with gulps of whiskey.

The two types of shiokara I got my hands on were made from ika (squid) and flavoured with salt, which has a murky orange color. The other was flavoured with soy sauce, and was darker brown in color. Wow, something smelt fishy—a bit like anchovies. I gingerly chopsticked some slimy squid flesh out of the ooze of fermented viscera and eyeballed it. Here goes nothing, down the hatch. The first impression is overwhelming saltiness, then the sour fishy flavour kicks in. The thinly sliced squid is also quite chewy, as you’d expect, but the pieces are small enough to slip down easily. Just try not to think about the word “viscera”. Mmm. Hey, this is not bad! Not bad at all! Or was it just all that whiskey I drank… Either way, I regret nothing!

Well, I hope your appetite for the bizarre is sated for now. Anyone care to try the foods on this bucket list?

Source: Himasoku via RecordChina
Featured image: Himasoku