Food in many parts of the world, particularly where there isn’t much to eat, can be loosely defined as anything you put into your mouth that doesn’t kill you.
My vegetarian friends may want to avert their eyes: If food walks, crawls, swims, slides, or oozes, it’s fair game. And I’ve probably eaten it or had it offered by well-meaning folks.
This file hardly covers all the nasty things that have slid down my gullet. Sometimes I was too busy eating to pull out my camera, or too sick after eating whatever it was to care about taking a photo (hence the need for a travelmate from time to time).
If you’ve got a squeamish stomach or don’t like to see fuzzy little animals put on the grill, here’s a better list of good vagabonding food that I’ve enjoyed.
Enough blah blah disclaimer blah and on to the nasty pictures. That is why you’re here, right?
Holy mother of all that is good and decent in this world. This thing belongs in Leatherface’s wardrobe from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, not on a family’s table. I found this pig face waiting to be consumed in a market in Chinatown, Bangkok. I hovered around hoping that someone would negotiate to buy it, or at least try it on, but no luck this time. (Bangkok, Thailand)
It doesn’t seem fair to my Dutch friends to follow up the face with their beloved vending food, but I find it equally inedible unless you’re on the brink of alcohol poisoning at 4:30 a.m. The famous Dutch automatiek known as FEBO has been serving up bitterballen, croquette, and other RDFOs (random Dutch fried objects) to stoned tourists and drunk people since 1941. Don’t get me wrong, I do like bitterballen, but I prefer them not to be handed over by a robot. (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
My first ever plate of dog meat (I’ve now had it three times) was voluntary and all that I feared: squishy, fatty, and disgusting. The meat had been reheated scores of times because tourists like myself would nibble a piece or two out of curiosity and then leave the rest on the table. Now I have a better understanding of why man’s best friend still wanders freely in villages where people are starving. (Beijing, China)
As if turning saliva from cave swiftlets into an expensive soup wasn’t bad enough, some ingenious Thai or Chinese entrepreneur decided that bird spit would make a fine, carbonated beverage. Wrong. The smell of the hiss as I opened the can made me wonder if it was full of decaying bird feathers. (Saigon, Vietnam)
The bulls in Peru actually survive having their balls removed; it makes them more docile and they have the chance to pursue their dreams of opera as star soprano singers. Seeing the pubes still attached really didn’t make them any more appealing. (Cusco, Peru)
I was more than willing to try these scorpion kebabs in China but there was only one problem: THEY WERE STILL ALIVE. Messing with any creature that survives being impaled on a stick for extended periods of time is asking for trouble. In fact, they would sometimes sting passerby that leaned in to look at other food. Every survivalist knows that the most dangerous scorpions are the smaller, translucent ones. And having my face paralyzed by my food makes for lousy dinner conversation. (Beijing, China)
Normally, a big plate of fresh crabs would be a very good thing. Unfortunately, these weren’t fresh or Australian as the box they are sitting on implies. These grumpy little mud crabs came from the Chao Praya River in Bangkok and really thrive around the pipes that dump raw human sewage into the waterway. (Bangkok, Thailand)
This tray of prison slop was my breakfast every day for a month at the Shaolin Temple school where I studied kung fu in China. No wonder the monks train hard to fight; they have to be pissed off starting every day with this stuff. I know I was. When you have 4,000 hungry students to feed, I guess you don’t have much time to ponder the culinary arts. (Xiao Long Wu Yuan in Henan, China)
Hey, you were warned. These pigs were slaughtered while I was staying with a family in a remote, Indonesian village. The boiling cauldron of pig fat wasn’t dumped on storming invaders; the gelatinous stuff fed me for two weeks. Fortunately, the family I stayed with was so dear and kindhearted that I barely thought about the lack of refrigeration. (Flores, Indonesia)
Chicago-style pizza is one of those things that seem like a good idea at the time but soon turn into tapping out “kill me” in Morse code with your head from your quadriplegic coma. The weight of each slice was astonishing, and at least half of that weight is cholesterol. But I admit, it was a tasty way to suffer. (Chicago, USA)
As man of the table, I was given the honor of eating the best part of the catfish — the head — after it was pulled out of the hotpot oil. I nibbled the whiskers off, poked around at the eyes and brain, then finally gave up on the smelly thing as everyone else around me enjoyed delicious catfish. The good parts. (Chengdu, China)
No explanation necessary. (Miri in Sarawak, Borneo)
When an Indian restaurateur warns you that a particular food item will cause pain, run like hell. They aren’t joking. (Jodhpur in Rajasthan, India)
Another from the same Indian restaurant. Maybe they cater to masochists. (Jodhpur in Rajasthan, India)
These barbecued bats on a stick gave me one of my worst cases of food poisoning yet. I laid in bed for a week and begged for a call to the embassy. In fact, they are the reason that there aren’t more frightening entries in this list of grotesque foods. The lesson learned? Don’t eat winged rodents sold at street markets. [2020 update] I know what you’re thinking, and no, it wasn’t me. I ate my bat in 2006. (Vientiane, Laos)
A double Big Mac! Only available in Thailand and a few other select countries where skinny, depressed people want to punish themselves, these things have to be illegal in the U.S. Even McDonald’s isn’t cheeky enough to release them in the U.S. where angry moms would sue after their kid developed a triple chin. Give me a cauldron of pig fat over this any day. (Chiang Mai, Thailand)
Apparently, these guys will throw practically anything into the meat grinder. The fuzzy bunny and lamb really make these burgers that much more marketable to families with kids. And why the hell is it called Hot Dog King when all they seem to sell are burgers? Oh…wait, Burger King was already taken. (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
Another from the remote Indonesian village near Adonara. When a muscular man, son of a headhunter and quite possibly one himself at a young age, tells you that goat head is for dinner — you eat goat. (Flores, Indonesia)
We took turns cooking group dinners at the hostel, so I had to run to the market in Cusco for groceries. I begged my partner to buy one of these hooves, carry it through the hostel common room where people were waiting for us to serve dinner, and let me photograph expressions of horror. No luck. But aside from the poo that was still stuck on the bottom, they didn’t look half bad. (Cusco, Peru)
The first sign that Indian Thali plates weren’t for me should have been the metal, prison-tray presentation (remember the Shaolin school?). Instead, purely out of necessity, I consumed scores of these damn things for nearly a month in Rajasthan. The rice and dessert ball are excellent; the rest has the texture of something squeezed out of a sick baby’s diaper. (Jaisalmer, India)
Another horror from India, this cheese-covered plate of old spaghetti actually squirmed and made squishing sounds without being touched! Even given the food terrors above, this remains one of my worst meals on record. Now I know why Gandhi didn’t eat for 116 days: he probably tried the spaghetti and gave up on food for life. (Jodhpur, India)
Yes, I went along with fishermen who were harpoon hunting for dolphins. Actually, they were hunting for whales, but this dolphin was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thankfully. But this remote part of Indonesia was given the green light to take whales by hand for sustenance. After seeing the ribs showing on the kids that greeted our boat, I didn’t mind helping them drag Flipper up on the beach. The meat is oily and terrible; not for me. And it contains more mercury than tuna, enough to make you piss your pants and forget who you are for a few hours after eating it.
Here’s the story: Hunting in Lamalera. (Lamalera, Indonesia)
And that’s it! Unlike after reading my post of good vagabonding food, you’re probably not clamoring up to the kitchen after all this. But just in case you didn’t get enough disgust in one go, check out all the travel food pictures on my Flickr vagabonding food photostream.
Yep, I ate him. Sorry, not sorry. Sate kambing (goat on a stick) is my go-to snack in Indonesia when tempeh can’t be found.