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September 24th, 2007 at 2:10 pm

The World’s Wildest Delicacies

Taste is, in large part, to do with the evolutionary origin of an animal. So, birds all taste like chicken, and so does crocodile, since dinosaurs were the ancestors of birds too. But why do tarantulas taste like chicken? And is fugu worth the risk?

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Here are seven of the world’s more exotic delicacies, what they actually taste like – and where you can try, or avoid, them.

TARANTULA, Cambodia
If you’re an arachnophobe, you can get your own back in Cambodia by eating the hairy eight-legged monsters. What do you mean, it doesn’t work like that?

These aren’t incey-wincey house spiders, they’re stuff-of-nightmares tarantulas. The last correspondent we sent to try one described it thus: “The legs are the size and colour of a Cadbury chocolate finger, though if your chocolate finger was as hirsute as this, you’d definitely take it back to the shop. They’re cooked whole, which is particularly repellent – eyes, fangs, the lot. Pulling the legs off without squeezing the pus out of the abdomen is tricky.” Off you all race to Cambodia.

Tastes like: scrawny chicken wings coated in especially sweet plum sauce. With hairs on. There is some debate as to whether you should eat the abdomen. Some gourmets say it’s the sweetest part, with the texture of a soft goat’s eyeball and tasting just like cold duck.

Mmm, I want some: available from kids in the streets of Skuon, as you pass through by car to more notable places. They cost a few pence each – which is less than a penny a leg.

PUFFER FISH, Japan

When the deadly but delicious puffer fish was banned in Thailand in 2002, unscrupulous vendors started dyeing it pink and passing it off as salmon. As a result, 15 people have died a quick but agonising death in the past three years.

No such ban in Japan, where fugu is considered the ultimate delicacy. Only master fugu chefs are allowed to prepare the fish, which is undoubtedly a good thing – the toxin found in the skin and innards is 1,250 times more toxic than cyanide, and there is no known antidote. My advice: pretend to start eating it, then let your beloved have the first mouthful. Either that, or take a canary.

Tastes like: fish, and not very tasty fish at that. Gourmets claim its subtle flavour and fine texture is second to none, but, as with asphyxiational sex, one suspects the risk is half the fun.

Mmm, I want some: well, we hate to lose readers, so please avoid the Thai salmon strategy. For the full experience, try the newish Genpin Fugu (00 81-3 5232 0029), in the Roppongi district of Tokyo. Tecchiri – a sort of fugu hotpot served with homemade ponzu (citrus) sauce – is considered the best way to eat it. It costs about £10. In Osaka, the specialist Fugumasa Sakai (7 2233 2020) does whole fugu for about £30.

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                  The Ortolan Bird

ORTOLAN, France

Considered by the French as the ultimate gastronomic experience, and by the rest of the planet as the ultimate cruelty, ortolan-munching was banned in 1999. It’s not hard to see why: putting a napkin over your head and scoffing a petite and endangered songbird, bones, beak and all, could be construed as unnecessarily nasty. Not long before the ban, François Mitterrand didn’t set a good example, requesting ortolan to be served to him and 30 guests at a final banquet, eight days before he succumbed to cancer. This month, the French government agreed to enforce the original ban after campaigners revealed that an estimated 30,000 birds were still being poached each year in Aquitaine.

Tastes like: crunchy hazelnuts with a brandy aftertaste – not surprising, as the unfortunate birds meet their death in a glass of armagnac. I can think of worse ways to go.

Mmm, I want some: you won’t find ortolan on menus, you evil bird-killer, you. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an option. You need to know the chef or the chef’s best mate, give him a nudge and a wink, then snaffle the bunting while other guests are looking away.

PUFFIN, Iceland

There’s nothing more likely to make you go “aaaaah” than the sight of an aerodynamically challenged puffin leaping off a cliff, flapping hysterically and only narrowly avoiding a splattery death on the rocks below. So, why do the Icelanders insist on eating these beaky little heroes? Because, unlike another Icelandic speciality – putrefied shark meat – puffins taste delicious.

Tastes like: a fishier, gamier version of chicken.

Mmm, I want some: they sell them in supermarkets in the Westman Islands, but it’s less hassle simply to book a table in Reykjavik. Laekjarbrekka (00 354 551 4430, www.laekjarbrekka.is/en) is the place – it offers a three-course Puffin Party for £37. Bet the puffin didn’t think it was a party.

CROCODILE, Australia

No wonder the great salties of Queensland keep eating people. They’re just getting their own back for all the times their friends have turned up on the menu at swanky Sydney restaurants. It was bad enough when crocodile handbags were all the rage.

Tastes like: gristly chicken. I’d stick with chicken … or Australia’s other, bouncier inhabitant, the kangaroo, which tastes like the world’s best steak.

Mmm, I want some: suit yourself. The hot place to snap up croc at the moment is Deep Blue Bistro (00 61 2 9315 8811, www.deepbluebistro.com.au) on Coogee Beach. Its outback fusion menu includes carpaccio of crocodile.

MATURE EGGS, Cambodia

again Which came first, the chicken or the egg? If you’re in the park outside the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, the answer is neither: they come at the same time. Eggs are cooked shortly before they’re due to hatch. You stick your spoon in and the yolk oozes out, closely followed by a chicken foetus. Far be it from me to …

Tastes like: Chicken and egg.

Mmmm, I want some: they’re sold by the dozen for pocket money in the parks of Phnom Penh.

SNAKE, China

Perhaps the most shocking delicacy, not just in China but the whole world, is live monkey brains (see below). I always assumed this was the purely the stuff of Indiana Jones movies, but they still serve them in certain provincial towns. And I just can’t bring myself to tell you how. Adventurous eaters would do better to try snake, because snakes don’t have sweet little faces. Pick the snake, watch the chef skin it alive, neck the blood, then scoff the meat in some form of soup. Delicious.

Tastes like: chicken, but with a beefy texture.

Mmm, I want some: Yangshuo, in the province of Guangxi, 300 miles from Hong Kong, is snake-eating country. Meiyou Cafe, on West Street, will do the necessary butchery for a few pounds.

Live Monkey Brains

Live monkey brains.  After the monkey is inebriated, it is placed on the table to await the hungry diners.  More here.

Via: Times Online

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