Fresh baguettes, cheesy fondues and more sausage than you can shake a stick at. However, having put together our top 10 bizarre European delicacies, it is safe to say that this accolade was quite clearly awarded before these culinary bad boys came into play. A word of warning for squeamish readers: this post is not for the faint of heart. Things are about to get queasy….
Deep fried pizza: So we’re starting off relatively nicely here; take any cooked pizza to a fish and chip shop in Scotland, and the servers will smother it in batter and deep-fry it for your delectation. The results don’t necessarily always look presentable, but the thought of gooey cheese bubbling between crispy layers of batter and dough is enough to make anyone salivate. Carbs upon dairy upon carbs sounds like the stuff of dreams to me, but could be considered a heart attack waiting to happen for those with an otherwise normal diet!
Andouillette sausage: I had the misfortune of tasting this little number at a Christmas market in Bordeaux once, and never found out what it was until now. Of course, had I actually known the horror of what lurked within the sausage casing, I never would have bitten into it. Andouillette sausage looks innocent enough on the outside, but put simply, is chopped-up pig intestine squeezed into a casing and fried for our…enjoyment. The taste had been described before as sweet and nutty, but I beg to differ; the smell of porcine waste most definitely carried through to its flavour, and no amount of bread and BBQ sauce could disguise that. Needless to say, I only made it through two mouthfuls- how offal!
Goose barnacles: Fellow trypophobes, look away now! These crustaceans are so sought after that a plateful of them is worth around €100, and the quest to find them is so dangerous that their natural habitat is nicknamed the Coast of Death. Even eating them gracefully is a task in itself; you have to peel the brown skin from the barnacle’s stalk, splashing seawater over yourself and quite possibly other diners around you. The peachy flesh beneath is said to be sweet and fleshy with a fresh sea spray aroma, but to be quite honest, I’d be wary of eating something that resembles a dragon’s toenail. Prefer a more traditional selection of Spanish delicacies? We listed our faves here!
Cibreo Sauce: while Italy is known for culinary excellence, this Tuscan tidbit is a far cry from your average Ragu. It’s a meaty sauce made using chicken livers and a cockerel’s unwanted flappy bits: the comb and wattles. Apparently these wobbly parts add to the texture and flavour of the sauce, whilst the addition of un-laid eggs from slaughtered hens keeps the recipe traditional. If the sound of that tickles your fancy but you want to try something a little different, how about Finanziera? This stew uses pretty much all of a farm’s leftover bits: cock’s combs and wattles, veal brains, and bull testicles along with other meaty cut-offs!
Blodplättar: There’s nothing I love more than a breakfast of thick, sweet pancakes drizzled in maple syrup with a side of bacon, or even thin crepes folded with salted caramel slathered in the creases. Perfection. Pancakes made from whipped-up pig blood and molasses, however, don’t exactly have the same appeal. Like a thinner, crispier version of black pudding, traditionally served with a side of pork or reindeer meat, blodplättar are essentially circular, congealed scabs that very few toppings could make more tempting.
Haggis: Does this taste better than it looks? Thankfully yes. Just as well, since this tasty morsel is essentially a bag made from a sheep’s insides, filled with a sheep’s insides. A sheep’s stomach is tightly packed full with its lungs, heart, and liver, along with onion, spices and oatmeal, before being boiled. Even artificial casings sold at supermarkets don’t exactly make it sound any more appealing, but the annual Burns Supper, however, calls for haggis to be served with scotch whiskey, which might take the edge off!
Smalahove: When you think of a Scandinavian Christmas, scrumptious cinnamon cookies and gravdlax might spring to mind. What you might not think of is smalahove, a torched and boiled lamb’s head that takes pride of place at the Christmas dinner table along with potatoes, fat and mashed swede. Whoever is lucky enough to try this dish, has the pleasure of chowing down on the fattiest bits first – the eyes, ears and tongue if it’s included – before scooping the rest of the head out with a spoon. Ho ho ho – Merry Christmas!
Hákarl: Ever had a hankering for rotting flesh? You won’t go hungry in Iceland! Fermented and dried Greenland (or basking) shark is a delicacy that has somehow stood the test of time since the Viking Age. Sharks are beheaded, gutted and buried in shallow holes for anywhere between 6 and 12 weeks, in order to drain off the compounds that make shark meat poisonous to humans. The sharks are then taken out of the ground, filleted and hung up to dry for a few months. Once the meat has formed a delectable brown crust, the hákarl is ready to be peeled away from its scabby coating and eaten in slices. There’s nothing like that melt-in-the-mouth sensation you get whilst chewing into its pungent, putrid, rubbery flesh. Delicious.
Fried carp sperm: It is what it says on the tin. The Czechs of Trebon, a former fish pond farming area, came up with the ingenious idea of frying up the seminal fluid of carp, producing a fishy treat with an oyster-like texture. Another use for this fried delicacy is rybí polévka, a thick fish soup made of pretty much every part of a carp you could think of: its head, innards, roe and sperm. Yet again, this is another regular on the Christmas dinner menu that I probably won’t be trying.
Casu marzu: Known as rotten cheese, this delicacy originates from Sardinia where the bright idea of filling sheep’s milk cheese with live insect larvae was born. The maggots work their way through it, digesting the cheese and causing it to ferment to a state of decomposition. This leaves behind the “goods”: a soupy-textured residue seeping from it. You can remove the maggots, but the bravest among us would chomp on the cheese along with them, as maggots are said to enhance the flavour. Given the fact that those little critters can survive in the stomach and burrow into your intestines, I think I’ll pass.
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Words by Karis Gumbs