our mom always told you not to play with your food. But what about fighting with it? And potentially losing that fight. Mom probably wouldn’t approve of that. That’s the principal risk with food like tarantulas, which when fried are a tasty alternative protein that just might be the softshell crab sandwich of the future. But there are also entreés that are so high in toxins that will kill you, that you’d want to take great care to be on the chef’s good list.
Here a few of those that we came across while scanning the globe for the World’s Most Dangerous Places in The Travel Issue.
This Iceland dish of decomposed and fermented shark meat most likely will not kill you. It works like this: Greenland sharks swim in such cold arctic waters that essentially antifreeze courses through its body, which has the side effect of making the meat poisonous. Icelandic gourmands behead the shark (which average 25 feet long), do their best to drain it and bury it whole in the sand, where it is left to drain for weeks. The meat is then cut into pieces and hung to dry for a matter of months. When the uric acid is converted to ammonia, it should be safe to eat. You can tell by the smell.
When in Cambodia and nearby parts of Asia you’ll find this delicious snack at markets and on the street. In this form it’s less dangerous to you than a dirty-water dog from an NYC cart. It’s the harvesting that can be a bit dicey. You’ll basically taunt a live tarantula by sticking a stick down a hole in the ground into its nest. If it doesn’t bite you and you capture it, you’ve got yourself one of the world’s great sustainable sources of protein.
You probably know not to expect General Tso’s Chicken when you’re in China. You are far more likely to find fried scorpion, which you can pick up a skewer of for about 20 yuan ($3). They can be eaten live, once the stinger and venom gland have been removed. It’s not that easy to find live scorpion on the menu though—for that you will have to search. Start on Wanfujing Street in Beijing if you’re dying to try the delicacy.
This Japanese delicacy of raw blowfish is the granddaddy of dangerous foods. The ovaries, liver and intestines of the puffer fish contain lethal tetrodotoxin, and a select group of chefs authorized to serve the dish (which runs more than $120 per serving) are celebrated for their careful preparation and knife skills. When deaths do occur, it’s usually at the hands of amateurs, so if you do get closer to the puffer than the lamps at your local tiki bar, make sure you’re in the hands of a pro.