There's no doubt about it — the food travel trend is here to stay. Not all food around the world tastes good, however, and some of it is literally rotten. While it's unlikely that any of these rancid global foods will ever touch your tongue, they'll at least give you some context for your own gastronomic disposition.
Casu Marzu, Italy
Ever wondered what would happen if you exposed a wheel of cheese to the elements for three months? Take a trip to Sardinia and you won't have to wonder anymore. The Italian island is not only home to some of the world's most paradisiacal beaches, but to casu marzu, a variety of popular pecorino that's literally infested with maggots.
If you want to taste or even see this maggot cheese, you will have to travel to Sardinia in person: The EU has banned its export. It is theoretically possible to buy it from illicit vendors, most commonly elsewhere in Italy and southern Europe. Doing so, however, increases the chances of it being more rotten than normal, which can result in the maggots inside the cheese making a home inside your gut, among other unsavory side effects.
Balut, The Philippines
Balut is not technically rotten, not in most cases. The only time you'll find a rotten baby duck inside this specialty of the Philippines (and, to a lesser extent, in Vietnam) is if its egg shell cracks between the time it falls out of its mother and into a vat of boiling water.
But the word "rotten" is far from the most shocking one in the two sentences above: Balut is a mostly-formed baby duck, the result of one person's idea to cook, season and consume a fertilized egg. While the "age" of the baby inside the shell varies depending on where you are and how much you pay, you can count on consuming feathers and bones, which must be a pretty nasty feeling, even if the meat isn't technically spoiled.
Century Eggs, China
In the mood for an egg that tastes more rotten than eating it will make you feel in your soul? If so, hop a flight from Manila or Hanoi to Shanghai or Guangzhou at ask a local where you can find pí dàn—"century egg."
The good news is that century eggs, which are sometimes also know as "thousand-year" eggs, are not 100 or even 10 years old. They are prepared for a long time (usually months) in quite a strange way (immersing in mud or clay), a practice that does indeed date back centuries.
The process of preparing century eggs, which was originally started out of practicality to preserve bounties of eggs in anticipation of more famished periods, results in the buildup of sulfur and ammonia in their yolks. Other creepy consequences include the egg white becoming an amber color and snowflake-like patterns appearing on the outside of the egg as a result of salt crystallization. Maybe rotten foods can be beautiful?
Icelandic cuisine doesn't get much attention one way or another, and you'll be thankful for this once you learn what the word "Hákarl" means.
Or at least what it smells like. Indeed, while the idea of killing and beheading a shark to feed yourself in 2017 might seem morally spoiled, it's the preparation of this dubious fish dish that results in its abhorrent odor and taste.
Specifically, locals bury the headless fish in a shallow sand grave, allowing the air that seeps in to slowly ferment the meat, before slicing it into strips and letting it hang-dry for a few more weeks. During this time it becomes even more rancid, if that's even possible.
Som Tam Pla Ra, Thailand
Food from Thailand's northeastern Isaan region is popular within the country, but it's had some difficulty gaining traction abroad. This is not only because of wholly terrifying dishes like Larb Muang Moo, a "salad" made up of nothing more than bloody, raw pork, but because even its more mainstream dishes are a bit strange to most diners.
Papaya Salad, for instance, sounds good until you realize it's green, unripe papaya mixed with fish sauce, dried shrimp, sugar and enough chiles to light your mouth on fire. Then again, many foreigners end up loving this salad—known in Thai simply as Som Tam—once they try it, at least the mainstream versions of it.
However, while even adding raw crab and salted egg to the salad can be delicious to Western palates, Som Tam Pla Ra is usually a bridge too far. Unadventurous diners not only take exception with the taste of the pla ra fish, which has begun induced lactic-acid fermentation, but the smell, which you can sometimes notice the moment you step in to a restaurant, even one packed to the gills, as raan aahaan Isaan often are throughout Thailand.
Like in Iceland, Mongolian cuisine displays an impulse to ferment a product you'd never thing to eat even if it was prepared palatably.
In Mongolia's case this is mare's milk, which becomes a creamy, frothy, beer-like beverage known as airag. Never mind the smell this liquid is sure to produce, airag confuses prospective drinkers since it's consumed out of a bowl rather than a cub. Is it a rancid mare's milk yogurt you eat, or a rotten, mare's milk beer you dink? We're avoiding, either way.
Durian, Southeast Asia
Most of the items on this list of the world's most rotten foods have been on the fringes of foodie culture, which means you won't have a chance to consume them unless you're seeking them out. Durian, on the other hand, is so mainstream in parts of the world that it's known as "King of Fruits."
Parts of the world like Southeast Asia, where a strange paradox exists. On one hand, you can find durian being sold on countless street corners in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, either as a whole, spiky fruit, or just its meaty-looking flesh plastic-wrapped onto a styrofoam tray. On the other, the stinky fruit (which, while not rotten, both tastes and smells like dirty socks to many people) is banned in many public places, including taxis, hotels and shopping malls.