< SWITCH ME >

People eat crazy stuff! Wow, talk about old news. When meeting people from foreign countries, the subject always seems to come up. What is your national dish? Oh, that sounds horrible. But wait till you hear what WE eat at Christmas! The debate seems to be without end. Well, no more. Below, we will settle the score and find out, once and for all and with your help, what the weirdest dish in Europe is. Be prepared for some freaky foods and twisted cravings!

SWEDEN: SURSTRÖMNING

This is not for the faint of heart. Surströmning is made of herring, a fish that alone is considered weird by many, but eaten in quite a few places in Northern Europe. The Swedes take it to the next level, though. They ferment the fish in a can, which is stored for three or four months. The cans often bulge out because of the fermation process, and because of this – and the infamous smell, once called the most unappealing smell in the world – it is recommended that the can is opened outside to keep the fermented fish and its brine from squirting all over your walls. Traditionally, surströmning is served either with crisp bread and boiled potatoes (for the really tough guys) or with sour cream and red onions. In some parts of Sweden, your parents will force you to eat as many bites of surströmning as your age, thus letting kids grow gradually accustomed to the taste.

Source: Youtube
Opening a can of surströmning (notice how the person performing the job is wearing safety clothes)

ITALY (SARDINIA): CASU MARZU

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Photo: Shardan (CC BY-SA 2.5)
Casu marzu once opened. The larvae are (fortunately) invisible

Considered a delicay in Sardinia, casu marzu (or in Italian formaggio marcio, literally: rotten cheese) is a traditional sheep's milk cheese containing live insect larvae. The insects are deliberately introducted to the cheese, where they lay eggs (hundreds at a time). The larvae eat through the cheese's fats, making the cheese very soft. The cheese oozes a clear liquid called lagrima (Italian for tears), and when the cheese is ready to be consumed, it will contain thousands of clear worms that can grow to be 1 centimetre long. Some people choose to remove the worms before spreading the cheese onto bread and eating, while others will eat the worms as well. But be warned if you want to try a cheese sandwich with worms: the little rascals can jump up to 20 centimeters if they are feeling threatened!

SPAIN: CRIADILLAS

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Photo: Tamorlan (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Criadillas in Madrid

Beware: You will never look at Meditteranian food the same way again! Criadillas, or prairie oysters as they are affectionately called in the United States (where they are also a delicacy, especially in the Southwest), are the testicles of young bulls (or sometimes a ram or a goat if you are feeling fancy). Bull farmers only need one single bull to inseminate their whole herd of cows, so they castrate the rest of the young bulls whose semen they will not need. What to do with the "waste" from the castration? Throw it out, you say? That's just plain silly! Criadillas can be either deep fried or barbequed and they are sometimes eaten as a snack or part of a tapas meal. The appearance of criadillas resembles large, meaty eggs, the taste is intense and meaty and the consistency is creamy (no pun intended...).

SCOTLAND: HAGGIS

haggissquare
Photo: zoonabar (cc-by-2.0)
Pre-made haggis

You will not read many lists of "weird foods" without haggis being at least in the top five, and really, there is a good reason for this. One of the most traditional - and famous - Scottish dishes, haggis is essentially a stew made from the liver, heart, and lungs of a sheep which is then cooked, along with various spices and vegetables, in the sheep's stomach. There are countless regional variations, and even individual families have their own specific version of the dish, so there are plenty of versions to try out! While eating a sheep’s internal organs boiled in its own stomach may sound appalling to many people used to continential cuisine, haggis is indeed a warm and hearty dish that will comfort you after a long day of hiking in the Scottish highlands. And after all, you decide yourself if you want to eat the actual stomach in which the stew was cooked.

DENMARK: ØLLEBRØD

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Photo: Christian Jensen
A bowl of øllebrød with whipped cream

A somewhat nostalgic dish that for some symbolises the ultimate comfort food, øllebrød (literally beer bread) was originally a dish for the poor. When you have little money for food, making what you've got go a long way is essential, and not throwing anything out is of first priority. The dish looks like a thick, brown soup and is made from boiling old rye bread in beer and serving it with whipped cream. The consistency is usually lumpy, though there are many opinions as to how dissolved the rye bread should be – some want big chunks of slimy bread in their øllebrød while others blend the soup to make it smoother. The taste? Well, it is really what you would imagine. Øllebrød pretty much tastes like rye bread soaked in beer.

HUNGARY: PIG'S BLOOD AND EGGS

Back in the day, slaughtering the first pig of the season was a big thing. It marked a time of year where fresh meat was available, and Hungarians celebrated accordingly: traditionally, the blood of the first pig slaughtered was collected and used in a dish. Pig slaughtering usually started early in the morning, especially if there were many pigs to be slaughtered, so the blood of that first pig was used in a breakfast dish and simply eaten with scrambled eggs. The look of the dish resembles brain matter, and the intense flavor of fresh blood is truly an acquired taste. The dish is rich in iron and minerals though, and will certainly keep you going through a long day of slaughtering pigs!

BONUS: NORTHERN EUROPE: SALT LIQORICE

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Photo: Daniel78 (CC-BY-SA 2.5)
Finnish tar-flavoured liquorice, yum!

For people who grew up eating salt liquorice, it is not weird at all. Either soft or hard, left plain or covered in a salt / sugar powder, salt liqorice is a treasured treat for many Northern Europeans. But for people who are used to sweeter sweets and don't see the point in covering your candy with salt, trying salt liquorice for the first time can be a traumatic experience. Your mouth salivates, the saltiness of the candy fills your mouth, the tough, gooey consistency makes you chew and chew on the black substance. Real afficionados of salt liquorice even eat liquorice infused with ammonium chloride for an extra tangy taste, although newbies are advised to keep to the milder versions.

Now for the judging!

Dear readers, we need your help to decide which dish is in fact the weirdest in Europe! Please leave a comment with your vote, and if we have forgotten some freaky feast from your home country, do not hestitate to let us know as well.

Thumbnail photo: zoonabar (cc-by-2.0)

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