A Guide to Extreme Eating in Europe
Europe. The birthplace of great civilizations. The last bastion of fine art, music and literature. The homeplace of such culinary delights as meat jelly made from pig’s head.
That’s right, throughout the rest of the world Europe is traditionally seen as the centre of fine dining. But there is a weird side to Europe when it comes to food. Throughout the millennia, strange customs and tastes have sprung up in Europe around what is considered not only fit to eat, but haute cuisine.
Indeed, European food is not all lobster thermidor and steak tartare. No, there is a slew of national cuisines that people from other countries find unusual, outlandish or down right disgusting.
Whether it’s the bull’s testicles and squid ink that Spaniards seem to relish or cow lung soup that is a particularly Greek delicacy, European culinary habits have developed over time in rather strange ways.
Let’s take a look at some of the freakiest food fare from around the continent and delve into the process of how these particular predilections are prepared.
Austria – Veal Heart and Lung Ragout (Altwiener Salonbeuschel)
Who doesn’t love a good ragout? Hearty, tasty and nutritious. Ragout is a staple dish of stewed meat and vegetables perfect for warming you up in winter.
However, Austria takes this meal to a wholly weird level. Deer heart and lung anyone? Altwiener Salonbeuschel as it is known, is an old-style Viennese favourite that is best enjoyed with bread dumplings and a robust red wine. Its preparation involves a process of ripping apart and stabbing deer organs (or separating the “lung from the windpipe and gullet [and] piercing several holes in the lung”) just in case you were curious.
Belgium – Head Cheese (Kopvlees)
Cheese. There are so many wonderful varieties of the stuff: from mascarpone to roquefort to epoisses, to keep even the most learned cheese aficionado happy. However, there is a cheese that is a bit different to the normal run-of-the-mill cheeses. Head Cheese is the name given to the meat jelly that is made from the head of a pig.
Who was it, I wonder, who first saw a pig’s head and thought to themselves: I could make a delicious cheese from that!? If you’re a vegan you may wish to skip to the next part of this article because now we are going to talk about how to make Head Cheese.
- Step 1: Cook the head of a pig in a simmering pot for a day.
- Step 2: Pick the bones out and chop up all the cartilage.
- Step 3: Place the ex-pig’s head meat in a tray and cover with its own juices before leaving it to set into a jelly-like substance in the fridge overnight.
Italy – Horse Steaks (Straéca)
“I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse” is a common enough expression and one you may have even uttered yourself. Obviously, it’s a bit of hyperbole used to describe just how famished someone feels. However, in Italy they actually mean it! Eating the flesh of horses dates back to the times of ancient Rome when they would literally eat anything that moved.
These days, it’s still quite common to find horse meat being eaten in places like Sardinia and Sicily. In fact, if you’re lucky you may even be able to pick up some lovely donkey meat salami if you know where to look! We’re not going to go into depth with how horse meat is best prepared (as it is treated very much like beef). Suffice it to say that the virtues of horse meat are extolled by the locals for its wonderful flavour, leanness and high amounts of iron. Buon appetito!
Sardinia – Maggot cheese (Casu Marzu)
Claiming the title of the world’s most dangerous cheese, Casu Marzu is both a delicacy and illegal in Sardinia. The EU Food Safety Authority have prohibited the selling of the cheese, causing considerable commotion amongst some Sardinians who claim the cheese as part of their cultural heritage.
They cannot understand why the bureaucrats have decided to outlaw this cheese. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it is infested with live maggots! Anyways, these days, people still go to extraordinary lengths to purchase some of the infamous Casu Marzu. I don’t know about you, but I am not very good with eating food that has been prepared via fly infestation.
Iceland – Rotten Shark (Hákarl)
Who doesn’t love a bit of fish-n-chips? If you do, you may already be eating shark and just not realise it. However, Icelanders take the eating of shark to a very peculiar place. They prefer their shark meat rancid. That’s right, the Icelandic delicacy known as Hákarl is made by leaving a basking shark (cetorhinus maximus) to rot at the bottom of a pit for up to three months. Icelanders do this because the flesh of the basking shark is actually poisonous for humans to eat and the decomposition process eradicates the harmful toxins. Once it is dug up, cut into strips and left to dry the meat has what can only be described as a terribly strong smell of ammonia.
Feeling peckish yet? Before you go packing your bags for your next Icelandic getaway you might just want to watch some of the videos posted to YouTube of people retching as they attempt to eat Hákarl. But don’t worry, if you do decide to partake in eating rotten shark, part of the Icelandic custom involves washing the nasty concoction down with strong alcohol known as Brennivín.
So, there you have it.
Some of the more extreme culinary delights one can experience within this great continent. And if you ever do find yourself pressed to accept some strange food in a foreign land just remember: if you pinch your nose you cannot actually taste whatever godawful substance is sliding down into your stomach. Plus, you may wish to take a leaf out of the Icelandic playbook and reach for a quick swig of some strong liquor to wash it all down!
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Tags: austria, belgium, food, iceland, italy, sardinia