Think you’ve been pretty grossed out before when sniffing old milk, stinky cheeses, or some extra-vintage Chinese leftovers from the very depths of the fridge? Well, those are roses-and-cinnamon-rolls level of scents compared to these 10 smelliest foods found around the globe. Proceed with serious mental olfactory caution…
It’s certainly not every food that gets to wear the badge of being “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible-tasting thing” Anthony Bourdain has ever eaten. But Icelandic delicacy hákarl takes the prize. The rotten Greenland shark meat—which has been fermented and buried in a sand pit for up to five months before being hung to dry for another few months—emits an overwhelming scent of ammonia. Newbies are strongly advised to hold their noses while bravely tackling their first (and likely last) bite. The good-ish news? Andrew Zimmern swears it tastes better than it smells.
2. Century Egg
Some call it a hundred-year egg, others insist it’s a thousand-year egg, but everyone agrees that it stinks enough to fill literally any span of time. And don’t be fooled by its lovely, gemstone-esque appearance—it is a legit egg (chicken, duck, or quail) packed in a paste of clay and salt (with tea water, ash, and lime optional add-ins), then rolled in rice hulls and left to sit for three long years. When it’s finally opened, it’s colorful and semi-gelatinous, with a highly pungent urine odor. Now, who’s up for brunch?
This southeast Asian fruit’s reputation for stench has made it globally infamous. While its taste is surprisingly deemed delicious by many actually-sane people, its putrid scent—think intense rotting onions mixed with garbage—is so offensive that the prickly fruit is outright banned on public transportation in Singapore and Thailand.
Sticky, slimy AND smelly? These fermented soybeans officially hit the unholy trifecta. Natto may reek of dirty gym socks, but that doesn’t stop hungry Japanese people from adding it to their rice for a hearty (if questionable) breakfast. Because there’s nothing like a little eau de nasty feet to really get you going in the morning.
One tiny whiff of these Swedish fish and you’ll be (quite literally) begging for the inoffensive scent of waxy gummy candies. Baltic sea herring is fermented in barrels for six months until it apparently reaches peak rotten-fish odor. The official Swedish government actually recommends that the tins of surströmming only be opened outdoors because of the massively-rancid stench. Picnic, anyone?
6. Stinking Toe Fruit
Gotta love truth in advertising. This Caribbean fruit looks like a severed toe and regrettably smells an awful lot like one when its outer shell is cracked open. The stink borders on unbearable, but the fibrous fruit inside has an addictive sweet taste (it’s even served in ice cream). Weirdly enough, the odor actually means that the fruit is good to eat—no smell means it’s gone bad. In other news, down is up and up is down.
Umami flavor? Good. Powerful ammonia odor? Not so good. This pungent soybean paste is a regular go-to in Korean cooking because of its rich, savory taste. Unfortunately, the long fermentation process causes doenjang to omit an overwhelming ammonia odor that might just bring tears to your eyes (both literally and figuratively).
8. Stinky Tofu
If the name isn’t off-putting enough, wrap your head around the fact that stinky tofu is the only food Zimmern can’t bring himself to swallow. Yep, it is THAT intense. The popular Chinese street food is tofu marinated in a brine of fermented milk, meat, vegetables and the occasional seafood for so long that it can become infested with maggots. And the resulting smell is reminiscent of an open sewer. Yum?
Why eat dried cod when you could instead reconstitute it in lye for several days, then boil or bake it—achieving a final product with the consistency of Jell-O and a truly noxious odor courtesy of the lye? It’s what the Nordic people would do, after all. Oh, and did we mention that lutefisk ruins sterling silver upon contact?
Its scent may have been dubbed “a delicate mix of outhouse and ammonia” by The New York Times, but this fermented skate dish is a bona fide delicacy in South Korea. Served raw (yep), the wildly heinous stench occurs because the uric acid built up in the fish flesh turns into the odiferous ammonia. Sometimes science can be a bitch…
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