The Disgusting Food Museum

A new museum aimed to assault the olfactory senses of visitors and churn their stomach opened yesterday in Sweden’s third largest city, Malmo. Inside are various exhibits that some cultures supposedly eat, such as fermented shark meat, bull penis, fermented herring, maggot cheese and ant larvae. It’s so bad that the museum provide visitors with vomit bags before they enter.

“I want people to question what they find disgusting and realize that disgust is always in the eye of the beholder,” said Samuel West, the founder of the Disgusting Food Museum, who is also known for the Museum of Failure. “We usually find things we’re not familiar with disgusting, versus things that we grow up with and are familiar with are not disgusting, regardless of what it is.”

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The smell of the durian fruit is so overpowering that many hotels and public transportation in southeast Asia have banished the fruit from their premises. Photo credit: zol m/Flickr

Many foods are universally appealing, but others can be more of an acquired taste. There are approximately 80 food exhibits in the museum belonging to the latter category. A large number of these delicacies are from Asia and Europe, with China leading followed by, surprisingly, the United States. Indeed, there are more entries from the United States than from Central and South America, Africa and Australia. Some US favorites that made it to the list include the classic processed food Spam and Twinkies, and root beer, as well as Jell-O salad with pasta in it and Pop-Tarts. But the truly disgusting might be the Rocky Mountain oysters, which are deep-fried bull testicles.

There are some exhibits that might actually taste pretty good, but their preparation causes extreme suffering for the animals being eaten. Those include—French foie gras, a gourmet meal made of the liver of a duck that has been fattened by force-feeding corn with a feeding tube; monkey brain that is eaten in China, often while the animals is still alive; Chinese mouse wine, brewed by drowning baby mice in the wine.

The French dish, ortolan, is especially gruesome. Ortolan is a small bird about six inches long that are caught in autumn during their migratory flight to Africa. The birds are kept in dark cages which causes them to gorge themselves on grain until they double their weight. The bird is then thrown alive into a container of brandy, which both drowns and marinates the birds. It is then cooked and eaten whole. Traditionally the bird is eaten with a large napkin over one’s face, which some say is to hide one’s shame from God. Others say it is simply to prevent the aroma from escaping the mouth as they consume the bird.

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A raw bull penis on a cutting board along with a knife to heighten the cringe factor on display at the Disgusting Food Museum.

Most of the exhibits in the museum are real and fresh, except those that are extremely hard to source, or foods that result from animal cruelty. These are represented with plastic models or photographs. The stinky exhibits are housed in medical-grade research jars to contain the smell. About half of the dishes have to be replaced at least every other day, making the museum a costly enterprise. This is why the museum will be open for just three months, until the end of January 2019.

“The main aim is that it is fun, interesting, and interactive,” Samuel West told The Local. But West also hopes to challenge people’s notions of what is and what isn’t edible.

“Is it really that disgusting to eat a grasshopper or locust when you eat bacon? Or is it really disgusting to eat guinea pigs when you eat regular beef?” West asks.

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Kale pache—a Persian and East European dish consisting of a boiled sheep’s head.

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Casu marzu is a traditional Sardinian sheep milk cheese that contains live maggots. The European Union food hygiene and health regulators have outlawed the cheese because the larvae can often survive in the intestine, leading to parasitic infection.

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Century egg, a Chinese delicacy made by allowing duck or chicken eggs to rot and ferment for up to several months.

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Fruit bat soup is a delicacy in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Guam, and in other Asian and Pacific Rim countries.

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Kumis— fermented mare’s milk drunk in Central Asia.

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Menudo, a traditional Mexican soup made with beef stomach (tripe) in broth with a red chili pepper base.

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Nattō, a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans.

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