Weird Foods Served While the Animal Is Alive

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Casu marzu (Italy)

Let’s ease into this one. Lots of people eat cheese made from sheep’s milk. On the isle of Sardinia in Italy, they prefer Pecorino. They also like it served a very specific way. Rather than just fermenting the cheese, they just go ahead and give it a push into the “rotting” territory by inviting maggots to the party. Cheese flies are allowed to lay their eggs, which hatch and start chewing their way through. They start to break down the fats and this makes the cheese very soft. So soft, the Pecorino begins to “cry” (as the locals put it) as the digested fatty liquid leaks out.

When it’s time to consume the devil-cheese, it’s decision time. Some go for the full experience and eat it, maggots and all, in thin strips on some crispy bread that in no way disguises the taste of live larvae. For the faint of heart, one can also seal the cheese in a bag which causes the maggots to lose oxygen and start launching themselves out of the cheese at distances up to 15 centimeters. That’s over 18 times their body length, about the same as you leaping a 10 story building. When the bag stops making the sweet pitter-patter of maggots in their death throws, the cheese is certified baby fly free.

The maggots also provide a cool, pre-industrial expiration date. If the maggots die naturally, the cheese has gone toxic, hence the idea behind eating it while it’s still infested. For the people who nosh with the insects intact, they can look forward to the chance of the larvae surviving the stomach and setting up shop in the intestines. As it turns out, living in rotting cheese means they’re pretty used to acidic environments, and being a disgusting maggot means they’re more than happy to try to burrow into your duodenum.

Oysters (Widespread)

There’s no classier food than shellfish, except maybe steak soaked in champagne. Lobster, mussels, king crab... delicious delights from the seven seas. And when it comes to seafood, freshness is the phrase that pays. The faster you can get these animals from their underwater home to your plate, the tastier they are. People still pay good money to look their dinner in the eye while they choose a lobster from a tank.

Oysters push the idea of freshness to the logical conclusion. They must be cooked or eaten while they are still alive, otherwise you can look forward to an evening bowing to the porcelain god. While they can be boiled, baked or prepared any number of ways, the most delightful method is on the half shell. This means half the shell is cut open or “shucked” while they’re still alive to expose the sweet, sweet innards. Various sauces or juices can be added to the gelatinous mass, but the idea is to get that mollusc into your stomach before it’s legally dead. Obviously the best way to do that is just pick them up and slurp the bloody things down like a two bit whore.

Surprisingly, oysters are pretty good for you. They have a number of minerals that you normally only get from the most annoyingly enriched breakfast cereals, as well as vitamin B12, which helps keep you sane and full of blood. Eating them raw (sometimes called “shooters”) retains the most nutrients. Hippies even have a hard time saying no, as oysters are almost always sustainably harvested and lack the ability to feel pain.

Sannakji (Korea)

When it comes to getting drunk and eating animals alive, the Koreans (both flavors, North and South) are among the top contenders. A popular food, as in so popular you can buy it on the street from a cart in some places, is a type of live octopus called Sannakji.

The concept is pretty low tech. Small, live octopuses are cut into pieces and served squirming about on a plate. Usually a mild oil or sauce and seasoning are added. Sometimes they don’t even cut them up and simply serve the whole friggin’ octopus. Strangely, it seems when you get to the point where you’re eating things alive, there aren’t a ton of “rules” or “etiquette”.

And if you’re right now thinking: don’t octopi have suction cups on those tentacles? Well you’d be right (and wrong, because octopuses is the correct pluralization, not octopi).The tentacles do in fact pose a choking hazard, especially as you’d also probably be downing a fair bit of potent “soju”, a rice booze popular in Korea. While they encourage you to chew well, many opt to feel the meat squirm as it goes down their throat.

If there’s any justice in the world, these people are then made fun of for their probable fondness for administering fellatio.

Drunken Shrimp (China)

Seeing drunken shrimp on a menu might raise your hopes of some kind of delicious bourbon BBQ prawn dish. Seeing it on this list conversely might make you think it’s some kind of intoxicated midget casserole. Sadly for us writers, it’s closer to the former than the latter.

A Chinese dish, drunken shrimp consists of a big bowl of prawns, seasoning and strong liquor called Baijiu which is about 40-60% alcohol by volume. The shrimp are not cooked, though hopefully they get some kind of cleaning before they are thrown into the dish still alive. The alcohol stuns the little buggers, making them sluggish and easier to handle.

The kicker? The flavor is supposedly very similar to cooked shrimp and even more similar to raw. There are also other versions of the dish where the shrimp are killed or cooked first, but in all likelihood, ordering the dead shrimp is the equivalent of getting the mild wings in front of your friends at the bar. Not worth the heckling.

In Japan, a similar dish called Odori ebi exists that substitutes sake as the liquor of choice. Also, since Japanese people are all about one-upmanship, they only eat baby shrimps.

Ikizukuri (Japan)

What did we just say about the Japanese? Well, just like freshness is the key to good seafood, so too is it important for all manner of Japanese sushi. However, when it comes to eating raw fish, the issue is less with potential sickness and more with flavor. With nothing to disguise the taste (for better or worse), only quality and preparation matter. The less time the meat spends being dead or refrigerated, the more tender and delicious it is. Or so some people will have you believe.

So the true test of the master sashimi (thinly sliced raw fish) chef is ikizukuri, literally translated as “prepared alive”. They work against the clock to get the meat on the table while the animal it came from (usually fish, shrimp, squid, etc) is still alive and twitching. Not only do they need to do it under time and cut the meat properly, they also need to leave the star of the dinner with enough organs and nerves to keep them alive.

The whole process is pretty intense. There is some debate over whether the fish is cognitive while it’s on the table. Some argue that even though they’re twitching and the heart is beating, they’ve gone on to the big blue ocean in the sky. Still, the practice continues, largely due to stuff like this next example that makes it look humane by comparison.

Ying Yang Fish (China/Taiwan)

So maybe you don’t want your fish raw because that’s gross, but you’re tired of going to those seafood restaurants we mentioned earlier. Most of them are a scam anyway: you pick your lobster, they take it in the back, cook a frozen one and throw the guy you chose back into the tank when you leave. You can’t ever be sure exactly how fresh your food really is in a restaurant.

That is, unless they’re willing to serve you some kind of half live-half dead, half cooked-half raw zombie monstrosity. Which is, of course, no problem in Taiwan and mainland China, where the dish Ying Yang fish originated in what we assume was an attempt to ruin deepfrying forever.

Gonna let that one sink in. It’s like watching the Spanish Inquisition, but with less robes and more fish with expressions of betrayal. Supposedly, restaurants had been having a lot of trouble with people questioning the freshness of their food. After some hard by what could only be some of Asia’s cruellest scientists, they were able answer their critics with a resounding: “Fresh? FRESH!? WE’LL SHOW YOU FRESH!”

And in case you were wondering, that’s not blood you see on the plate. The fish is served with a delightful sweet and sour sauce, because blood would just be weird.

A Whole Bunch of Lies (Everywhere You Don’t Live)

There are undoubtedly many more examples of live animals being consumed for their deliciousness or the mistaken belief that it will give you an erection. However, these cases are dwarfed by the number of made up examples and half truths. While it might make us feel superior to think that other cultures are constantly torturing animals for fun, and xenophobia can help kill a boring afternoon, the truth is a lot more... well... boring.

Lists and whispered tales are all over the internet, full of the crazy things “those people in other countries” eat. Live foods are a taboo in most cultures, and so it tends to pop up a lot. Live monkey brains is a popular one. Meat cut out of animals while they are still kicking is also fairly common. So is eating live babies, be they snakes, chicks or even an interesting made up dish of day old rats called “Three Squeaks”.

Now you can’t out and out say these things never happened, and considering we’re the species that invented both the snuggie and made the chick who wrote Twilight a millionaire, they might have once or twice. We’re pretty messed up.

The point is, just as Jeffery Dalmer eating a few people doesn’t make all Americans cannibals, the unproven possibility that someone ate a monkey brain doesn’t mean all Chinese/Indian/Vietnamese people are straight out of “Temple of Doom”. Though we can still blame them for that annoying child sidekick.


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