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The ultimate food hell: What's the world's worst food?

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Stefan Gates Stefan Gates | 15:12 UK time, Thursday, 21 July 2011

I won’t beat about the bush: a lot of scrofulous old tat masquerading as food has passed my lips. You see, I’m happy to taste pretty much anything whether rotten, radioactive or simply unlikely. You may think that this is an unwise way to live your life, but I honestly relish the adventure of tasting something new and unusual - mainly because I have dedicated my life to discovering the next potato. Not literally the next potato, you understand – I believe they sell them down Tesco’s – but rather the next foodstuff that might support generations of people to come. I’m fascinated by the fact that when the potato first arrived in Europe it was viewed with great suspicion, but that some nutter persevered with it, and since then it has sustained billions of lives. I’d like to be that potato-discovering nutter, and that’s why I will taste anything – just in case it turns out to be the next potato. Or the next pasta. Or the next Wotsit, for that matter. Who knows what culinary revelations await the curious?

Different varieties of potatoes

Tatty hi: the hunt for the 'new’ potato...

In my experience the worst foods on earth fall into several categories, and I’d like to share this important knowledge with you:

Badly named recipes
This is by far the most amusing category of ‘orrible food. Often the meal is pretty decent, but its name (lost in the murk of etymological dead-ends) makes it sounds repulsive: cow heel pie; bacon and cow heel pudding (actually, this one tastes pretty grim too); fitless cock (an oatmeal pudding made chicken-shaped); the dean’s cream (a sponge fool); wet nelly (suet roly-poly made with stale bread); slot (cod roe dumplings); Pope's posset (someone told me that this sounds a little gynaecological, but as female Popes are few and far between, I’m not sure I agree), clapshot (a delicious mash of potatoes and turnips).

Horrifying foods

These are foods that I often enjoy, but which I accept that others find bizarre or offensive (by the way, there’s a fair amount of video around of me eating these, much of it mildly amusing): yak’s penis, cane rat, palm weevils, radioactive soup, human cake, lambs’ testicles, fish bladders, desiccated frog tea and silk worm pupae…

Disgusting-tasting foods
Much as I love the adventure of ANY mouthful, I’d be obtuse if I didn’t acknowledge that sometimes the odd mouthful is horrendous - such as surströmming (Swedish rotten herring), liquorice (how you people can eat that filth, I don’t know), igunak (rotten walrus) and deer penis juice (that is, deer penis steeped in rice liquor).

Bad recipes
These are foods that often contain decent ingredients yet have been so badly and blindly constructed that they have been rendered disastrous in combination. Hasty pudding is THE WORST RECIPE EVER – made of all the odds and ends of starchy foods and stale rubbish swept from the bottom of your cupboards. I’ve tried to make this taste good and it’s impossible. I served it once to my friend Ewan, and he pronounced it ******* *********. He’s right.

Hopeful combinations
I accept that the path to culinary greatness is fraught with the corpses of recipes that have flown too close to the sun and cooks who have mixed their metaphors as badly as their ingredients. The following DO NOT WORK. I have tried them so you don’t have to: chocolate-covered olives (which is odd, seeing as chocolate-covered gherkins are actually pretty good), fizzy milk (as in milk with carbon dioxide added using a Sodastream), and garlic and corned beef ice cream.

This is simply rubbish food made gruesome by laziness, ineptitude, economic greed and ignorance. You know the offenders: flabby pizzas that are basically snotty melted cheese on toast, tasteless burgers containing onions fried too quickly, under-crusted bread, cold pasta salads, over-grilled fish, and above all green peppers. I know that they are the cornerstone of Creole cuisine but, like exclamation marks and herpes, no-one ever thanks you for giving them a green pepper.

So tell us - as James Martin asks every week on Saturday Kitchen - what’s your idea of food hell?

Stefan Gates is a BBC presenter and food writer.


  • Comment number 1.

    There's some pretty nasty live squid sashimi on YouTube. That and the beating frog heart have given me some grief today.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hakarl aka rotten shark - possibly named after the noise you make when you eat it

  • Comment number 3.

    Agree wholeheartedly on liquorice! Vile stuff....

  • Comment number 4.

    You missed my "favourite" Hopeful Combination - the very fashionable and utterly vile vanilla with fish. Why do they do it?

    I remember a French au pair giving her charges milk & soda water for upset tummies - they loved it, so some people like fizzy milk (I didn't)

    Don't mind liquorice - but I feel that way about tarragon, so I sympathise

  • Comment number 5.

    Rhubarb. What is it? It's not a fruit, it's barely a vegetable; it's not even a very convincing stick.

  • Comment number 6.

    For me it's almost certainly jellied eel. I love any other kind of jelly but that one just makes me very very nauseous.

  • Comment number 7.


    I actually didn't mind the shark, though my dad once microwaved some late one night after a binge. The smell...woke us all up and stank up the house for almost two weeks, stuck to the curtains' weave and everything. Put me off.

    Also not sure you know the Ethiopian bread injera? Takes getting used to.

  • Comment number 8.

    One of the worst food got to be the chinese jelly fish soup. It sounds worse when you hear that you have only a pair of chopsticks to "catch" all of those floating jelly fish pieces from the hot brown water on the bowl!

  • Comment number 9.

    I think the worst is Balut. When I first saw them on the TV, I nearly puked right there.

    These are duck eggs that have been incubated until the fetus is all feathery and beaky, and then boiled alive. The bones give the eggs a uniquely crunchy texture.
    They are enjoyed in Cambodia, Philippines and the fifth and seventh levels of hell. They are typically sold by street vendors at night, the street hawkers gathered on the street corners to [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]buy and sell those eggs. Some people also believe that these eggs are potent, hence they eat them before going to bed. Usually the vendors carry those eggs on the buckets of warm sand.

  • Comment number 10.

    Visiting a friend in Lyon quite a few years ago we visited one of Lyon’s famous bouchons. I insisted on trying andouillettes - sausages made with pig’s intestines. My French friend said she wouldn’t touch the stuff. I remember cutting into one of them and the strips of intestines and stomach falling out – it was too late to back out at this point. I had a couple of mouthfuls (I will genuinely try anything), but then we had to cut our evening short as I then felt ill all evening. Can’t agree with you on liquorice though – especially love the salty stuff.

  • Comment number 11.

    liver... definitely the worst food ever!

  • Comment number 12.

    I have read that one of the worlds worst food is in Southeast Asia, it is the fruit called Durian, not because of the taste but because of it's smell. Though I live in Asia all my life I can say that I have never tried this fruit. I couldn't even make my self go near this fruit because of the smell which can make my stomach flip. They say that the taste is not at all unpleasant but still I won't try it even if you pay me.

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 14.

    Whelks - like eating salted bogies!

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 16.

    I saw Tom Kerridge turn pollack, a healthy fish, into a very unhealthy meal by the way he cooked it. It was cooked with a lot of butter, then the finishing touch was to put a layer of pig fat on the top. I think Tom Kerridge should have a good long think about the recipes he is cooking on tv and consider what harm they could do to peoples' health. He should also consider what his health is like. Eating a lot of animal fats may cause his arteries to fur up and may lead to a heart attack or stroke. Also he might be able to do his job better if his body was in better shape. There is so much information about healthy eating available. There is just no excuse for ignoring healthy eating principles. The country is in a big hole financially, and if everyone ate healthily and exercised more the NHS could save a lot on medicines. I have lost 3 stone myself and have been able to come off my blood pressure medication. Shame on the BBC for not considering this when broadcasting this programme.

  • Comment number 17.

    I don't want to slam South Korea, as I've had some very nice food there (the eel I ate at a restaurant near the border was heavenly), but....

    First off, kimchi. Now, there are probably as many different kinds of kimchi as there are breads or sausages or vegetables, and I must have tried a few different kinds when I was there. Some of it was okay, nothing special by my palate, but some of it was just horrible. I don't know if it's just my palate, or if there's a lot of bad kimchi in South Korea, but the bad stuff definitely makes my list of nasty foods.

    Second, I think I have to put silkworm soup here, eaten at a franchise restaurant called T'wo-T'wo. The soup itself wasn't too bad, quite nice, even. But the silkworms themselves I found unpleasant to eat, the texture just not what I'm used to.

    Top of my list, though, was the raw crab's claws in chilli sauce. I don't mind crab when it's cooked, and I'll grapple with the shells if I have to, but I didn't know what to do with these. The uncooked meat resembled jelly; was I supposed to suck it out? The sauce made cracking the exoskeleton a nightmare, and I couldn't fathom why it was there, on the outside of the claws, in the first place. Just not a fun food.


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