When adventurous diners head out to eat, they’re often seeking the unusual or original — but not this unusual. Here are 17 strange and illegal dishes making the news today.
1. Rat Meat and Other Critters
A BBC undercover project last September found illegal and unsafe meat being sold at one of London’s biggest public markets, the Ridley Road Market. The meat sold included giant cane rats imported from Ghana and “smokies,” blow-torch charred sheep and goat meat, which some consider a delicacy.
2. Banned Saltwater Fish
Restaurant employees in Palm Beach, Florida got in trouble with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in 2011 for buying and selling prohibited saltwater fish. The fish purchased were goliath groupers, which can only be fished on a catch-and-release basis, and snook, which can’t legally be purchased in Florida and was out of season at the time.
3. Whale Meat Sushi
In February 2013, indictments were brought against The Hump, a Santa Monica sushi restaurant and two of its sushi chefs for selling whale meat sushi. The meat came from endangered sei whales and was illegally smuggled in from Japan to be sold at this restaurant as part of a $600 chef’s choice meal.
4. Shark Fin Soup
If you want to avoid Canadian restaurants that sell shark fin soup, StopSharkFinning.net lists every restaurant they’ve found serving it. Bowls of the soup can cost $100 and are considered a delicacy by some, but often gets their key ingredient from slicing off a fin from a shark that’s then left to die.
5. Songbirds in Cyprus
You might not have heard of the Ambelopoulia, a blackcap warbler, but it and other songbirds are being illegally trapped and sold as a delicacy in Cyprus. The little fowl are eaten whole, including the beak and feet.
6. Rubbing Alcohol and Caramel Coloring
What you see is not what you’d get at some New Jersey bars and restaurants, according to a May raid of 29 Garden State establishments. Cheap liquor was being poured into premium alcohol bottles and served to customers who paid the top-shelf prices. Disgusting drinks you might be served? “Riverwater” (almost no alcohol plus dirty water) and a rubbing alcohol/caramel coloring being passed off for scotch.
7. Endangered Cantonese Animals
Cantonese belief in the medicinal power of wild animals is driving some of those animals towards extinction in China. Protected pangolins (scaly mammals), owls, snakes, birds, monitor lizards, salamanders and more are being killed and sold at high prices. A pangolin, for example, goes for 500 yuan (about US $81).
8. Monkey Brains
A desire for monkey meat and brains has led to the illegal hunting and killing of monkeys in Southwest China. Monkey brain can be sold for 1,600 yuan (US $260) a kilogram. A July report from China’s Wildlife Conservation Association said that 100-plus people and 1,300 restaurants and hotels had been charged with wild animal poaching involvement.
9. Mislabeled Sushi
If you think there might be something fishy with your sushi, you might be right. USA Today reported in February that a survey of sushi restaurants in 21 states found that in 74 percent of them, at least one kind of fish on the menu had been mislabeled. Thirty eight percent of general restaurants surveyed had the same problem.
10. Foie Gras in California
California banned the production or sale of foie gras in July 2012. In March, a Napa restaurant got in trouble for serving foie gras as part of a multicourse meal. Foie gras donuts given away in June at Psycho Donuts in San Jose didn’t get a charitable response from animal rights groups either.
11. Grasshopper Tacos
One way to get the FDA hopping mad is to import grasshoppers from unapproved places. That’s what La Oaxaquena Bakery and Restaurant in San Francisco found out in 2011 when it served grasshopper tacos, a popular Mexican dish, using imported Mexican grasshoppers.
12. Pot Pigs
We’re not talking about the belly when we refer to pot pigs. Now that marijuana is legal in Washington state, a Seattle-area farm is feeding its pigs the remnants of pot plants not used at a medical marijuana farm. The goal: to save on waste and feed costs. Farmer Jeremy Gross then sells the pork to a Pike Place Market butcher.
13. Feral Food in Australia
The Prairie Hotel in Parachilna, South Australia, specializes in super local dishes. Since the restaurant is in the Australian Outback this means kangaroo steaks, camel sausage, feral meat pizza, wild goat, and emu pate, plus sides of local bush produce.
14. Camel in Qatar
If riding a camel in the Middle East isn’t enough for you, famed chef Alain Ducasse is serving up the animal at Idam restaurant in Qatar. For 320 Qatari riyals ($87.90) you can get six-day-braised camel meat served with foie gras and truffles.
15. Lions and Tigers and Bears
One growing trend in wild animal consumption seems to be the popularity of lion meat. Florida’s Taco Fusion got into hot water selling $35 lion tacos. Over in California, a Japanese restaurant got skewered for selling $70 lion meat skewers. Right now, lion meat can be legally sold in the U.S. In China, lion, tiger and bear meat are all consumed.