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The Disgusting Food Museum: One Man's Yuck Is Another Man's Yum

Disgusting Food Museum
Kale pache, a featured dish displayed in the Disgusting Food Museum, is a festive Persian winter soup made of sheep parts. Kale pache literally means "head and hoof soup." Anja Barte Telin/Disgusting Food Museum

Fermented herring, stinky tofu and maggot-infested cheese have more in common than an ability to raise eyebrows and offend noses. They're delicacies on exhibit at Sweden's Disgusting Food Museum, a Malmö-based attraction that celebrates oft-maligned fare.

The Disgusting Food Museum opened in November 2018 as a way to teach visitors about unfamiliar foods across cultures. Some of the more unusual dishes, from Peru's roasted guinea pig to the aphrodisiac bull penis, may sound a bit unappetizing. But the museum hopes visitors will "explore the world of food and challenge their notions of what is and what isn't edible," according to its website. Exhibit experiences are nothing if not sensory; visitors can admire, touch, smell and even taste the museum's cuisine, with a lineup of regular and rotating exhibits to keep things interesting.

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What's on Display at the Disgusting Food Museum?

The museum boasts 80 exhibits showcasing cuisine typically categorized as "disgusting" for its taste, smell or ingredient makeup. Some of the most famous Disgusting Food Museum exhibits include:

  • Surströmming, fermented herring beloved in Sweden
  • Casu marzu, a special Sardinian cheese produced in part by nibbling maggots
  • Hákarl, aged, fermented shark from Iceland
  • Durian, a sweet-tasting fruit from Thailand known for its pungent smell. The durian fruit's smell is so sharp, countries like Singapore and Malaysia have banned it from public places, according to CNN.

Cultural bites aren't the only cuisine you'll find at the Disgusting Food Museum. Drinks, including China's baby mice wine, made by infusing rice wine with baby mice, and kumis, a beverage found across Russia and Central Asia concocted using fermented (and therefore slightly alcoholic) mare's milk.

While these bites and brews may be foreign to Americans, the U.S. is hardly spared when it comes to disgusting foods. The museum has U.S. staples like root beer and Jell-O salad on display. Sure, it may not raise eyebrows on U.S. soil, but root beer elicits visceral reactions across Scandinavia, according to museum founder Dr. Samuel West in a CNN interview.

Disgusting Food Museum
Baby mice wine, a traditional “health tonic,” of China and Korea, is made by dropping live baby mice into a bottle of rice wine and leaving them to ferment for roughly a year. After the wine is gone, the mice are often eaten. Yum!
Anja Barte Telin/Disgusting Food Museum

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Who Would Create Such a Museum?

Some museums highlight the universally beautiful elements of a culture — Sweden's neighbor, Denmark, recently unveiled its Happiness Museum, for example — but others, like the Disgusting Food Museum, focus on the more obscure aspects of a culture. And they need a dedicated aggregator of said obscure subject to get the museum off the ground. That's where West comes into play. As a psychologist by day, museum curator by night, and former founder of the Museum of Failure, West is perfect for the job.

West discovered his Disgusting Food Museum inspiration after reading an article about meat consumption and how it affects the environment. He researched alternative protein sources from around the world and stumbled upon staples like tarantulas and guinea pigs — two sources many westerners would turn down swiftly. "What we find disgusting has to be learned," West told CNN. "It's purely cultural."

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