NOT THE REVIEW YOU WANT IF YOU POUR YOUR HEART AND SOUL INTO A PROJECT. UNLESS YOU ARE SAMUEL WEST THE CURATOR AND SELF-APPOINTED CHIEF DISGUSTOLOGIST OF THE “MUSEUM OF DISGUSTING FOOD".
The purpose of the Museum is not to be gross but to investigate and challenge one of the six basic human emotions, the disgust, he explains. “We are all influenced by our culture and we like and take comfort in the familiar, but can we change it or are the emotion hardwired in our brains?” Time to find out at the PopUp museum housed in the former slaughterhouse of Malmö.
On display are 80 regional foods from all over the world ready to challenge perceptions. Would you eat herring fermented to decomposition? They do in northern Sweden. Would you eat bull’s testicles or penises? The balls are called Rocky Mountain Oysters in the US and the “willy” is revered in South East Asia. How about juice from fermented cabbage? Ask the Poles. A snake killed in a bottle of spirit. Ask the Japanese. Roasted rats? Colombia. What about dog? The North Koreans will tell you. A live octopus, swallowed whole? Someone in the South was accused of using the specialty as a murder weapon. Chicken is OK, right? Ask a Pilipino about Balut or half hatched chicks eaten out of their raw egg. For some reason it is eaten in the dark, go figure. Keep going closer to the amber tinted content of the glass jar in the middle of the museum. Get really close and see what rests on the bottom of the gallon jug. Unless you are Chinese you probably would not consider making wine out of mouse fetuses. Next on the menu, hákarl from the icy cold waters of the North Atlantic. Preparation is simple but necessary as the unprepared meat is toxic to humans. Grab a Greenland or sleeper shark (accidently caught with other fish in nets), gut and place it in a shallow hole on a beach. Cover it with sand and rocks (to press the juices out of the shark meat). For good measure pee on it to get the process going and leave it for up to three months in the sand. Then cut the fermented meat into strips and air-dry for another six months. Now “the other white meat”, this one stinking of ammonia, is ready to ingest perhaps with Black Death Brennivin an Icelandic Aquavit. No you know why Iceland is such a popular tourist destination.
For cheese lovers there is plenty to choose from. The "Altar of Stinky Cheese" offers five whiffs perhaps the Stinky Bishop takes the price. But there is more and in a glass box a small cheese wheel of what looks like Pecorino with the top cut open. This one is from Sardinia (or Corsica) where they take it up a notch, by leaving it out in the open to invite egg laying cheese flies. As the larvae’s hatch they feed off the cheese, turn into white yellowish maggots and their excrements becomes a sort of soft creamy cheese. Casu marzu is best eaten with live maggots and all but as the EU has outlawed production for health reasons it comes with a 40 000 Euro fine. Unfortunately the museum piece has a healthy live maggot infestation…
As a westerner perhaps US snacks like Pop tarts, Twinkies or Yello is nothing strange. Or ask any Swedish kid if they like “sega råttor” a candy somewhat akin to Gummy bears made from boiling cows stomachs. Licorice or as the Dutch call them “drops” is nothing strange to Northwestern Europeans, who these days buy the root derivatives in high end shops. Haggis and SPAM are two British staples nobody cares to know the content of but make a lunch of. Then there is pork refused by large populations for religious reasons.
A couple of centuries a law passed in Maine prohibited prisons from serving inmates lobster more than twice a week. Tell that to a fine diner today. Twenty years ago few would eat raw fish in Europe, today Sushi restaurants are a dime a dozen. In a few years we may have to use insects as an alternative to unsustainable meat production. Hey, wait it is already happening, try a loaf from the Finnish baker Fazer.
After looking, smelling and touching (the bull’s penis?) it is time to give in to the final sensory experience. Why not taste the dried insects (tastes like gluten free bread or a touch of card board) or a piece of smelly Italian cheese and rinse it down with a shot of fermented cabbage juice or a zip of root beer? The unmissable treat is to dip a toothpick into a small jar of diced white blubber. Yes it is the ammonia oozing Icelandic shark. Once on the tongue it starts to prickle, a prickle that stays without the soothing of the Brennivin. The museum has become a world sensation and there was even a small PopUp in Los Angeles. Another success criteria is twenty four ticks on a blackboard showing the dual use of the barf bag/entrance ticket. The chipper girls serving the samplers recall that the last one five days ago used up two tickets. The popularity of this museum is not going down but coming up until the autumn.