Some foods are known as comfort foods’ but there are some dishes that can be called discomfort foods because they can put you off your lunch. They are weird and wacky, and you wonder how anyone can eat them. Here is a list of some of the most shocking discomfort foods in all of history,  from fermented shark meat to whale vomit.

Garum – the taste of fermented fish

The Romans loved their parties, but you would probably not like to be invited to one. Emperors and senators would serve their guests garum. This was a wacky sauce that was made from fermented fish guts.  Basically, small fish would be allowed to rot in the sun. A liquid would form and be taken away and bottled and this was garum.

Romans would put the sauce on everything, from meat, to porridge and even mixed it in their wine! Garum was as common as garlic and salt in dishes and was also sold as a street food. Romans were prepared to pay high prices for high quality garum.

It was the world’s first wonder food and people used it as a cosmetic and took it when they were sick. Many knew that garum gave people worms, yet still the Romans could not get enough of it!

The image shows a large ceramic jar, a Roman amphora. The jar is on the ground in front of the ruins of a building. Fish are spread around the the jar.
Garum, a sauce made from fermented fish guts

Hákarl – rotten shark meat

There are many strange national dishes, but none as wacky as that of Iceland. This weird dish dates back to the fearless Vikings warriors. This dish is made out of the flesh of a Greenland shark, and if eaten raw it is possibly poisonous. They must have been really hungry to eat this!

The shark meat is cut up and gutted and then placed in a hole in the ground near the sea. Then it is dug up and hung out to dry so that meat is cured in the wind.

The smell of this dish is terrible, and it has been compared to sweaty feet or stale cheese. The taste is not much better. Today the dish is mainly served to tourists.

A collage of photographs, one is depicting a large piece of ambergris - whale vomit. The ambergris looks like a stone with smaller pebbles embedded inside it. The other photo features two sperm whales swimming underwater.
Top: Ambergris, sperm whale vomit. Bottom: Mother and baby sperm whale.

Locusts – yummy insects

Locusts are grasshoppers that often form swarms and eat plants and crops. They often caused famine. In the past people came up with the great idea of eating the locusts eating their food! People collected the insects and ate them for dinner, and they are a good source of protein. In the bible there are many examples of  people eating locusts.

When salted they are quite tasty or so some have claimed. They can be baked as in Kuwait or fried as in Mexico.

Many had no choice but to eat locusts during famine and in Judaism and Islam eating the insects was not forbidden. Today, they are still eaten as snacks or as part of exotic dishes. Increasingly because of the use of chemicals to kill them, it is becoming risky to eat them.

This image shows a container filled with small, fried grasshoppers. The container is made of metal.
Fried locusts

Century Eggs

You always have to eat eggs fresh – right? The Chinese had a delicacy called century or thousand-year eggs, which is made from old eggs. In reality the delicacy is produced over a few months not centuries.

During the Ming Dynasty someone had the wacky idea to bury eggs in a coating of clay, ash, and salt.  This  over time allows the white of the egg to turn a beautiful glistening black . While the yolk of the egg had shades of green and gold.  Looked weird, smelled terrible and tasted salty. Today, many century eggs are still produced by using chemicals and they are potentially dangerous.

The dish is made out of black eggs, which are sitting on a white plate with a white background. The eggs are sitting on top of a bed of lettuce leaves.
Century eggs

Jellied Eels – slimy fish dish

Poor people in the past often had no choice but to eat horrible things. In the East End of London, during the Victorian era, people came up with a new dish – jellied eels.  This was a popular street food, among the poor as it was nutritious and cheap.

People would cut up an eel from the polluted River Thames and boil the meat in a spicy stock or just with vinegar. This would be allowed to cool and set into a clear jelly and eaten with mashed potato and peas.  Some say that the eels are sweet tasting but others that they are slimy. Today jellied eels are still popular in the East End of London.

A photograph depicting chunks of gelatinized eels in a transparent bowl. A toothpick is sticking out from one of the chunks. There is a lemon slice in the bowl.
A bowl of jellied eels

Salo in Chocolate – pig fat in chocolate

Who does not like chocolate? But sometimes people put it in weird dishes. Salo is a white cold pig fat or lard that looks like a white cheese. Ukrainians love it with pickles and vodka. Someone came up with the strange idea of putting this salty food into a rich dark chocolate.

This was very popular in Ukraine especially among the wealthy before the Russian Revolution when chocolate became rare (1917). Salo in chocolate was made by rolling strips of the lard and covering them in chocolate. It tastes very salty inside and sweet on the outside. Salo in chocolate may have started as a joke and a way for the rich to show off and now it is one of Ukraine’s national dishes.

A photograph showcasing slices of pig fat covered in dark chocolate. Frost is seen on the chocolate layer.
Chocolate salo, chilled pig fat dipped in chocolate


One of the traditional foods of  Native Americans was Pemmican. This was made from whatever meat such as bison, was available. It was hung out and dried in the sun. Then the women would grind it in a powder and mash tallow or fat into the mixture. Some berries were added to the greasy mix, for flavor, and it was allowed to cool. The greasy food was then formed into blocks and then sewn into bags. It was a good source of nutrition and lasted a long time. Traders and trappers would carry it on their travels in the wilderness as it helped them to survive the brutal winters.

The image shows three different types of meat patties on a dark wood surface. The patties have different textures and shapes. One patty is a rectangular shape. The other two are in a circular shape.
Pemmican, dried meat bars

Haslet – pig’s heart stuffed in a pig’s stomach

There are many dishes made from the offal of animals in the world. One of the weirdest of these dishes was Haslet, an old English dish. The word comes from the French for guts. It was a type of meatloaf made from the nasty parts of the pig.

A cook would chop up the pigs’ heart, liver and other insides and mash them with parsley. Lots of parsley was used to hide the taste of the heart and guts no doubt! All of the mixture was then pushed into the stomach of a pig or a sheep. It was then served cold, often with a salad or hot with potatoes.

An image of a bowl containing pig entrails covered in fat streaks, stuffed with a pigs heart.
A modern day haslet, World Charcuterie Awards

Ortolan – songbird into brandy

The French from the Middle Ages would hunt the Ortolan, a tiny songbird, as they were seen as a delicacy. Hunters would capture the small, feathered friend and force feed it until it was good and fat. Once fat enough the tiny bird was drowned in Armagnac, an expensive French brandy. Then it was plucked and baked. It was often eaten as a fast food by the rich.

Traditionally diners would cover their face with a napkin when eating the bird. This was because they would eat the songbird in one bite and then spit out the bones. Some have said that diners hide their face because they should be ashamed of themselves for eating such a beautiful creature.

Today the hunting and eating of the bird is illegal in France. But people still want the delicacy, and this is driving the tiny Ortolan to the verge of extinction.

A photograph featuring three small fried birds on a green plate.
Ortolan representation made out of marzipan by a food stylist Janice Poon

Strange things people eat

From rotten shark meat to buried old eggs it looks like people would eat anything in the past. They often had no choice but to eat weird and wacky foods.  What is strange is that even today, with our fast food, some people still eat many of these discomfort foods. We may think that these dishes are strange and weird but what would our ancestors think of our favorite foods? What would they think of a MacDonald’s meal, would they consider it weird and wacky?