Food for fright

October 31, 2013

Sea cucumber tastes like tofu and jiggles like gelatin.

Aw, how cute. You made Jell-O in the shape of a brain to celebrate Halloween. Too scared to try the real thing? In honor of the ghoulish holiday, we’ve hunted down some pretty scary foods that chill-seekers can sink their teeth into locally. While many countries consider these dishes delicacies, they’re not for the fainthearted. After all, the scents, the looks and the tastes are enough to give you bite-mares.

Sea Cucumber

This cucumber-shaped marine animal resembles a wiggling log of fuzzy mold. In Asia and the Middle East, eating this echinoderm is believed to relieve ailments such as cancer and arthritis and boost the immune system. Despite its un-sexy appearance, it’s also believed to be an aphrodisiac.

Most sea cucumbers in U.S. markets are dried and shriveled. When boiled, the cucumber expands to almost its original size. Without any sauce, the sea cucumber is a flavorless food with a gelatinous texture that can make the eater squeamish.

To give the bland, almost tofu-like sea cucumber some flavor, culinarians can fry, braise or saute it. At Sichuan Pavilion (1814 K St. NW; 202-466-7790), chefs saute it with garlic, red pepper flakes and scallions and serve it with mild, hot or spicy options.

The dining experience may not be quite as terrifying as the others on this page, but the price is scream-inducing: A single serving will set you back $34.

Durian

The putrid smell of ripe durian in the Southeast Asian tropics — think sweaty gym clothes drenched in milk and left in a locker for weeks — can be enough to make you sick.

Distributors freeze and package the spiky fruit, and it’s available locally at Great Wall Supermarket ($2.50 per pound, 700 Hungerford Drive, Rockville; 240-314-0558).

You can also sample the fruit in smoothie form ($4) at Saigon Bakery (6773 Wilson Blvd., Suite 38, Falls Church; 703-536-0888). “If you don’t think about the smell, you will like it,” says employee Teresa Chi, who previously owned the bakery for 20 years. “The fruit is creamy and sweet.”

Saigon Bakery also makes wedding cakes stuffed with the malodorous meat. (Prenup sold separately.)

Balut
balut

Balut — an underdeveloped duck embryo eaten straight out of the shell — is a popular street food in Southeast Asian countries, such as the Philippines and Vietnam. You can find them locally at the Filipino Market and Cafe ($1.45 each, 759 Hungerford Drive, Rockville; 301-217-5920).

Seventeen to 21 days into its growth, the fetus has well-formed duckling features including eyes, a beak, feet and even feathers. To eat one, boil the egg for 10 to 20 minutes, depending on its maturity. Next, crack the hollow end of the egg and unravel the layers of veiny membranes until you reach the bird.

The taste is a combination of boiled egg, metallic meat and a hint of seafood. A dash of salt, vinegar or chili sauce is often recommended. Texturewise, the tiny head and feet have a slight crunch, like soft cartilage. Don’t forget to slurp the remaining juices out of the shell!

Lamb Brains

This complex, highly nutritious offal is packed with protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

At Bistro d’OC (518 10th St. NW; 202-393-5444, bistrodoc.com), chef Bernard Grenier coats four fist-sized lamb brains in flour and sautes them with butter, capers, veal stock and lemon ($11).

On the plate, the dish’s bean-shaped pieces clearly look like small brains: Lumpy lobes are prominent and the medulla oblongata is still attached. The metallic taste indicates the organ you are feasting on was once flowing with blood.

“People come here specifically for [the lamb brains],” Grenier says. “That’s fine with me.”

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Holley Simmons | October 31, 2013