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Rotten Shark, Insects, Roadkill? The Strangest Food Fests on the Planet

By David Jenison

Rotten Shark, Insects, Roadkill? The Strangest Food Fests on the Planet

Sometimes a festival is unintentionally funny. For example, the 2015 Eurochocolate festival in Italy probably should have checked Urban Dictionary before making the Chocolate Mustache that year’s theme. Still, others are downright strange from the start. The following are some of the most offbeat food festivals on the planet. 

Þorrablót
Iceland

Thorrablot (or Þorrablót) is a midwinter festival celebrating the Icelandic gods of yesteryear through food and drink, and as an ancient tradition, the locals break out the old school grub. How bad can it be? Much worse than you think. Let’s start with hákarl, a dish made from shark that has been left to rot until it has a blue cheese-like aroma. Apparently nothing on the planet makes your breath smell worse. Blóðmör is another delicacy made from thick, congealed sheep’s blood mixed with spices and wrapped in a ram’s stomach lining (think Scottish haggis), while svið is boiled sheep’s head beloved for the meat inside the eye socket. Other Thorrablot options can include seal flippers, cured ram testicles, sheep liver sausage and whale blubber, and Icelanders typically wash it all down with the potent spirit Black Death made from caraway and potato. Though completely unrelated to the festival, it is impossible not to note that some Icelandic shops sell whale penis wallets. Just thought you’d like to know. 

Mike the Headless Chicken Festival 
Colorado

The year was 1945, the war had just ended and a farmer Lloyd Olsen wanted to eat some chicken. For some reason, Lloyd liked to name his chickens, and Mike was chosen to feed the farmer’s family. However, when he chopped Mike’s head off, the chicken didn’t die. In fact, he tucked his severed head under his wing and proceeded to peck and preen. After about a week, the farmer took headless Mike to the University of Utah, whose researchers discovered that the a blood clot kept the chicken from bleeding to death. Despite having no head, Mike would live for another 18 months. In fact, he became a celebrity of sorts (there was a national tour… seriously), and the local residents now honor his memory each year with a festival that includes a chicken dance, a wings-eating contest and games like Pin the Head on the Chicken. While it is uncertain if the Olsens ever ate Mike, the festival food options mostly involve chicken. Yes, we know you want to see a picture of headless Mike, so here you go

BugFest
North Carolina

“Eating bugs might sound weird, but not eating bugs is even weirder!” says the BugFest website. Um, okay. In all fairness, annual festival—which draws about 35,000 attendees each year—is primarily an entomology festival where people come to learn about insects. However, Café Insecta is a popular part of the festival where brave souls dine on dishes like Three Bug Salad, Quivering Wax Worm Quiche and Monster Balls, the latter made with mealworms superworms, crickets and pork seasoned with ginger. In terms of promoting bug eating, the site exclaims, “Whole insects are high in fiber, whereas steak and eggs have practically no fiber!” Sorry, but that’s not helping.  

Roadkill Cook-Off
West Virginia 

What can we say about this food festival other than point out that past dishes include teriyaki-marinated bear, possum burgers and squirrel gravy over biscuits. In fact, the top three Roadkill dishes (starting at the top) in 2015 were as follows: Catch Yer-Self a Huzband (a.k.a. The Hillbilly Burgoo), Busted Tailgate BBQ Mac & Cheese and Bear Butt Savory Stew. Worried about all those racoon calories? Work up a sweat at the Rockin’ Redneck Square Dance. If you ever wanted to visit the Appalachians—or Pocahontas County for that matter—there are worse events you can attend. And by worse, we mean the annual George Washington’s Bathtub Celebration in remembrance of a bath taken when the future president was just 16 years old. Unless your last name’s Sandusky, you’ll probably prefer the possum burger.

Cheese-Rolling and Wake Festival
England

Mother always said don’t play with your food, but the people of Gloucester apparently didn’t get the memo. This surprisingly popular British event involves people chasing a nine-pound Double Gloucester cheese wheel down the very steep Cooper’s Hill. The winner—which has included contestants who traveled from Japan and the United States—is the first person to catch the cheese wheel or cross the finish line. The steep incline allows the cheese to reach speeds up to 70 mph, and, to quote the Sydney Morning Herald, the event is basically “twenty young men chasing a cheese off a cliff and tumbling 200 yards to the bottom, where they are scraped up by paramedics and packed off to hospital." What makes this event even stranger? Namely that is famous enough to have appeared in television series like ER, Dave Allen at Large, Rory & Paddy’s Great British Adventure and ESPN’s E:60. It was even mentioned in a Gilmore Girls episode. 

Waikiki Spam Jam Festival
Hawaii

This Hawaiian food fest has nothing to do with email and everything to do with canned mystery meat. Spam, for those who see it in the stores but never dared opened a can, is pork meat with sugar, modified potato starch and sodium nitrite, and Hawaii leads the nation in Spam consumption. The “Hawaiian steak” is so popular, in fact, that some fast-food chains serve spam burgers. Honolulu’s annual celebration includes live music, food vendors and various activities as Kalakaua Avenue becomes a pedestrian-only street for the day. You might even see a person in a giant Spam costume—a.k.a. Spammie—that looks a bit like Towelie from South Park

Cheung Chau Bun Festival 
Hong Kong

This event, which possibly dates back to the 1700s, has become a celebration of Chinese culture, but the main event is the Bun Mountains at Pak Tai Temple. While attendees eat more than 60,000 buns at the festival, the most-coveted buns sit atop three 60-foot bamboo towers, and young men compete to race up the tower to grab some blessed buns. This “bun-snatching” event (real quote), also known as the Bun Scramble, takes place at midnight on the final night of the festival. Naturally, this event has not been without incident: In the 1970s, one of the towers collapsed and injured about 100 people.

Yuma Lettuce Days
Arizona

Whether you come for the cabbage head bowling or the lettuce sculpturing or the Southwest’s longest salad bar, Yuma Lettuce Days is a huge event drawing upwards of 50,000 people and celebrity chefs like Top Chef winner and cannabis enthusiast Hosea Rosenberg. You know, if Arizona ever does legalize the “Devil’s lettuce,” we might be able to help with a few ideas. 

Credit: Modern Farmer.

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