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Barf bag included: Disgusting Food Museum lives up to its name  1 Month ago

Source:   USA Today  

LOS ANGELES -- Come hungry. Leave grossed out.

That's the basic formula behind the Disgusting Food Museum, a temporary exhibit that just opened in this city's Arts District. A large hall has been turned into an emporium of the unappetizing, culling samples of some of the world's most offensive morsels. 

The 80 repulsive delicacies range from roast guinea pig, so popular in Peru that there's a festival devoted to it, to bull penis. Throw in the roast sheep's head, sushi topped with fish sperm, fruit bat soup (hint: no fruit -- only bat), canned pig brains and you pretty much get the picture.

Yes, there is a tasting bar.

"I haven't gotten sick from anything so far," boasts curator Sam West. But he boldly predicts "it's going to happen."

If nausea strikes, visitors will be ready. The ticket to the exhibit is an airline-style barf bag. In Malmo, Sweden, where a companion exhibit has already opened, West said he only knows of 11 attendees who have put the bag to use so far. Others simply flee.

"We have had a few run for the exits," said Tor Hansson, who ran the tasting bar in the Swedish exhibit before coming to open the L.A. version. Usually, he added, it's high school students who are the most grossed out. 

It's easy to see why after sauntering through the exhibit with West, who describes the aroma of Icelandic shark as akin to a "urine-soaked mattress." 

As for the origins of the food on display, Europe, Asia, Australia and South America are well represented. Though West said he has been to India multiple times, none of its foods made the cut. Africa shows up pretty much only on video with images of the Maasai men bleeding cattle in order to draw cups of blood. 

Don't doubt for a moment that America is free of gross food -- or at least what many foreigners would find disgusting.

They include such innocents as Twinkies, which West says some northern Europeans would find revolting, and Pop-Tarts. Root beer and Spam also make the grade. The canned pig brains are a Southern delicacy.

Some items aren't objectionable to Americans unless they consider how they were prepared. Gummy candy, for instance, is composed of gelatin, made from boiling cattle skin, bones and other parts.

West said he included them to make a point about disgust. It's all in your head. He describes disgust as an emotion built into humans and other animals to steer them away from poison. As a result, the very definition of what is found to be disgusting varies by country.

"I want people to leave with the Disgusting Food Museum with a more open mind," he said. "Disgust is culturally conditioned."

Thus, while wine made of the penises of deer, seal and dog is a hit in China -- how could  it not be with a name like "Three Penis Wine?" -- it doesn't sound like it will make sommeliers' lists in the U.S. 

The museum puts smell, besides taste, to the test. Pungent little jars allow visitors to take a whiff of especially powerful foods. The displays are not limited to meats. There are cheeses, veggies and fruit, such as fragrant durian, the "king of fruits," and an extreme tofu.

All will be on display until Feb. 17 when the exhibit likely moves to another U.S. city yet to be announced.

Finding all the foods wasn't easy, West said. Only "real foods," ones common to diets somewhere in the world, were included. The exhibit has Scottish haggis, a famously awful collection of offal, but West said it is difficult to import into the U.S.

Tracking down sheep's head required Adrian Mendoza, a catering worker who is taking over the tasting bar from Hansson, to scout meat markets around the city until he arranged for a pair from a kosher butcher shop.

Some of the foods smell worse than they taste. Mendoza, who finds the stinky tofu to be the most repugnant, said many of the objectionables either suffer from either smelling of ammonia or sulfur.

So far, he said he isn't complaining about his new assignment. It's probably good training, in fact, for a young chef, though he may never see food the same way again.

"It has definitely opened me up to a lot of tastes," he said.

If you go: Admission is $15 for adults, $10 for ages 12 and under;


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