Sweetbreads are neither sweet nor bread. The dish features the thymus and pancreas of animals. Or how about potted rabbit and poutine made with oxtail gravy - one of the more popular small plate offerings at Kupros Bistro.
"Creepy food" varies from culture to culture, influenced by religion, customs, availability and other cultural differences, according to Alan Rocke, a science and food historian at Case Western Reserve University. He points out that horsemeat, for example, is eaten in many parts of the world, including France and Italy, whereas Americans' aversion is influenced by our estimation of the animal. "Why we don't eat horse meat, or at least very little, is probably because we view the horse as a noble animal and the cowboy's best friend," he said.
Americans are also averse to eating bugs, but huge spiders and giant water bugs are delicacies in Southeast Asia. "We have lobsters on our coasts, and we love eating lobsters. It's a great delicacy, but a lobster is nothing more than an overgrown insect," Rocke said, adding that shrimp and crawfish fall into the same category.
Chef-turned-TV personality Andrew Zimmern urges you to bring on the arachnids. He consumes the ghastly and grim on his Travel Channel show, and he lists giant tarantula among the most surprisingly delicious dishes he's ever eaten. Southeast Asia is ground zero for adventurous dining, according to the chef. "They famously eat everything that crawls or swims or wiggles, and they do it phenomenally," Zimmern said.
Rocke expects more people will dine on creepy crawlies with the new emphasis on environmentally conscious eating. "Insect culture makes a great deal of sense from a sustainability standpoint or in terms of environmental stewardship, because they can be grown efficiently, cheaply and sustainably," he said. "And the food source, objectively considered, is a very high nutritive quality." Rattlesnake and grasshopper need not be substituted for a good prime rib at Sunday dinner, but serving goat would be a start.
But for chef Quentin Bennett, or "Chef Q for Hire," there's some food he's just not willing to eat again. Bennett grew up in the South eating dishes like pickled pig's feet, hog head cheese (a kind of meat jelly made with, yes, a hog's head) and chitterlings or chitlins (hog intestines). Appreciation is in the eye - or palate - of the beholder, he says.