The popular Italian dish cervelli fritti is precisely what it translates to: fried brains. Chefs take the tender young brains of lamb, calf, or veal, dredge them in beaten eggs and flour, then lightly fry until they are golden brown. These bite-size morsels are so rich and creamy you might think you’re eating ricotta cheese instead of literal brain food!
#2. Pani Ca Meusa
On the streets of Sicily, vendors prepare tempting treats such as pizza, chickpea fritters, and the popular pani ca meusa, which literally translates to bread with spleen. Mmm, spleen! Soft bread infused with sesame flavor is stuffed with fried bits of veal lung and spleen. The flavor is juicy, rich, and earthy. Add ricotta cheese for an even more decadent spleen sandwich.
#3. Casu Marzu
Critics have been known to call it “maggot cheese,” but this Sardinian sheep’s milk cheese is prized for its rich and pungent flavor. Made in the style of pecorino, the Casu Marzu gets its special reputation by the addition of fly larvae that live inside the cheese. The little bugs eat and poop their way through the cheese until what’s left is a soft, lumpy mass reminiscent of a peppered Gorgonzola. In case you’re wondering, the worms are still alive and squirming in every bite.
#4. Stuffed Dormice
A delicacy since ancient times, dormice are still served in parts of Italy. The tiny, adorable rodents are skinned, gutted, and stuffed with meat, onions, raisins, nuts, and spices before being roasted. Think of them as tiny mince pies with mouse flesh instead of crust. Some chefs prefer to roll dormice in honey and poppy seeds for a sweeter version of the mousy delight.
In Italy, these little brown birds are prized not only for their morning chirps, but also their tasty meat. They are roasted whole and served with their heads and beaks intact, just in case you forgot for a moment you were eating sweet little birds. In fact, the traditional way to eat a songbird is to pick it up by the beak and crunch your way through, bones and all.
When you picture the perfect Italian meal, it might include freshly grated Parmesan atop your pasta. For something more adventurous, try a shaving of bottarga instead. To make bottarga, the egg pouch of a fish is cured in sea salt until it has dried into a hard, salty, brownish log. This fishy substance is then grated atop pasta or served on crostini drizzled with olive oil.
Vegetarians can get in on the bizarre Italian food eating Olympics by way of agretti, a Mediterranean succulent that goes by many names: saltwort, friar’s beard, and land seaweed. It may look like fleshy blades of grass, but when blanched and served with olive oil and lemon, Italians agree that agretti tastes like springtime.
#8. Sanguinaccio Dolce
A delightfully rich dessert, sanguinaccio dolce looks like a thick chocolate pudding and tastes even better. It’s made from chocolate, sugar, cream and—wait for it—warm pork blood. Optional mix-ins include pine nuts, raisins, and other fruit. Sanguinaccio dolce is sometimes made thick and formed into a log that can be sliced. Other pastry chefs serve it creamy with cookies for dipping. No matter how it’s prepared, sanguinaccio dolce tastes best when you try your hardest to forget your dessert is made of warm pig’s blood.