“Your ticket is a vomit bag with our logo,” said Samuel West, the museum’s founder. It’s a joke, but not really: Somewhere between the exhibit on the world’s stinkiest cheese and the free samples of fermented shark meat, someone’s stomach may turn. But, then again, the noni, an Asian fruit nicknamed the “vomit fruit,” is one of the displays. So visitors will already be acclimated to some pretty terrible smells.
Welcome to the world’s first exhibition devoted to foods that some would call revolting. The museum’s name and its contents are pretty controversial — one culture’s disgusting is another culture’s delicacy. That goes for escamoles, the tree-ant larvae eaten in Mexico, or shirako, the cod sperm eaten in Japan, or bird’s nest soup, a Chinese dish of nests made from bird saliva. The name is meant to grab visitors’ attention, but that’s the point that West says he’s trying to make: Disgust is a cultural construct.
“I want people to question what they find disgusting and realize that disgust is always in the eye of the beholder,” said West. “We usually find things we’re not familiar with disgusting, versus things that we grow up with and are familiar with are not disgusting, regardless of what it is.”
For example: Though the museum is in Sweden, he includes surströmming, an incredibly pungent fermented Swedish herring, and salt licorice, which is found throughout the Nordic nations.