When you’re traveling the world, you want to try new things — even the questionable street food you’d never dream of ordering back home — but what happens when that becomes reversed? When your favorite dish or food item is banned in the country you’re traveling to?
Well, chances are that won’t be the case in most places, but many countries do have bans on specific food items for reasons that may surprise you. For instance, foie gras is banned in many countries around the world (and parts of the U.S.) because of the inhumane practice of over-fattening a duck’s or goose’s liver by force-feeding the bird. Another food that’s banned in various countries is farm-raised salmon. Although in theory this method seems sustainable and ideal, countries like Australia have banned the product because of the chemicals and antibiotics the fish are fed to keep the same color that wild salmon have.
Casu marzu is considered the world’s most dangerous cheese, and with reason. The name itself means “rotten cheese” and contains live maggots. These maggots can jump out at you and the health issues that can stem from eating this rotten cheese has led to it being banned by the EU.
Possibly the most upper-class-sounding food on the planet, White Beluga caviar comes from the eggs of the Beluga sturgeon, a critically endangered fish that exists only in the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, and the Adriatic Sea. It is banned through much of the world by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), because the countries with access to the seas that they come from (with the exception of Iran) fail to prevent their poaching.
Singapore, the hyper-clean, hyper-strict Asian city-state, is well-known for its food laws. Durian, the world’s stinkiest fruit, is banned on their metro, but probably their most famous ban is that against chewing gum. Chewing gum is banned in Singapore (though Singaporeans can be prescribed gum by a doctor) because vandals have an annoying tendency to stick it everywhere they go. And you know what? We’re okay with this ban. We’re sick of getting gum on our shoes, and Singapore is just about the cleanest city on the planet.
The United States banned Kinder Eggs, an Italian chocolate egg with a surprise toy embedded inside as part of a law designed to prevent little kids from swallowing a tiny plastic toy. The ban is actually fairly strictly enforced, but was recently circumvented by a New Jersey company that figured out how to separate the two sides of the chocolate with an inedible capsule that is visible from the outside.
Foie gras is a prized dish among epicures. It’s a specially fattened duck or goose liver that is spectacularly buttery and tasty. Unfortunately, the way you specially fatten these birds is by force-feeding the animals, which has been declared by many countries and local governments to be inhumane and cruel. As such, Israel, Argentina, India, parts of the U.S., and much of Europe have banned foie gras. Some countries have invented methods to produce foie gras without force-feeding, but not all producers use these methods.
Fugu is so dangerous that chefs go through years of training before they can serve this dish, and even still there is room for error. Fugu is a pufferfish and, if it isn’t prepared and cleaned properly, a pinhead amount of the toxic chemical it contains will kill you if consumed. It is for this reason that fugu has been banned in Japan many times in history, but is now only allowed to be prepared by very few highly trained chefs. However, fugu is surprisingly not banned in America.
Garlic is not technically banned anywhere, but it is taboo among Buddhist monastics in China and some Hindus. There is a story that when the Hindu god Vishnu slayed a group of demons, the blood that dripped from their severed heads sprouted into garlic. Buddhism is a Hindu offshoot, so it’s likely that’s where the superstition came from.
Haggis is the second most famous Scottish product (behind Scotch, of course). It’s made of sheep heart, liver, and lungs, and is mixed with a number of spices and seasonings. It sounds awful but is actually delicious. It’s banned in the U.S. because of a rather arbitrary ban on the lungs of the sheep (though not the heart or liver).
Probably the silliest ban on the list, the French banned ketchup from their primary schools because they were afraid students would use it to mask their traditional French cuisine. The idea is that public schools are not only supposed to be feeding children, but teaching them about French cuisine, and ketchup is thought to overwhelm the traditional flavors. Ironically, students are still allowed to use ketchup on their French fries.
Okay, so technically mac and cheese isn’t illegal anywhere, but certain types of food coloring are, including Yellow No. 6. This food coloring has been found to be harmful to children, and as such, any foods that include Yellow No. 6 are banned in Norway and Austria. One of those foods? Boxed mac and cheese. This is obviously a nightmare for many of us to hear — we’ve all had boxed mac and cheese during our childhoods, but fortunately Kraft Mac ‘n’ Cheese actually dropped their artificial dyes and preservatives a few years ago.
Ortolan is another force-feeding delicacy: The ortolan bunting is a French bird that will eat constantly if you put it in the dark. Traditionally, the birds are put in a box with a bunch of millet until they’ve eaten enough, and then they are drowned in Armagnac brandy. The eater then puts a napkin over their head, in order to keep their fellow eaters from seeing what they do next, which is eat the entire bird, bones and all. It’s probably pretty clear why this is banned.
Farm-raised salmon is more dangerous than wild salmon because the fish are fed chemicals and antibiotics to give them the desirable pink color — they would otherwise have more of a brown coloring, since the farmed salmon is fed mostly grains. For this reason, New Zealand, Australia, and Russia have all banned the bred fish.
Samosas are not a food you can mess up: fried pastries filled with meats? Yes, please. But Al Shabaab, the extremist Muslim group that controls much of war-torn Somalia, had banned locals under their jurisdiction from eating the pastry because unscrupulous vendors were selling samosas filled with rotten meat. Early reports claimed that the pastries were banned because their triangular shape was too much like the Christian Trinity, but that was obviously false.
Sassafras root was traditionally used to make root beer until it was discovered that an element of Sassafras oil can cause cancer in rats. The Food and Drug Administration banned the use of it in foods after this was discovered, though companies have found a workaround by removing safrole (the carcinogenic element of the oil) from their product. This is totally legal, and it is possible to buy some types of sassafras root beer on the market today.