Don’t skip on Thailand’s “Son-in-Law Eggs” or Italy’s “Assassin Spaghetti.”
From “priest strangler pasta” to “camel spit,” some foods have names that are violent, irreverent, inspired by body parts or animals, or just plain peculiar. Unsurprisingly, the origin stories of these funky food names are just as colorful. Read on for our list of the world’s most weirdly-named foods.
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Priest Strangler Pasta
Strozzapreti translates to “priest strangler pasta” and is an elongated, twisted tube-shaped pasta invented centuries ago to show resentment toward the all-powerful Catholic Church and its clergy. Supposedly, women cursed as they rolled the tubes by hand, fervently hoping gluttonous priests would choke on it.
A specialty of northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, Umbria, and the Marches was created during the 17th-century when the Papal States ruled this region, from the Mediterranean to Adriatic Seas. One version is made with flour, water, and eggs, and one is made without eggs because, as the story goes, the Church didn’t allow people in Emilia-Romagna to use eggs.
Variants exist (like “strangled bishops” with cheese and fennel). An annual strozzapreti festival took place in Tuscany’s Maremma coastal region in July for decades, in a tiny village within Roccastrada, the Sagra degli Sticciano Scalo. Here, the egg-less pasta style is served in various ways, such as with meat ragu or “fake sauce,” made with basil, parsley, carrots, and red wine.
Kai look keuy are hard-boiled and deep-fried eggs tossed in tamarind, chili, and cilantro sauce. Kids love “son-in-law eggs” because it’s sweet and crispy, but a more adult version is spicier, using more chili. Several stories explain the name. One warns sons-in-law what may happen to their own “eggs” (i.e. have them boiled and fried) if they don’t treat their wives well, explains Luke Charny of A Chef’s Tour, which offers food tours of Thailand.
Another less ominous story says a mother-in-law was making a surprise visit, and the easy dish was the only thing the guy could cobble together to impress her. In another story, it’s prepared for a potential son-in-law, and if he likes it, he’s a keeper. While it’s eaten all over Thailand, Charny thinks its origin is Central Thailand, where they prefer sweet dishes, and a lot of palm sugar goes into “son-in-law eggs.”
Fun fact: there is a Thai TV drama inspired by a 1980 film named for the dish. Kai Look Keuy is about a woman whose mother tries to find her a husband upon her return from studying in the United States.
Breasts of the Virgin
In Sicily, a specialty of Sambuca di Sicilia (a small town 40 miles south of Palermo), is minna di vergine: round, breast-shaped pastries stuffed with chocolate chip-studded ricotta cheese and candied green squash paste, topped by colorful sprinkles and a black, er, nipple.
Made of the same pastry dough, the top gets black since the baker doesn’t glaze it with egg, so the oven’s heat burns it. Nuns from Collegio di Maria invented the pastry in 1725 to honor the wedding of the Baron and Marquis of Salinas Sambuca, Don Pietro Beccadelli, and Donna Gravini, says Allison Scola of Experience Sicily, a tour operator.
Its savory/sweet flavor combo reflects centuries of Arab domination in Sicily. The town’s very name comes from its Arab name, Zabuth, in honor of Al-Zabut, an Arab ruler whose castle was here in the 9th century. The town remained Arab until the 13th-century when the Normans conquered it, and it became Sambuca.
While deciding which local pasticceria bakes the best, check out the town’s one-euro homes. A brand-new HGTV show is about Lorraine Bracco (Tony Soprano’s therapist in The Sopranos) renovating the 200-year-old house she bought for a single euro, My Big Italian Adventure. By the way, Sambuca’s isn’t the only breast-named Sicilian pastry. In February, all over Sicily, you’ll see round pastries topped with a cherry for a nipple (called minna di Sant’Agata), honoring Saint Agatha, the patron saint of Catania and breast cancer patients. The pastries are named for the third-century martyr who refused the advances of a Roman ruler and had her breasts cut off.
The Flying Jacob
Flygande Jacob is a casserole of chicken, bananas, Heinz chili sauce, whipped cream, and Italian salad spices, topped with peanuts and bacon. The dish is named after the air-freight employee who invented it on a whim. Food snobs, horrified by its offbeat ingredients combo (and orange color), are often shocked to find it quite tasty with a mix of sweet, spicy, smooth, crunchy, and salty flavors and textures.
It seems Ove Jacobsson, invited to bring potluck to a neighborhood dinner party, threw together a mishmash of ingredients he had on hand. After rave reviews, he submitted the recipe to a food magazine, Allt om Mat (All About Food), which published it in 1976 and named it in his honor. The dish became so sensationally popular, groceries later sold frozen food and baby food versions. It’s far from the only banana-based dinner entrée in Sweden (there’s a pork, banana, spicy peppers, and cream casserole; and fish with almonds and bananas). It reflects a Swedish fondness for fruits served with savory foods, like lingonberries with venison or pork roast with prunes. The magazine reprinted the original recipe in 2014.
“Flygande Jacob isn’t a dish you often find at restaurants (probably because it’s considered lowbrow and more of a kid’s food), but I think a lot of adults enjoy it and it’s easy to make at home. Those serving it tend to be lunch places that serve traditional home-cooked Swedish food, which is interesting because its ingredients are usually not part of traditional Swedish cooking,” says Melinda Martino, a spokesperson for Visit Sweden. “My mom used to make it, and I think she served it at one of my birthday parties. I like it!”
Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson of the now-closed Michelin two-star Faviken and Netflix series Chef’s Table (Season 3), even praised it as “emblematic” of Sweden’s contemporary food culture.
WHERE: New Orleans, Louisiana
Po’Boy (meaning poor boy) is a signature New Orleans sandwich that is often served with fried seafood or meat tucked inside crunchy French bread. The sandwich was born during the city’s 1929 streetcar strike, when Martin Brothers Restaurant decided to feed the hungry strikers for free, enlisting a local baker to create a cheap and filling meal. As the story goes, each time a striker claimed a sandwich, someone said, “Here’s another poor boy.”
Tons of eateries and bars have served them ever since and are even known for certain po’boy specialties. Red Fish Grill in the French Quarter is acclaimed for its BBQ Oyster Po Boy, seasoned with Crystal BBQ sauce and blue cheese dressing. Liuzza’s On the Track in Mid-City is famed for its BBQ Shrimp Po Boy, made with tart Worcestershire sauce, butter, and garlic. Ye Olde College Inn in Carrollton has its Oyster, Bacon, and Havarti Cheese Po Boy. The annual Oak Street Po Boy Festival features dozens of vendors, many offering creative twists on the beloved sandwich.
Ears of Christ
Oreilles de crises are crispy pork rinds and a traditional Quebec dish eaten at rural “sugar shacks,” where maple syrup is boiled from tree sap and made into tasty foods. It’s an addictive treat and a salty deep-fried contrast to the sweet maple syrup, comparable to Latin America’s chicharrones. Some Quebecois and folklorists say the “ears of Christ” name reflects the French Canadian penchant for poking fun at the Catholic religion that once dominated them, but others disagree.
“It’s more an image and a sound, called Oreilles, because it looks like a curled ear, and de crisse because they make a crissement (screeching sound) when they are deep-fried. We use the word as a derivative of Christ (spelled the same way in French and English), but it’s not the sense here,” explains Rose Boissonneault, director at Le Chemin du Roy, a “sugar shack” that serves the dish at brunch and dinner.
The High Priest Fainted
Imam bayildi is a popular dish made from a whole eggplant that is hollowed out and stuffed with tomatoes and onions and then cooked in olive oil. The dish got its name after an imam’s wife supposedly cooked him a new dish that he loved so much he swooned in delight. But according to other stories, the Muslim cleric fainted in shock due to the amount and price of the olive oil used; further shock came when he learned that his wife, who happened to be the daughter of an olive oil trader, used all the olive oil and there wasn’t any left, explains Karhan Karakoyunn of Istanbul on Food. In another version of the story, his wife’s dowry was 12 jars of olive oil. After she cooked an eggplant dish the imam adored, he asked her to cook it every night. But by the 13th night, all the olive oil had been consumed and he couldn’t have his eggplant. Overcome by the bad news, he fainted.
Pets de nonne, which means “nun’s farts,” are bite-sized round fluffy puffs, deep-fried until golden, then rolled in sugar, about 1 ½” wide. The tasty morsels are made from choux pastry dough (eggs, butter, flour, and water), which puffs up due to steam from lots of moisture, rather than a leavening agent. As one legend goes, in an abbey kitchen in the Loire Valley centuries ago, nuns were preparing a meal for the Archbishop of Tours when a novice named Agnes was, er, flatulent. After the other nuns laughed, she dropped some choux dough into hot oil by accident, says Irina Totterman of Baking Like a Chef, whose blog is devoted to mostly French desserts.
Another legend says a nun offered the recipe for Paix-de-Nonne (nun’s peace, but pronounced the same way in French) to an enemy convent as a peace offering. Other names are nun’s puffs, beignets souffles, and pets de vieille (meaning “old lady farts”) called pets de bieillo in Aveyron, a department in southern France’s Occitanie region that has the ten most beautiful villages in France.
The pastry is similar to the New Orleans beignet served at Café du Monde, but those are made from yeasted dough, doused in powdered sugar, and unaccountably square. Oddly, a French-Canadian variation on the pastry with the same meaning, Pets de Soeurs (Catholic nuns are called sisters or soeurs), looks more like a cinnamon roll. Made from leftover pie dough with cinnamon, brown sugar, and butter layered in a spiral shape, it’s baked after being blanketed in milk and more brown sugar.
WHERE: Singapore and Malaysia
Kari debal or devil’s curry is so named because it’s a highly spicy chicken curry made with vinegar and mustard seeds, whose sharp tang cut through the chili paste flavored with galangal, garlic, shallots, ginger, and candlenuts. Candlenuts are cream-colored, round nuts related to macadamia nuts, which can be substituted if you can’t find candlenuts (once used to make candles). Sausages, pork, and vegetables are often added to this holiday dish, typically eaten after Christmas. The origin of devil’s curry is the Kristang people—Portuguese-Malay Christians—in Melaka (Malacca) in West Malaysia. The greatest port in Southeast Asia in the 15th-century, luring Arab, Chinese and Indian traders, Melaka was conquered by Portugal in 1511 (and later by the Dutch and then British). Malaysia gained independence in 1957.
Toad in the Hole
Whole sausages cooked in Yorkshire pudding is a classic English dish. “No one quite knows where the name comes from, but most agree it’s because the sausages peek out in the same way that toads do in holes while they wait for prey,” explains Luke Charny of A Chef’s Tour, a London-based food tour operator.
“Toad in the Hole” is generally served with onion gravy and vegetables. In this video, Jamie Oliver, the British chef and best-selling cookbook author, makes his pudding batter with flour, wheat beer, eggs, milk, and adds a touch of rosemary and mustard. “Happy days,” exclaims The Naked Chef star, noting he loves the dish, calling it ideal when you’re hungry, and the weather is miserable.
Prego or nail is thin-sliced juicy beef in a garlicky paste, served in a sandwich form inside a round warmed bun or on a plate, usually seasoned with mustard or hot sauce. The beloved steak sandwich or platter is served nationwide and also has a pork version. Supposedly, it got its name because chopped garlic is pounded into the meat like nails.
In the Alentejo region of southern Portugal, bifana do prego is pork loin cooked with garlic, white wine, and bay leaf inside warmed papo seco bread, created in the town of Vendas Novas. Many eateries serve this specialty in Vendas Novas, located about midway between Evora—a walled UNESCO Heritage-designated town—and Setubal on the Lisbon coast.
The unappetizing name honors Manuel Dias Prego, whose tavern was renowned for serving sliced fried or roasted veal wrapped in warmed bread, says Jayme Simoes, a spokesman for Visit Alentejo. So, the food entered popular slang in the early 20th-century since its inventor’s last name meant nail, notes Simoes. Prego is even eaten as dessert after a seafood meal.
Spaghetti all’assassina, or assassin spaghetti, is a dish in southern Italian states like Puglia and Basilicata. The spaghetti is fried in tomato sauce with the spiciest chili peppers and garlic topped by chili powder and (yes) more chili peppers. A local restaurant owner invented the dish in Bari, a port on Puglia’s Adriatic coast, in the 1970s, determined to show some northern Italian customers, whose diet is devoid of tomato sauce, the taste of spicy southern Italian cuisine.
Today, purists at Bari’s Assassin Academy uphold the correct way to make it: add dry spaghetti (without boiling it first) to sauce in the pan, add water gradually once it absorbs the liquid, and use an iron pan that you clean with newspaper, instead of washing it, to keep it greasy. Don’t be afraid of burning it, as crispy bits add to its charm, and don’t drink water with it. Variants include killer spaghetti made with seafood, fried olives, and broccoli rabe, and Stracciatella cheese.
Baba de camelo, camel spit, or camel drool is yet another dish where we are so glad the name does not refer to the ingredients. It is a yummy dessert of eggs and condensed milk with almond or cookie toppings. It was invented by a resourceful Portuguese housewife in the mid-20th century by the name of Mrs. Valentina, notes Jayme Simoes, a Visit Alentejo spokesman. When it was time for dessert, she announced it as “camel spit” in hopes of deterring everyone from eating it. Those who tasted it were delighted, and baba de camelo is now everywhere in Portugal. The dessert joins the roster of egg-based desserts, like pastel de Nata (or pasteis de Nata), an egg custard tart dusted with cinnamon and found in former Portuguese colonies like Macau and Brazil.
Donkey Rolling Around
Ludagun is a sticky rice flour cake with a sweet red bean paste filling, rolled in toasted soybean flour for a nutty-flavored coating. Like a cross between a jelly roll and a mochi, it is a beloved sweet treat in Beijing. The traditional story behind its name says it was invented in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) to serve the Empress, says Jellie Zhang of EarthtoVeg, a global vegan blog, who grew up in China.
A servant named Lǘ accidentally dropped the dessert in some soybean flour as he was bringing it to her, so it was named after his carelessness and as a play on his surname, which sounds phonetically like “donkey” in Chinese. The second, more popular story, is that the confection’s powdery appearance resembles a donkey rolling on the ground and getting covered in dust, says Zhang.
Lingua di suocera is a Sicilian biscotti that reportedly got its name from the tart lemon marmalade or citron inside the almond-based sweet butter cookie, says Allison Scola of Experience Sicily. A splendid place to eat it is at Pasticceria Maria Grammatico in Erice, a beautiful town in western Sicily. The shop’s owner was placed in an orphanage in the 1950s after her mother was widowed and rendered too poor to care for her six children.
The owner learned how to make sweets from the nuns at the orphanage, especially pastries made from almond paste (pasta di mandola) and marzipan. After more than a decade, Grammatico left and opened her shop to showcase skills taught by the industrious nuns. Erice, an ancient mountain-top town, was once home to the cult of Venus, the Roman goddess of love and fertility. Before the Romans conquered, the town venerated Aphrodite and Ishtar, the Greek and Phoenician goddesses of love, respectively.