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Thanksgiving ode to disgusting food

We are grateful for not having to eat some things twice.

Cambodia skuon tarantulasEnlarge
A Cambodian woman in Skuon sells her fried tarantulas near the town's bus depot. (Emily Lodish/GlobalPost)

There is a place on Earth called Skuon.

In Skuon, a small dusty town in central Cambodia, one has the opportunity to sample the local delicacy: fried tarantulas.

And by opportunity, I mean that's the only thing there is to do in Skuon. The town serves mainly as a rest stop for travelers going between the capital Phnom Penh and a handful of other locales in Cambodia. When your vehicle stops at the depot in the center of town, no one wastes any time.

Several women approach you carrying platters piled high with lifeless black tarantulas. It's a novelty, sure, but for me it also felt like a test. Did I want to eat a fried tarantula? No. But could I really go to Skuon, referred to by some simply as "Spiderville," and not eat one of these things? Absolutely not.

The legs are pretty much the essence of fried. They're crunchy, but don't taste like much except maybe the skin of fried chicken. The head and body aren't too offensive. They have a bit of meat inside that a Telegraph reporter once generously described as "rather like a cross between chicken and cod."

But it's the abdomen that really sticks with you. The bulbous, if I may use that word, abdomen is full of goo. White goo or brown goo. Sometimes both, depending on the sex of the spider and when exactly it was that it had its last meal.

The globular morsel gently bursts in your mouth, and almost as immediately you begin the frantic exercise of looking around for something to puke in. As Slate's Seth Stevenson once so masterfully called it, the "Could I Vomit in This?" game. Your friend's baseball cap, for instance, may suffice. That random potted plant over there, will definitely do.

No two ways about it. Eating a spider is gross. But if you can manage a swallow, you'll have an anecdote on hand for the rest of your life. And for that, my fellow Americans, I am grateful on this Thanksgiving holiday.

Here are a handful of other disgusting foods my coworkers are grateful for or not, as the case may be.

David Case, Europe editor

It’s been seven years since it happened to us. Finally, I’ve recovered enough from the trauma to actually write about it.

Sheep’s brain for breakfast.

That’s right. My wife and I — we started the day with sheep’s brain, a grisly-grey and lipid-yellow gunk, scooped from the skull of an unlucky young beast, right there in front of us. The meal had the culinary appeal of a ninth grade dissection experiment.

It happened in Qom, the religious capital of Iran, the bastion of Mullahs that in 1979 brought to power the Ayatollah Khomeini, America’s arch-nemesis.

Ironically, we consumed this nasty mass of baked brain not out of hunger, but because we needed a place to sit down.

You see, we had just gotten off the bus. Or, more accurately, we had ridden the cramped, cold and far-from comfortable night bus to Qom, from the enchanting desert city of Yazd 10 hours away. Qom is a city perpetually on edge, and at the time the Iraq insurgency across the border was picking up steam. After a tense pre-dawn security stop, the bus driver left us to fend for ourselves at a market outside town, while the rest of the passengers traveled onward to the relative civility of Tehran.

The market was bustling at 4:30 a.m., with all sorts of shady operators tending to their nocturnal business. We found ourselves scrambling for a taxi among drivers who knew we were desperate — an odd experience in Iran, where nearly everyone we met was gracious to Western travelers.

After an extended struggle, we arrived in town exhausted.

There, hotels were either booked or shuddered for the night. So we found ourselves out on the street, picking our way through prone bodies. Qom is a major pilgrim destination for Shiite Muslims. Hoards slept on the sidewalks, awaiting the morning call to prayer from the stunning Fatima Masumeh Shrine, one of Iran’s holiest and most beautiful mosques. Women — ocassionally two, three or four to a man — sat along the sidewalk like ominous dark boulders, shrouded in black