Stinky $50 Fruit, and Other Unlikely Luxury Foods

I think I'll order the fish that doesn't have the potential to kill me, thanks.

Civet Coffee

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This definitely isn’t your average morning brew. Indonesian civet coffee, aka Kopi Luwak, is made from coffee beans that have been eaten and digested by an Asian palm civet, a cat-like animal. Fiendish coffee snobs--rich ones-- are willing to pay more than $300 a pound for what they consider an extra-smooth flavor, owing to the fermentation that the beans undergo during the civet's digestive process. But beware: inauthentic versions abound, and animal-rights groups claim that increasing demand for civet coffee has led to industrialization and civet abuse.

Head Cheese

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Head cheese doesn’t actually contain any cheese. But the first half of the name is accurate: The Italian delicacy is made up of flesh from the heads of pigs, or sometimes sheep or cows. The parts are formed into a terrine and usually bound together by aspic, or a meat gelatin, then seasoned with spices, vegetables and vinegar and served cold. If you don't feel inclined to make it yourself, look for it--it often goes by "testa"--on the menu at some of the most high-end Italian restaurants in the U.S.

Bird's Nest Soup

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Bird’s nest soup is exactly what it sounds like. It’s made with the nests of swiftlets, or cave birds, typically found in southern Asia and the Pacific islands. The saliva in the nests helps give the soup its signature viscous texture, and is considered an aphrodisiac and digestive aid. Prices run high: A pound of the birds’ nest goes for up to $5000. How do you make the soup? Soak the nest in water, and then add feathers and droppings from the nest. Better yet, don’t try this at home; travel to China or the Philippines and taste it there.

Fugu

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Fugu, also known as blowfish or pufferfish, is a delicacy in Japan, but it’s not for the faint of heart. The liver and ovaries of the fish contain a lethal toxin (tetrodotoxin) that’s 12 times stronger than cyanide; it will certainly kill you if not handled properly. Chefs must undergo a lengthy, rigorous training before earning a license to serve fugu. Banned in the European Union, fugu is availableat a handful of Japanese restaurants in the U.S. in the winter, when it’s in season. So how is it? Those who’ve tried fugu often report that it’s not notably flavorful on its own and needs a skilled sushi chef to enhance the taste (not to mention keep the fish from living up to its deadly reputation).

Durian

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A popular fruit typically found in Southeast Asia, durian stands out thanks to its distinctive thorny exterior and a super-strong odor that recalls rotting onions or raw sewage. Because of its smell, durian is banned from many hotels and public transportation. So why is it so sought-after? The flesh is sweet and creamy, and can taste like any number of decadent desserts: custard, crème brulee, ice cream. Get over the smell and you’re in for a serious treat--but one that can run you almost $50 a pop.

Lobster

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You might think of lobster as a splurge, but at one time it was considered a poor man’s meal. Lobsters were seen as nuisances that got in the way of fishermen as they were looking for more desirable seafood. With their hard shells and pinchers, lobsters look like enormous insects—but nowadays that doesn’t seem to bother diners who happily pay top dollar for the things. Admittedly, there are few better vehicles for butter and lemon, and we’re hard-pressed to think of any invention as brilliant as a lobster roll--especially on a balmy summer day in Maine.

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