A wall of surstromming. This canned herring is fermented for so long and is so potent that it fizzes on opening. Photo: Mo Styles
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I'm sitting in Sture, a dark restaurant in Malmo. Run by chef Jonas Dellow, it marries French techniques with New Nordic cuisine making it very Michelin friendly. The service is slick, the presentation flawless. More importantly, the food itself is delicious – the barbecued pike perch being the best version of that fish I've ever had. Malmo may not quite be Copenhagen in its culinary prowess, but it's no slouch, either.

As I wipe the last of the dessert from my chin, chef Dellow comes out for a quick chat. We shoot the breeze for a while, but in spite of myself, I have to confess to him that I'd actually encountered two of the items from his superlative tasting menu earlier in the day – foie gras and beef tartar. He seems vaguely interested in this, but laughs nervously when I tell him that as well as being on his tasting menu, they're both items in the Malmo's new Disgusting Food Museum.

Less than 10 minutes' walk from Sture, the museum was opened last year as a pop-up, but has proved so wildly popular that it has now had its future secured for 2019. A second iteration has also opened in Los Angeles.

French snails.
French snails. Photo: Mo Styles

This Swedish original is situated in Slaghuset, an old slaughterhouse that later became a sort of industrial-themed nightclub, before lying empty and finally being repurposed. As museum director Andreas Ahrens jokes, there's always been something disgusting going on here.

Before arriving, I had assumed the main idea was the culinary equivalent of an Edwardian freakshow. Come see the horrors of the Orient! Gaze on the hideousness from darkest Africa! And, among the 82 exhibition items, there are some that do fall into that category. The Sardinian casu marzu is a wheel of pecorino with live maggots boring their way through its centre; the mouse wine is the colour of a deep rose, with dozens of hairless, blind baby mice making a macabre seabed.

Exhibits like that have led to accusations of animal cruelty from people presumably too horrified or impatient or stupid to actually take-in the rest of the exhibition. Despite its name, and despite how much people laugh and learn while they are there, the Museum of Disgusting Food is actually a cleverly disguised sustainability museum.

"We really wanted to find a way to get people to come, but it couldn't just be a sustainability museum – if we'd done that, it would just be preaching to the choir," explains Andreas. "Instead we wanted people to come, to have fun, but to learn without us aggressively pushing an agenda."

An original list of 300 potential items came down to about 80. Almost every week it gets suggestions from visitors, but Ahrens is pretty happy with its current roster. It is designed to be controversial: "We want everyone who comes here to see something on display and say 'this shouldn't be here!' When people see something they eat often, they'll hopefully have the thought that 'well if this is normal for me, then everything here is normal for someone'. Each item we have is either a delicacy or commonly eaten around the world."

There are many selections that, having come from so close to home, feel a little insulting. I am Scottish and the sight of haggis makes me want to lift the little "chieftain of the pudding race" from its plinth and recite a soothing Robert Burns poem to it.

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While Scots occasionally grumble about their national dish being here, Andreas tells me that the visitors most likely to complain are Australian. They do not seem to much mind witchetty grubs being on the wall, and few people gripe about Musk Stix but the inclusion of Vegemite is a persistent bugbear.

"They get really upset when they see it," says Andreas. "I've heard that people have been on morning shows, sitting on the sofas complaining that we have it here. I think they're half joking. I hope."

At the start of the museum, the different classifications of disgust are defined – some are conceptually disgusting, some visually. Others may cause revulsion through how they smell or taste. Then there are those, such as the mass production of beef and pork, which are so illogical, so obviously damaging to us and our planet, that disgust seems like the only sensible response.

The Sardinian casu marzu is a wheel of pecorino with live maggots boring their way through its centre.
The Sardinian casu marzu is a wheel of pecorino with live maggots boring their way through its centre. Photo: Anja Barte Telin

Disgusting would be about the gentlest term to describe le gavage, the force-feeding of geese to hyper-fatten their livers, a video of which is on show in the museum. (That night, when I'm served foie gras in Sture, I can't really enjoy it because of what I'd seen and resolved to stop eating it in the future.)

Having looked around the entire exhibition, I make my way over to Andreas' counter where he has laid out a sampler of about 10 dishes that had been found in the museum. Behind, a chalkboard lists the days since the last time someone vomited during this bizarre tasting menu.

It starts with dried insects, which are so devoid of flavour as to seem a little unremarkable. Next comes some pungent Swedish caviar and a slimy piece of durian. Both are actually quite tasty. These are followed by century eggs, with their pungent reek and rotten look. "We had a father and son who almost puked from these," says Andreas with what sounds like vague disappointment. "They were crawling around on their hands and knees – really they were so close, but they held it in."

After the eggs comes a selection of cheeses that are each sharper and harder to cope with than the last. The best one, if there is such a thing, is the su callu sardu. The disgust here again comes from the method: a baby goat is allowed to suckle before being slaughtered, after which its stomach is removed and the new milk allowed to mature inside the belly.

Towards the end of this strange menu, things step up a notch with the notorious harkal, a rotten shark from Greenland. The smell feels something like being punched and tear-gassed at the same time, but the portion is so mercifully tiny that I'm able to swallow it down without much drama.

The closest I come to throwing up comes from the final item, an especially virulent stinky tofu. "Really this is the worst one I could find," beams Andreas. For what feels like two days afterwards, the burps from this dreadful meal seem to haunt me.

When I visit, the notorious surstromming is unfortunately (or blissfully) out of stock. This canned herring is fermented for so long and is so potent that it fizzes on opening. It's so violently pungent that Swedish law forbids it from being opened inside. There's an anecdote about a landlord being taken to court for kicking out a tenant who had been eating it in his rented apartment. The tenant was going to win until the defence opened a can of surstromming at which point the judge threw the case, and the fish, out of court. Of the 30 or so vomits that have happened inside the museum, more than half have been caused by this foul dish.

Happy to have dodged that bullet, I shake hands with Andreas and make a move towards fresher air, but before I go, he wants to show off a new item that will hopefully take pride of place in a month or so. What is it? "Beaver anal-gland liquor," smiles the Swede. Of course it is.

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DISGUST

The Disgusting Food Museum is open Wednesday-Sunday and is a short walk from the train station. The tasting menu at the end is optional, but in case you're feeling queasy, your ticket is printed on a sickbag. disgustingfoodmuseum.com

DELIGHT

For food at the opposite end of the culinary scale but within a pleasant stroll of the museum, head to Sture. Substitutes for foie gras are available if you happen to be visiting post-tour. restaurantsture.com

FLY

Qatar Airways and Emirates offer daily flights to Copenhagen from Sydney and Melbourne, via their respective hubs. From there it's a short train ride over the famous bridge to Malmo. See qatarairways.com, emirates.com

Jamie Lafferty was a guest of Malmo and the Disgusting Food Museum.

from traveller.com.au