Halloween is inarguably the best holiday of the year, so I won’t waste time discussing the greatness that is gathering with friends and dressing as your inner slutty vegetable or dinosaur while drinking fruit punch out of a bowl shaped like a zombie head, snacking on gummy worms crawling through Oreo cookie mud, and walking into a haunted house where clowns wield chainsaws.
What I love about the magical spookiness of Halloween is the ability to escape the mundane world of suits, ties, and human day-to-day things in favor of a mystery; the chance to break free of obligations and become whatever you want to be without consequence. It’s also an excuse to spread glitter all over your date or your new lover. You can wake up next to Batman, or if you’re even luckier, a Spartan soldier.
Celebrations are in order, and you want to be the perfect Halloween host or hostess. I have collected the perfect combination of foods to serve the distinguished guests at your fabulous dinner party on this sacred day, so that they are at once delighted and frightened.
But let us avoid clichés and typical festive foods such as pumpkin pies and grapes that are skinned to resemble eyeballs, meringues shaped like bones, candy corn jewelry, barrels of apples to bob for, skeletons dangling against windows. Those are children’s games and we are not children. We are grown-ups who aren’t scared of vampires or ghosts anymore because reality is scarier than fiction. All you really need to do is look outside in the world to be truly terrified. I mean, what is actually going on these days?
For a spooky starter, you might want to introduce your hungry guests to some Blood Clams, harvested in Southeast Asia and brought to us from the black market. These beauties are prepared with a flash 20-second boil, and that’s not enough to kill the viruses they ingest while filtering out 40 tons of salt water each day. Risky illnesses you could catch from eating Blood Clams include Hepatitis A, E, typhoid, and dysentery. Blood Clams get their name from the hemoglobin which makes them bleed a bright red color as you eat them. Pop them in your mouth for a delightful taste and a potential trip to the hospital. Living on the edge.
After the death-defying appetizer stunt, you might want to offer some red wine and cheese pairings. The cheese that I would offer comes from Sardinia, and is illegal in most of Italy just as Blood Clams are illegal in China. To make Casa Marzu, sheep’s milk is heated, then left outside to allow tiny flies to land on the cheesy concoction, lay their eggs, and hatch their tiny fly babies. The secretions made by the fly larvae are responsible for the creamy, yummy texture of the cheese. Make sure to tell your guests to eat the larvae while they are still alive; if the maggots are dead inside the cheese, this is an indication that the cheese has gone bad. Just be careful when chowing down on this exquisite textured cheese; the maggots are excitable and might jump up as much as six inches towards your face. In addition, the maggots must be killed before swallowing lest they crawl down into your belly and eat their way out of your intestines!
Hopefully you’re still alive by the time the first main course appears on the table: Kiviaq with a side of escamoles. Kiviaq comes from Greenland tradition, a recipe born from necessity to preserve food during the cold glacial winter. For centuries, Inuits have been surviving by creating this exotic cuisine which is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Kiviaq can be described as a bag made of seal’s skin stuffed with about 300 fermenting auk birds. To prepare, take the carcass of a seal, remove its organs, stuff it with 300 auk birds, then seal the seal with its own fat to make sure air cannot escape. Several months later, the bag can be opened (outside only, please), and enjoyed without the inconvenience of deboning the bird. The fermentation is able to tenderize the entire body so they can be eaten whole. Yum!
Don’t forget to sample the side dish of escamoles! It’s a good idea to let your guests know that they have nothing to do with guacamole. The crunchiness you taste is the nutty flavor of cooked and sautéed ant larvae harvested in Mexico and sold in Mexico City as “insect caviar.” Originally created by the Aztecs, escamoles are the perfect complement to the supple texture of Kiviaq and serving them is an excellent way to jazz up any breakfast dish leftovers.
Your party will of course include more than just eating, so it might be a good idea to introduce some snacks around the table. Game nights are such a hit on holidays. Pass around a bowl of crispy fried tarantulas from Cambodia, or munch on a crunchy selection of locusts from Israel, grasshoppers from Thailand, and tuna eyeballs from Japan. At this time during the party your friends might want to engage in a scary story contest, a thriller dance-off, or my absolute favorite, a murder mystery.
It’s probably time by now for your party guests to eat live octopus. Hailing from South Korea, this adventurous meal is also not for the faint-hearted. In the fish markets in Seoul, you can choose your own octopus for its unfortunate demise and follow the vendor to a restaurant inside the market. The octopus is then taken to the back, sounds of sharp knives pounding against a cutting board are heard, and voilà, your dish is served on a plate of one- or two-inch segments of octopus tentacles, wriggling around and trying to escape your chopsticks. If you can manage to tame a piece and wrap the lettuce around it, sprinkle some gochuchang hot pepper paste sauce on top, add some kimchi, and fold it up for an octopus lettuce sandwich. Take note: it is very important to crunch all the octopus tentacles before swallowing. If you’re not careful to do this, the tentacles might cling to your throat on the way down, causing your own unfortunate demise. Octopus tentacles will stay “alive” for more than two hours, so this is a meal that you are encouraged to play with before eating.
Octopus, while cool to eat, isn’t going to fill us up entirely. At this point in the party, your guests are likely to need one more dish to tie their horrifying experience together. How about serving a lovely selection of prairie oysters? Pssst, they aren’t actually oysters. After your guests eat up their share of bull testicles straight from the heartland of Canada, it might be time to wash it down with a nice cocktail to top off the night. I recommend my all-time favorite, the
Sour Toe Cocktail. It all started in the 1920s at the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City, Yukon, where a Canadian man had frostbite and had to amputate his toe. He was particularly fond of this particular toe and preserved it in a jar to be kept at the bar for 50 years. Finally, in 1973, the bartender working decided he could sieve out all the weenies at the bar by challenging the patrons to drink a cocktail with the severed toe plopped inside. Over time, those who accept the challenge have donated toes, swallowed toes, and stolen toes from the establishment. The Sour Toe Cocktail can only be ordered during “Toe Time,” between 9 and 11 o’clock, so plan your trip to Canada accordingly. For our purposes tonight, you might just create an impromptu cocktail and ask which guest would be willing to lose a toe in the name of Halloween.
Look around at your party and decide who is left puking, who has called an ambulance, who is still struggling to eat a tarantula leg, and who is rushing to find the octopus leg that ran away from their plate. If there are any guests still smiling, then go ahead and give them the crown; they truly deserve it.
The world is a rather unusual and scary place, at levels far beyond what you might be able to create in the kitchen. Enjoy your holidays and may the creepy, ghastly, ghoulish, ghostly, sinister, ominous, eerie, disturbing, and terrifying moments bring you the most satisfying pleasures that only nightmares can deliver.