During his travels television presenter and food writer Stefan Gates has encountered some weird and wild food. As Valentine's Day looms on the horizon he takes us through the strangest aphrodisiacs he's ever tasted.
Scientists across the world are adamant that there’s no such thing as an aphrodisiac (defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘a food, drink or drug that stimulates sexual desire’). It must be unbelievably annoying, then, that the human race takes no notice of them whatsoever, and continues its obsession with eating and peddling anything that they think gets them ahead in the sack. Here are a few of the weirder and more wonderful aphrodisiacs that I’ve come across in my travels. I can’t guarantee that they all, without question, definitely work, my wife having been on the other side of the world when I ate them. But when I got back home… oh boy.
1. Afghan lamb’s testicles
Microrayan food market in western Kabul is Afghan lamb central, a sea of lamb carcasses hanging upside-down in the sweltering heat. And the most prized parts of each carcass are the veiny protruding gonads which the stallholders told me were "worth a thousand of your pathetic Viagra." Maybe it’s just me, but I find these bollocks mesmerizing to look at. They are the size of a fist, and covered in a tight membrane that must be peeled away before cooking. Skin them, chop them into bitesized pieces and dust in seasoned flour before frying in butter. They taste tender, slightly musky and disconcertingly creamy.
2. Yak’s penis
Yak's penises are around 14 eye-watering inches long, and they are gently boiled and then peeled before a second cooking. My Beijing penis chef (who claimed that his mates didn’t take the Mickey out of him for his job) straightened the old chap out, then made little nicks all along one side before cutting the whole thing into 4cm sections. When boiled in chilli stock a second time they curled up into little flower shapes. Taste: relatively clean, chewy, slightly rubbery, hot from the chilli and deeply odd.
3. Dog Stew
Whilst making a film about the South Korean dog meat industry, I met a large group of giggling fifty-year old men and women who claimed that a bowl of bosintang, (as they call dog soup) was enough to keep them at it all night. "My husband can do it three times in a row", said one very chuffed and overweight lady. Sadly, I can’t tell you if it works or what it tastes like because I had just come from a particularly gruesome dog farm, and seen livestock conditions I wouldn’t visit on my worst enemies, so I didn’t feel able to eat it.
4. Fat Tailed Sheep Fat
Across much of Afghanistan and Central Asia, the sheep look more like goats and they mostly carry a large hump of fat above their bottoms. This is marvelous stuff, and is renowned for improving your late-night performance. It’s unbelievably soft, and when making kebabs you slide a chunk of fat on between each piece of meat. Unutterably delicious, with a deep mutton-ey flavour and a silky texture. If you don’t get a heart attack from nocturnal overexertion, you’ll get one from clogged arteries.
5. Cameroonian tree bark
Heaven knows what this handful of sawdust really was. My witch doctor in Yaounde, the Cameroonian capital, claimed that it was the bark of pausinystalla johimbe, renowned for keeping you going. It looked like non-specific sawdust to me, and he charged me USD$15 for the privilege. He also claimed it would make women fall in love with me, which I find very hard to believe, seeing as most women would rather eat their own head than fall in love with a man who’s eaten yak’s penis. It made a tea that tasted of sawdust, and my wife didn’t kick me out of bed, so maybe…
6. Deer Penis Juice
Oh. My. God. If you are offered this, I urge you not to try it. It’s Chinese, made by steeping a deer penis in rice liquor for at least a year. It tastes violently bitter and, on contact with the palate, the urge to vomit is intense. After a little perseverance, the initial revulsion gives way to relief and a strong (but not entirely unpleasant) feeling of warmth spreading around the abdomen. I didn’t have sex after drinking it but my driver Mr Hoo (no, that’s not a joke) finished it off and claimed to have a very contented wife the next morning.
7. Ukrainian pork lard
‘Better than drugs’ is how my hosts in the Chernobyl Zone of Alienation described their lard. And its supposed to keep you warm throughout the night. They eat it spread on toast or melted into thin cabbage soup, and it transforms the food from bland to rudely tasty. And those Ukrainian girls certainly do rock.
8. Marcetto Cheese
This cheese is from Abruzzo in Italy. It’s a pecorino that’s infested with the wriggling, writhing larvae of the Piophila casei fly. This makes it creamy and highly pungent, and the locals swear blind that it’s a strong aphrodisiac. I’m not sure if there’s any other good reason to eat it.
9. Camel’s Milk
In Ethiopia camel’s milk is considered a strong aphrodisiac. I’ve milked an exceedingly grumpy camel and she used the experience mainly as target practice, trying to see if she could kick me in the nuts, thereby rendering any aphrodisiac potential of her milk useless. The milk itself is deep, gutsy and creamy, but at the same time very clean. It has a very high concentration of vitamin C. The thing is, though, camels have massive teats, and tugging on this girls nipples actually put me off sex for a week.
In Kenya and neighbouring countries, roasted and dried porcupine is the knicker-tickler of choice. You’re supposed to mix the dried meat with oil and heat it up, then leave to cool, and then rub the oil onto your skin and go sharking for bait. The porcupine I helped to cook managed to stab me, even after it was dead, which seemed only fair really.
Generally finding the above aphrodisiacs less than palatable, Stefan conducted his own survey about the foods most likely to lead to sex. Read the results here.
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Avoid using a barbecue fork when turning steaks or meat on the barbecue (opt for tongs instead). The fork will pierce the meat encouraging the precious juices to flow out, rather than stay inside the meat and keep it tender.