All over the world, foods have been given names that mislead hungry eaters. You order duck, and get a salty dried fish instead. Or you order oysters and are served a plate of fresh fried testicles. You’d think that since food is something we eat every day—and since food is something most people have very strong opinions on—that the names given to different dishes would pretty much always give us an idea of what we’re eating. But it’s just not so.
Here are 22 foods that are not what you’d expect, from their names. All of these are suitable to serve at a last-minute April Fool’s Day celebration. That is, if you dare.
1. Bombay Duck
“If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.” Remember that saying? But what if it’s named as a duck but isn’t one? Bombay Duck (above) isn’t a duck, it’s a fish—more specifically, a lizardfish (which, since I’ve actually caught one, I can say with assurance are among the ugliest fish in the world). In parts of India, Bombay Duck, prepared according to favorite recipes, is considered a delicious delicacy.
2. Prairie Oysters
“He was a bold man who first ate the oyster,” said Jonathan Swift. But what about the man who first drank the Prairie Oyster? It’s possible courage was involved there also, as the Prairie Oyster is a drink used as a hangover cure. It’s taken the morning after and is composed of a raw egg combined with Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and sometimes vinegar and a bit of tomato juice. The Prairie Oyster made its pop culture debut in 1936 in the movie Mr. Deeds Goes to Town when Gary Cooper was served the drink by his butler. Sometimes the Prairie Oyster is confused with the Mountain Oyster, which isn’t a good mistake to make. More about that under “Mountain Oyster.”
3. Welsh Rabbit
Photo by Tristan Kenney, CC BY 2.0
Also known as “Welsh Rarebit,” this food has nothing to do with either rabbits or rarebits. There are also Scotch Rabbits and English Rabbits, but nobody has yet recorded an Irish Rabbit. The recipe is made from melted cheese and other ingredients (often beer) poured hot over toast. Related to Welsh Rabbit are Golden Bucks, Buck Rabbits and Blushing Bunnies. Nobody has yet discovered the why or the where of the origins of this name.
If you’re looking for a sweetened bread, this is not what you want to order. Though sweetbreads are fairly uncommon on menus today, they can turn up on the menus of upscale restaurants, where they’ll be known (in French, because in French everything sounds better) as “ris de veau.” Sweetbreads are the thymus gland of animals, and the one most often served is from a calf. The word was first recorded in the 16th century, but its origin is unclear. George Washington’s favorite food was reportedly a pie filled with sweetbreads.
5. Lion’s Head
Photo by Michael C. Berch, CC BY-SA 4.0
Eating a lion’s head is simple. Especially when the lion’s head is actually a yummy meatball. This dish is common in Chinese cuisine, with a range of variations that include cabbage, bamboo shoots, tofu and water chestnut. The base is usually ground pork. Usually the meatball is fairly large and served in a broth or a sauce. The name “lion’s head” was bestowed on this dish because the large meatball looks like a lion’s head (if you have a poetic mind) and the cabbage can resemble the lion’s mane.
6. Ants Climbing a Tree
Photo by Takoradee, CC BY-SA 3.0
This traditional Sichuan dish is wonderful and warming, and though the name sounds a bit scary, the food actually is not at all scary. The “ants” are actually little pieces of ground meat, the “tree” is bean thread noodles. As is usual in many Sichuan dishes, there is heat in the recipe, provided by chili paste. The thoughtful name may bring other philosophic ideas to mind, as when Thoreau wrote: “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” A good answer, obviously, would be that we’re cooking this dish for dinner.
7. Head Cheese
When is a cheese not cheese? When it’s made from a head. Then it’s a meat. If you wanted to be nice about head cheese, you might call it a galantine. A galantine is “a dish of white meat or fish that is boned, pressed, and served cold in aspic.” Headcheese is made all over the world, and though not very popular in the US, is enjoyed by many cultures. It’s actually part of the genre of cooking now called “nose to tail” and is made from the head of a pig, calf, cow or lamb.
8. Spotted Dick
Photo by Tracy N Brandon, CC BY 2.0
It’s not what you think, as far as I can tell. Spotted Dick is the name of a traditional British steamed pudding. It’s made, unsurprisingly, of suet and dried fruit. In 2009 a catering company in Wales tried to rename it “Spotted Richard.” The name “dick” is supposedly an old-fashioned local term for “pudding”. If the pudding were to be served plain, it would be called “Dick.” If it were to be served with treacle sauce, it would be called “Treacle Dick.” Apparently there’s a lot of dicks around, of all kinds.
9. Bubble and Squeak
Photo by Tarquin Binary, CC BY-SA 2.5
This is a hash made of leftover vegetables, most well known in England, Scotland and Ireland. It’s important to include cabbage in the mix because it’s the cabbage that supposedly squeaks as the hash is bubbling over the heat. Generally the most common form of bubble and squeak is cabbage and potatoes, sometimes with onions added. The first mention of the name is in 1806 in Mrs. Rundell’s cookbook “A New System of Domestic Cookery.” If you get tired of calling it “Bubble and Squeak” you can also call it “Rumbledethumps.”
10. Rocky Mountain Oysters
These mainland oysters are testicles from bulls, pigs or sheep. Deep fried, sometimes pounded flat, this dish is found in areas where livestock ranching is common. There are annual festivals celebrating this dish, and restaurants also offer it on their menus. Rocky Mountain Oysters are not the same thing as lamb fries or animelles, which are from young lamb. The availability of recipes made from livestock testicles used to be a more seasonal offering due to the fact that castration of young male livestock is commonplace in animal husbandry in order to keep the young males from fighting and causing trouble within the herd (“causing a ruckus”). The method I personally was advised to use by the farm extension agent one time in the past when I lived in a rural area and was considering raising lambs for meat was to grab the male lamb and tie off his testicles with a rubber band. Later the testicles would be cut off and obviously there would be a lot of them to clean, cook and eat. Somehow all this made me decide to not be a farmer.
Photo by Glane23, CC BY-SA 3.0
Soldiers are made of bread that is toasted then cut into strips. They’re used most often to dip into soft-boiled eggs (in Britain) or into marmite (in Australia). Surprisingly, the term is a recent one, dating from the 1960s where it was used in the novel The Dresden Green (where it’s dipped into soup) followed by being used in an English egg commercial in 1965. It’s now possible to buy a toast cutter that will shape the bread into the actual shape of a human soldier, if you want a more realistic soldier to dip into your egg.
12. Colonial Goose
When New Zealand was colonized by the British, they discovered it was easier to raise lambs and sheep than geese. But they still wanted their roast goose and their memories of home. So, lacking geese, they decided to imagine that a lamb was a goose. They de-boned it and stuffed it with honey, apricots, and traditional bread stuffing, then marinated it in red wine. After roasting, the result could somehow appear to be a roast goose, particularly if accompanied by much quaffing of Madeira and beer.
13. Hen of the Woods
Photo by Pethan at Dutch Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0
Also known as ram’s head or sheep’s head in English and dancing mushroom, monkey’s bench or shelf fungus in Chinese and King of Mushrooms in Japanese, this wild mushroom can be found in specialty food stores in season by its Japanese name maitake. In Chinese and Japanese traditional medicine it’s considered a medicinal mushroom—used in the prevention of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity. The average size of this mushroom is about the size of a potato but they can grow to 100 pounds.
14. Angels on Horseback, Devils on Horseback
Generally considered to originally be a British food that has traveled to other places, these foods are served as appetizers before a meal. Devils on Horseback is dried fruit (usually dates) wrapped in bacon and baked. Angels on Horseback is oysters wrapped in bacon and baked. Apparently the bacon is supposed to be the horseback—have another gin and tonic.
15. Nun’s Puffs
Photo by Žiga
Though this recipe has many names, they all relate to nuns, being also known as Nun’s Sighs (suspiros de monja) or Nun’s Farts. The recipe involves preparing a double cooked cream puff dough to make light, delicious little pastries that are either pan-fried in lard, double fried, or baked. The recipe goes back as far as Medieval times and is also believed to be one of the historic foods prepared in Spanish convents.
16. Parson’s Nose
Also called Pope’s Nose or Sultan’s nose, this is basically the butt end of the chicken. It’s that triangular thing that cooks have been saving to eat themselves before serving a whole roast chicken to everyone else. Many chefs say that leaving this part of the chicken on before roasting can make the final dish taste bitter, but this may be more for fresh-killed free-range birds. In a battery chicken the flavor of the roast chicken does not seem to be compromised by leaving it attached to the bird during roasting. Composed of a few fused together vertebrae, this part of the chicken also produces the oil the birds preen themselves with—so the flavor is quite rich and fatty.
17. Albany Beef
This is not from a cow or steer but instead from a fish. Sturgeon were so plentiful in the Hudson River Valley around Albany, New York in the late 1700’s to the mid 1800’s that they were given the name “Albany Beef.” Sturgeon are huge, weighing up to 800 pounds. They’re valued for their eggs (used in caviar). They can grow to eight feet long (and have been known to reach 15 feet long) and can live to 60 years old. At the time Albany beef was at its height of popularity and availability, Albany was nicknamed “Sturgeondom” and its inhabitants “Sturgeonites.” Today sturgeon is endangered and efforts are being made to repopulate the species.
18. Cat’s Tongues
Photo by BrokenSphere, CC BY-SA 3.0
It might surprise you to know that cat’s tongues are eaten in many parts of the world. This cookie—which many people think of as being French—is also eaten in the Netherlands, where it’s called katte tong, in Indonesia where it’s called lidah kucing and in the Phillipines where it’s called lengua de gato. The batter can be piped out into the traditional shape using a pastry bag or a mold can be used. The cookie is light and delicately sweet and is often served with ice creams or sorbets. Cat’s tongues can also be filled with buttercream or dipped in chocolate, but most purists insist it be left as is—simple, unadorned, delicious.
19. Egg Hoppers
Photo by Ji-Elle, CC BY-SA 3.0
Egg hoppers are a cute little pancake served in India and parts of Southeast Asia as a breakfast, dinner or snack food. Made from rice flour and coconut milk (or more traditionally from a fermented rice batter), the pancakes are approximately as thin as an average French crepe but are shaped into a small basket that is served with a whole egg cooked into the center. Variations on egg hoppers include a honey hopper. Sambals, chutneys and sauces are often used as toppings.
20. Grasshopper Pie
Grasshopper Pie doesn’t have any bugs in it. It’s an American open-faced chiffon pie in a graham cracker crust based on the cocktail of the same name, which was first made in New Orleans in the 1950’s at a French Quarter bar named Tujague’s. The flavor is very sweet, being composed of crème de menthe, crème de cacao and heavy cream. The color resembles a cross between old-fashioned hospital wall green and 1950’s kitsch kitchen décor green.
21. Cape Cod Turkey
Yet another regional dish that isn’t made out of what it’s named. Cape Cod Turkey is of course not made with actual turkeys, but instead with salt cod. This old-fashioned recipe was made all over New England in times when cod was plentiful and refrigeration had not been invented. As with many salt cod recipes, it includes potatoes (another hardy vegetable that could be kept in root cellars over the winter) along with eggs and a cream sauce. There are variations on the theme, however, with some recipes including beets or turnips.
22. The Priest Fainted
Photo by AlexanderVanLoon, CC BY-SA 4.0
It’s difficult to imagine that a food would be named as a fainting priest, but then again this recipe has both eggplant and tomato as well as lots of extra-virgin olive oil, which together creates a very rich and savory dish. Imam Bayildi can also translate as “The Preacher Wept.” This is a classic main or side course dish in the Ottoman cuisine. The folktale behind the name is that an imam was presented with this dish and just couldn’t handle the sensual delight, so he fainted.
Main photo by Durvankur Patil, CC BY-SA 4.0
Karen Resta is a writer, a food culturalist, and a sometimes-fashionista who mostly loves ice cream and Brooklyn.