Ugly Food That We Love

Food sometimes looks so mouth-wateringly beautiful that we can’t resist sharing it on Instagram or Facebook. Other times…beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Especially food that we’ve grown up with, and had family gatherings around. Maybe it’s the appearance, or it’s stinky, or just strikes us as weird, but sometimes food can inspire enthusiasm in us that the uninitiated just don’t understand.

klube, or Kumla

klube, or kumla

This is Kumla, also known as Klube

…a humble potato dumpling that is very dense on the inside, with a wallpaper paste consistency coating on the outside. Both of my grandmothers were Norwegian, and that is the origin of this treat. My siblings and cousins referred the them as krub, or gunk balls, and growing up it was a challenge to see who could eat the most. Today my dad still emails photos of the greyish dumplings to fellow Kumla aficionados whenever he cooks up a batch.

There are no unusual ingredients in Kumla (potatoes, flour, baking powder and salt, boiled in a pork broth), and it doesn’t have a strong taste. It just isn’t pretty. I think it was an economical meal way back in the day, and I’m not sure if it is even common in modern Norway, or if it is viewed there as a treat.

Below it looks more appetizing fried in butter the next day for breakfast. I like to eat it with butter, pepper and syrup. This is the prime example I have of my “Norwegianness”, as my ancestors settled in North America generations ago.



Ugly Food That We Love on the Road

Our daughter lived in Korea for two years, and like Anthony Bourdain, will try almost any food once. She said the VERY fresh octopus dish in the video clip below is actually tasty, with a sesame dressing. But beware–occasionally the still-suctioning tentacles stick to the throat of a diner, making it the last meal for both of them.

For most people, food is a primary way of enjoying and passing down our ethnic traditions. It is also a great window into other cultures, especially when we’re traveling. But it’s sometimes harder to appreciate local delicacies that are unusual to us, especially when they don’t look or smell very appealing.

While my family might get excited over Kumla, for others it might be an especially stinky cheese, or in the Philippines balut, or even fruit such as Dorian. A few years ago most Westerners were too squeamish to eat sushi, but now it seems as popular as pizza or burgers. Who knows…if we are adventurous enough to sample local delicacies, one might become a new favorite.

Do you have a favorite “ugly food”? Have you sampled any while traveling?

31 replies
  1. Nancie
    Nancie says:

    I live in Korea and have eaten the octopus. However, must say I always feel a little creepy thinking it would be my last meal…haha. This food wasn’t really ugly, but not typical. My parents always made bread and my mother would often keep a piece of the dough, cut it into pieces and fry it. We would heat it hot, slathered with butter. My mouth is watering thinking about it…haha.

  2. Suzanne Fluhr
    Suzanne Fluhr says:

    I admit that I’m not usually tempted by food that looks bad and smells worse. We happily passed on all the fried grasshoppers and crickets available in Thai markets. The one that sounds the worst to me is fermented shark, served after being buried for two years, that Icelanders seems to enjoy. I’ve also had it with meat and dumplings after a week or so in Germany and I wasn’t a fan of slimy food after some time in Japan. I hate to be a gastronomic imperialist, but I prefer my calories to be palatable.

    • Shelley
      Shelley says:

      We’re all probably gastronomic imperialist in our own way. My daughter’s Korean friend was over, and I made him a grilled cheese sandwich, and he was polite, but I could see he was having trouble with it. I asked him if he thought it was too weird and he said yes, haha.

  3. santafetraveler
    santafetraveler says:

    Great subject for a post. I would always eat ugly food that tastes great than the reverse. Presentation has become such an important part of food these days and sometimes I think too much a part. The days when you got a meat, potato and veggie put on a plate are waning. Love the straightforwardness of southern regional cooking!

  4. Josie
    Josie says:

    Hi Shelley,
    My husband Conrad is Norwegian also, and while he is not “into” the traditional dishes, his sister is. I have had all the bland, white food I can handle while staying with her. The savory dishes, (and mind you, “savory” is a big compliment here!), leave me unimpressed but the desserts and drinks tell a completely different story! Glogg is a winter favorite in our home — we make it and have a lot of fun concocting and drinking — plus it’s quite pretty. I don’t make the desserts, but they are as pretty as they are delicious!
    Thanks for a fun article.

  5. noel
    noel says:

    Ugly but good is key, usually these pale looking or gravy covered dishes are never appetizing but they taste amazing….one of the downsides to being a fussy photographer.

  6. Michele
    Michele says:

    I understand the ugly side of food sometimes we take photos of things and go this can’t be shared. Ron loves Durian and eats it at every chance for me it is ugly in look, flavour and texture. I seem to avoid the ugly if I can chicken feet, fertilised ducks eggs and friend sheep tail fat were all to much for me,

  7. Barbara Bunce
    Barbara Bunce says:

    I met my favourite ugly food here in Canada. It is Kale. I absolutely hate the look of it yet I love kale soup. I must admit that I cannot eat it whole, it has to be mushed up, as in a shake or a soup.

  8. Donna Janke
    Donna Janke says:

    I suspect whether a food is considered ugly or not might be in the eye of the beholder. I think about pluma moos, a cold fruit soup-like dish often eaten as a dessert. It is a traditional dish of the Mennonite population in Manitoba, where I grew up. It’s purplish soupy look makes me gag, but I did not grow up with this dish in my household and I imagine many who did and love it would consider its festive colours beautiful.


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