'Penis soup is something I'll treasure for ever'
Adventurer Simon Reeve reveals the most stomach-churning dishes he's encountered
My stomach has endured the full scope of awful foods this planet has to offer.
Trying adventurous food is a big part of travelling, but India, where I'm travelling through now, has more problems with [food] hygiene than anywhere else in the world. It's a cultural problem, as eating meat is a rarity in rural areas, so they treat it like a vegetable, keeping it in a cupboard. So when the occasional Westerner passes through, by the time it's pulled out, it's been in there for a few months. When travelling across poorer parts of India now, I try to survive off rice and dahl.
Eating penis soup in Madagascar is something I'll treasure for ever I was filming [BBC travel series] Tropic of Capricorn and our guide said he loved eating it: the penis comes from a zebu bull – they're a cattle you see across the tropics. I wanted the crew to think I was adventurous, so I tried it. It was diced and placed in a pretty insipid broth and as I chewed it, it was like chomping on gristle. I won't rush back to it, but it's something I'll tell my son when he's old enough.
Whether it scampers, crawls or flies, people in Laos will eat it. In fact, there was one time my driver there sat down at a restaurant and had what looked like a plate of spinach, but when I asked him what it was, he told me it was buffalo poo. Though I think eating that was more a sign of a lack of availability of other foods than it being a local speciality. I had a little try and I wouldn't go there again.
The harvesting of shark fins is one of the world's great obscenities. When I was in Mozambique I saw fisherman killing sharks for the Chinese market. The increasing wealth and consumption in China has pushed some endangered species to near extinction. It's enormously destructive for our oceans, our wildlife and our planet. Though the corner has possibly just turned as there is now disapproval coming from the Chinese government and there are some bans on shark-fin soup over there.
I was struck by how Saudi dining culture differs from our own In Christian countries, hosts are taught to share what they have with their guests, but in Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, they give everything. When I was visiting, several feasts at which we were honoured guests were Roman in scale: towers of food, an entire sheep killed and roasted for us. I got to eat the eyeball; they popped it out of the socket and into my hand; then I was allowed to crack open the brain to have a nibble on that while the hosts sat and watched.
I went through a decade thinking Britain was cold, wet and crap But having since travelled to over 120 countries, I've been surprised by how much I've realised that I love our little island: my travel has given me an understanding of what life is like for our brothers and sisters in less developed parts of the world, and I can assure you, Britain works spectacularly well.
I failed miserably at the 'Great British Bake-off' last year I was asked to appear on the charity special. I thought, well, it's not like being asked to walk into the jaws of death, so I agreed. I had to cook a show-stopper cake: a big chocolate gateaux. The judges said I'd burnt it, that it tasted heavy and got stuck between their teeth, and I felt rather humiliated by the experience. It's made me realise that baking is not my forte at this stage in my life: perhaps I'll explore it further when I have more time.
My best holiday experiences have been unplanned ones I remember booking an impromptu romantic trip to Sharm El Sheikh, in Egypt, with my then girlfriend. On a whim we hired a car and drove off into the middle of the desert. It took a daft turn, though, when I drove us into deep sand and got us stuck. I didn't know what to do next, but my girlfriend stood up, stripped down to her bikini, and crawled under the car to let the tyres down [to increase tyre traction against the sand] and we managed to escape. How could I not love her and marry her as a result? Spontaneity can end with a minor mishap, but it tends to be the most memorable thing that happens on a trip.
Simon Reeve, 41, is an explorer, author and presenter of TV shows including the BBC's 'Pilgrimage'. He is lead judge for lastminute.com's search for Britain's most spontaneous traveller. For more: lovelivinglastminute.com