Food&Drink serve up a helping of the worst foods they have had the misfortune of eating over the years, with a side of meals which left much to be desired

Halloween is creeping up on us so people are beginning to think about all things spooky. Often our thoughts turn to ghosts and ghouls, witches and monsters… but how many of us think about food?

Sweets and treats play a huge role in the festival, not to mention the classic gap-toothed pumpkin, so it’s easy to remember all the goodies on offer to trick-or-treaters. For such a scary night, ironically, the dread doesn’t seem to spread to what we eat.

Unfortunately, many of the meals and foods we have eaten over the years aren’t as pleasant as the paradoxically sweet foods of Halloween. Everyone has that one meal that puts you in your own personal hell, so what better time to revisit past foody frights!

Our Food&Drink writers and editors are sharing a grim selection of the worst meals they have had the misfortune of eating, the food items that sent chills down their spines and past memories of school canteen horrors which will forever haunt them. Food is not always delicious; which of the following tales do you think sounds the most dreadful?

– Harriet Laban & Gabrielle Taylor-Dowson


Green Monsters 

Nothing quite sends a flood of shivers down my spine than being presented with a bowl of olives disguising themselves as an appetiser. Now, strange olive lovers, I must clarify that the upcoming rant only applies to raw olives, not to the delicious oil I credit them with producing.

My rocky relationship with olives traces back to 2005, when six-year-old me was offered some mysterious ‘green sweets’ from my older cousin. In childish naivety, I hastily placed one in my mouth. Equally as fast, the pungent saltiness of the little trickster killed my excitement.

Just like that, a wave of sickness washed over me. What ensued was a horrible state of being, the details of which I shall spare you. Informed by my aunt that what I had (half) consumed was in fact an olive, I mentally vowed never to touch the foul things again (and not to trust my cousin). Little did I know, the evil twin of the grape would return to haunt me 10 years down the line.

My second encounter with these deceitful balls of horror occurred when 16-year-old me arrived in London for a birthday treat. Stepping off the train after a lengthy journey the June summer sun was shining brightly. Stopping at  the nearest eatery to satisfy my rumbling stomach, I remained blissfully unaware that I had entered yet another olive death-trap.

I knew as soon as I took the first bite of my ‘Mediterranean Medley’ sandwich that I had foolishly subscribed myself to doom. That familiar but no less horrifying taste of overpowering bitterness struck the back of my throat. So pungent, I was unable to conceal my disgust as my nose scrunched up and I began to cough. Those little green tricksters had got me again! No amount of chewing gum or sweets would rid the lingering, rancid taste. What was supposed to be a fun and food-filled day had been ruined by a single olive.

I was unable to conceal my disgust as my nose scrunched up and I began to cough

So, to end my exposé of those deceitful green things, I unapologetically conclude that olives deserve to be cast into the depths of food hell – not before being extracted of their lush oil, of course!

– Shania Devi


Dry ‘dog Disaster

On a visit to Hunstanton over the summer, my family and I headed to a café on our campsite for a spot of lunch. When I initially turned up and looked over the menu, my instinct was to order chips – a classic vegetarian meal when there are few options available. I was delighted, however, to see that the menu offered a vegan hot dog – how progressive! Excitedly anticipating what I was sure would be a decent replica of a meat frankfurter, I handed over my £5 and awaited the delivery of the dog.

Ten minutes later, as my family tucked into pizzas and nachos, my meal materialised. Absolute tragedy. The best bit about the hot dog was the bun, which is never a good sign. I was rather disappointed to see two tiny, very dry looking vegetarian sausages – the café clearly didn’t splurge for Linda McCartney on this occasion – wedged into the bread. Never one to waste food, or money, I tucked in and hoped for the best, only to find that the ‘dog’ was still partially frozen in the middle. Unsurprisingly, I gave up and ordered chips. The moral of the story? Never get too optimistic about vegan options in a questionable setting.

– Emily Calder


Bone-filled Banquet

Minestrone soup, I have a bone to pick with you. The classic vegetable soup, the humble minestrone, turned into my scary supper one night as I indulged on my new found favourite variety of soup. Before the incident, minestrone soup was becoming a frequent purchase as part of my weekly shop. It was a hearty and warming meal that was quick to heat and satisfying to consume, until one night when that all changed.

There I was sitting down to my daily dose of Take Me Out, my head in a bowl of Italian goodness, when I felt an unfamiliar crunch, something that no one wants to feel in their slurp of soup.

I felt an unfamiliar crunch, something that no one wants to feel in their slurp of soup

Upon investigation of the crunch which I had assumed to be an unwanted part of a vegetable, I was horrified to see a bone of suspicious origin lying before me amongst the veg. What I thought was a vegetarian supper turned out to include more than I had bargained for – and not in a good way. Unsurprisingly, the experience was not as ‘humerus’ as it should have been, and from then on the soup lost the appeal it once had.

– Lucy Allen


Tartare Terror

I am not a vegetarian (although my uni budget sometimes decides otherwise), but there’s one thing I cannot stand and that’s raw meat. Tartare: there is something very disturbing about this French delicacy which can’t help but bleed Halloween vibes. The origin of this so-called delicacy comes from Germany and has spread like wildfire over Europe, especially in the south of France where tartare aller-retour is the proud leader of culinary classics; a classic I insulted terribly during my Year 10 French exchange.

I was sitting with my very friendly host family, hardly any embarrassment had occurred – all had been going so well – until the tartare was served. They had taken me to a typical French restaurant and everyone had ordered a dish called ‘tartare aller-retour.’ Unknowingly, I ordered this same plate hoping to experience the wonders of French cuisine, but oh how wrong I was. I had not anticipated a raw lump of beef to appear in front of me, with only a sprinkle of salt and pepper, a dash of oil and a random raw egg cracked on top of it all. My poor host family were just as shocked as I when I asked the waiter, in the most British way possible, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble to cook the meat so that it was well done; blasphemy had been spoken.

I had not anticipated a raw lump of beef to appear in front of me

This gory dish is not my cup of tea and this is why it makes it to the top of my list for a disgusting dinner.

– Grace Baxendine


Escar-let’s Go!

As a general rule, I am an enormous fan of food, no matter what form it comes in. There are, of course, exceptions. I detest most types of cheese, have never touched baked beans (I’m such a bad student) and can’t bear creamy sauces (they remind me of cheese too much!). However, the worst thing I have ever eaten has to be the classic French delicacy, escargot. Snails just aren’t for me, mainly because texture contributes massively to my eating experiences. As you might imagine, snails don’t have the most appealing texture.

Whilst on holiday one year, I naïvely agreed to give them a try; it’s important to sample local cuisine, right? Sat on the quaint back terrace of a restaurant in the Loire Valley countryside, I bravely ordered escargot as a starter to share with my family. We sampled one each, building up the courage to eat them. The moment came. My family nodded in approval of what they had eaten. However, I ended up swallowing it whole, unable to bear chewing it, as I discovered that even when cooked and slathered in a mouth-watering garlic sauce, the bumpy, rubbery texture of a snail does not disappear.

I ended up swallowing it whole, unable to bear chewing it

As silly as it seems in retrospect, the feel of a snail really wasn’t what I was expecting! It is stomach churning to think of, but I just couldn’t get past the feel of it in my mouth. It really did the opposite of its job as an appetiser.

– Harriet Laban


Cursed Custard

I’m a massive foodie, so I’m always keen to try flavour combinations that might send shivers down anybody else’s spine. There isn’t much I actually dislike, and even less that I adamantly will not eat. But the one gut wrenching food that fills with me nausea and fear is icky, sticky, school dinner custard.

I have nightmares about walking into the canteen to be greeted by the smell of eggy dessert, gagging as the dinner lady slops the viscous substance into my bowl. Anything that is lumpy, luminous yellow and develops a ‘skin’ should not be fit for consumption. I love cooking with fresh ingredients, so artificial foods are an enemy of mine. Second to custard has to be canned mushy peas, closely followed by instant mashed potato. The idea that you can mix powder with water and somehow call it mashed potato is beyond me – even more confusing is the appeal in eating it. Most foods have me salivating at the sight of them, but if presented with any of these (I struggle to call them ‘foods’), queasiness and repulsion will get the better of me, and I’m afraid I’ll have to pass…

– Beth Sadler


A Grape Disappointment

My Dad is a really good cook. That’s why this meal hurt me so much – it was a betrayal. I trusted my Dad with my taste buds and he has now scarred them for eternity with the memory of the worst fish pie I have ever tasted.

He brought it to the dining room table and at that point, it looked just like any other fish pie. A golden, crumbly puff pastry lid, the smell of the sea wafting from the dish. Nothing out of the ordinary.

I started to get suspicious as soon as he lifted the lid off of the pie. It was very, very liquidy, and the chunks of fish were bobbing up and down, looking like they were still swimming in the pie juices. And there were these little round green balls – what they were I didn’t know.

Dad served us all a plate full and, not wanting to voice my concerns before I’d even tried it, I took a forkful. Those little round green balls? They popped in my mouth, hot and weirdly sweet-and-sour liquid filling my mouth. It felt like an eyeball, but an eyeball that been infused with the fishy taste of the seafood from the rest of the pie filling.

It felt like an eyeball, but an eyeball that been infused with the fishy taste of the seafood from the rest of the pie filling

This fishy, squishy, juice ball was a grape. Little cooked grapes that were floating around in the pie.

I spat it straight out and, because I was eight and very sensitive, also started crying. Yes, my Dad was very offended, but so was my mouth, and to this day I hate fish pie and also cooked grapes.

Saying that, I’ve also never again encountered a recipe with cooked grapes, so that just goes to show how wrong it was.

– Gabrielle Taylor-Dowson


A Pasta Disaster

We’ve all experienced a horror food story at least once in our life; mine was back in secondary school. Yes, I’m talking about canteen meals! Let me set the picture for you. It was just a typical lunchtime, where the go-to option was Pasta King.

It was a class favourite; something you would presume couldn’t go too far wrong. It was simply a cardboard pot filled with durum-wheat pasta smothered in a sauce. The optional sauce toppings included spicy meatballs, plain tomato, pepperoni or, if you were feeling extra, you could add some grated cheese! It was just a standard option at the canteen.

We’ve all experienced a horror food story at least once in our life

My friends and I were all quite content with our humble Pasta King so headed to a table once we had paid. On a general note, I must emphasise that these pasta pots were not gourmet. You could bargain a pot filled with just as much water as pasta! However, as canteen meals went, these pasta pots stood high on the podium in comparison to some of the other options on offer.

Yet, this Pasta King experience was not like any before. Lo and behold, what looked like a pubic hair emerged with the pasta on the plastic fork, just as I was about to tuck in! That was one way to put me off eating that day. We all stared at it, completely grossed out! Now Pasta King doesn’t have such a fond memory for us. There is no doubt, it was a dinner that disgusted.

– Eleanor Howson


E-damn!

I’m generally rather easy going when it comes to food. In fact, it took me ages to think of a food that I disliked enough to write about. Give me a plate of sprouts, or any other commonly detested food, and I’m happy as larry. However, if you try to feed me an array of mould ridden, smelly and foul textured cheese, you will lose me as a friend.

I’m not against all cheese, although I don’t eat cheese regularly by any means. Edam, cheddar and red leicester are probably my limits. They have a solid, appropriate texture for a cheese, they don’t smell too strongly and they’re generally the perfect accompaniment or topping to a wide range of dishes. Mild cheese is okay. Why anyone would want to eat something which smells like infected feet, and often looks like infection (I’m looking at you, cottage cheese) is beyond me. The smell created by these cheeses as they slowly contaminate your fridge is nothing short of foul. No one wants to open their fridge to the smell of a strong cheese.

The smell created by these cheeses as they slowly contaminate your fridge is nothing short of foul

I will conclude my cheese rant with a short explanation on why the texture of cheese is so offensive. I have one word for the texture of a certain thick and soft cheese known as brie. That word is ‘slugs.’ It’s simultaneously creamy, soft and thick. Nothing should feel that thick and slimy in your mouth – it’s not natural. Do not even get me started on the ‘skin’ that comes along with these soft cheeses. The rind is edible. That’s just not okay. To have such a thick and slug like cheese encased in a weird rubbery skin is enough to fuel anyone’s nightmares.

– Natalia Carter 


Orzo… Or No

I have no complaints when it comes to most fruit and nut flavoured goods. A good bar of Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut, fruit and nut cookies, fruit and nut rocky-roads, I am there. In the savoury ballpark however, I am not. I do not know what possessed me to make this monstrosity of a meal, but I did. And I forever regret that decision.

One day, when I was lacking in cupboard resources, I resorted to making a bowl of orzo (a pasta-type grain) with pesto, cashews, sultanas, mushrooms and cheese. I can conclusively declare that this was the most horrible sensory experience I have ever endured.

The juicy, squishy nature of the sultanas, with the sludge of the fried mushrooms and then the softened crunch of the cashews, was so oddly wet and juxtaposing, I hated every bite. Not only was the taste of this dish horrendous, the green-y, grayscale aesthetics of the dish were as equally unappetising. A great sense of reasoning and decision-making was lacking that day. A lesson well learnt that beans on toast is the safest bet when the cupboards are dry.

– Lydia Waller

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