We travel to experience other cultures and people and to see things we wouldn’t normally see in our home country. Part of traveling and experiencing new cultures is through eating local cuisine. Here is a list of strange and unique things to try (or not) while you are in Asia.
Throughout Southeast Asia Durian is often referred to as “The King of Fruits”. The fruit can best be described as an over-sized litchi, however this is where similarities between the two fruit end. Durians are known for the pungent smell that they give off- often so strong that they are banned from public transport in some places in Asia. Durian tastes like a mix of sweet, savoury and creamy. It combines the flavours of onion and garlic with caramel and cream. Definitely an interesting fruit to try in Asia.
- Kopi Luwak
Kopi Luwak is an Indonesian coffee. Asian palm civets eat the coffee beans and then excrete them. The beans are then washed and processed for sale as coffee. The coffee is the most expensive in the world and quite a delight to try.
- Bird’s nest soup
Bird’s nest soup is made from birds’ nests – that is the obvious part. The surprising part is that these nests are made of bird saliva. The nests are cooked as part of a soup- giving the soup a gummy texture. One nest can cost as much as $100!
Fermented soybeans is the ingredients to this odorous dish. It is usually consumed, along with rice, for breakfast in Japan and has a pungent smell, strong taste and slimy texture.
- Chicken feet
Considered a delicacy in China especially. They hold a lot of fat and therefore have a lot of flavour. It is similar to eating a drumstick where you eat the fatty and meaty bits off of the bone.
Balut, a Filipino delicacy, is a boiled fertilized duck egg – beak, feathers and all- eaten directly out of the shell. It is sold as street food in the Philippines and variations of it can be found in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
- Century egg
Also known as Pidan, century eggs is a Chinese delicacy. Chicken, quail or duck eggs are preserved in a solution of salt, clay, ash, quicklime and rice hulls for a period of time lasting anything from a few weeks to a few months. The process turns the yolk to a dark green/grey colour and the white becomes dark brown. The yolk becomes creamy with a smell of sulphur and ammonia and the white turns into a clear jelly that is slightly salty.
- Deep fried pigeon
This meal is served as part of Chinese cuisine. The pigeon is often served whole, including the head and, sometimes, even with the internal organs still inside.
- Chicken blood cubes
Known as ‘Betamax’ this is a Filipino delicacy consisting of clotted chicken blood that is skewered and grilled.
- Skewered scorpions and grasshoppers
Mostly found as street food in China, but also available elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Scorpions and grasshoppers are skewered and fried ready to enjoy.
- Habu sake
Japanese winemakers in Okinawa immerse and drown snakes in jars of sake. The snakes then release their venom into the wine, creating a drink that is said to enhance the male libido.
- Fugu or bok
Known as Fugu in Japan and Bok in Korea, this expensive delicacy made from puffer fish could potentially be deadly if not prepared properly. The skin and some of its organs are highly poisonous, not just to eat but even to the touch.
- White ant egg soup
This dish is popular throughout Southeast Asia. The eggs are often mixed with embryos and baby ants in soups. The delicacy is likened to caviar and pops in your mouth to bring a sour taste to the dish.
- Hachi no Ko
Hachi no Ko is cooked and seasoned honey bee larvae. They are crunchy and chewy with a high nutritional value.
Beondegi is a Korean dish made up of boiled or steamed and seasoned silkworm pupae. This is a popular snack sold by street vendors, restaurants and bars. You can also get them in cans in grocery stores to cook up at home.
- Crickets and Grasshoppers
Also called Inago in Japan, sometimes cooked with sugar and soy sauce, sometimes barbequed, these insects are delicacies throughout Asia.
Paniki is a dish found in North Sulawesi. It is made by removing the hair from fruit bats, then cooking them in coconut milk, herbs and spices. They are often cooked in a spicy mixture of herbs known as rica-rica.
This is a Japanese dish made from seafood offcuts. Seafood offcuts and a paste of fish intestines are mixed with salt and malted rice and left to ferment for up to a month. It has a very salty taste likened to cured anchovies but with a different texture. It is usually chased by whiskey.
- Deep fried tarantula
Cambodians started eating tarantulas during the Khmer Rouge rule when food was scarce. It has since then become a signature dish of the country, and especially the town of Skuon. The spiders are around the size of a human’s palm and tastes like a cross between a chicken and cod.
Shirako is male fish sperm. Often cod is used but it can be from a variety of fish. It is described as creamy, buttery and custard-like. It is eaten steamed, deep fried or pan-fried.
- Tuna eye
In Japan tuna eyes can be bought in markets and grocery stores. They are usually surrounded by fat and muscles and taste like fatty squid once cooked.
In many parts of Asia the gonads of sea urchins are eaten. In Japan they are served raw as sashimi or in sushi with soy sauce and wasabi. They are salty and creamy and can be quite expensive.
- Squirming octopus tentacles
The nerves of these octopus tentacles are still firing, giving them the look of still being alive.
- Rang muc
In Vietnam (especially in the city of Phan Thiet) the small ball of the beak and mouth parts of a squid or octopus is eaten steamed with ginger, fried in a batter or skewered and grilled. This delicacy is usually sold in street stalls.
- Tong zi dan
Also known as Virgin boy eggs, this delicacy is from Dongyang, China. Eggs are soaked and boiled in the urine from young boys. The eggs are cracked and they are boiled over low heat all day. The urine is collected from school toilets or by boys urinating in collection buckets set out by the sellers of this snack.
While we travel and experience and explore, few things bring people together like a shared meal – or a story of that strange thing you once tried in Asia.
*A version of this article first appeared at www.zafigo.com