As I spend much of my time living in the rural rice fields of Isaan, I have become somewhat accustomed to the weird foods of the region. But I will forever remember my first days here when I questioned some weird textured meat in my spicy Laab salad. And was told “Uh, that’s
Eating in Rural Thailand
But this is not so different with Fanfan, who was born and raised in these rural rice fields of Thailand, as the newer generations are a lot less likely to experiment with these weirder sides of eating in Thailand. And not many people eat these foods on a regular basis anyway. Or at least many of these foods are only celebrated on certain occasions. The pig’s head pictured above, for example, is shared more at cultural feasts and ceremonies, and that delightful ant egg salad (above, bottom left) is only found in season for a short time (around May). And much of the excitement surrounding this delightful dish is finding the nests of the red ants, in branches trees, and then stabbing them with a jagged stick to catch the eggs (kai mod daeng) in baskets below. Otherwise, similar to betel chewing in Thailand, these traditions are slowly disappearing with older generations of Thailand. And, given alternative eating options, it is relatively rare to see younger folk munching on a big bag of salted deep-fried crickets. Where apparently “
Weird Goes Both Ways
Of course weird is all to do with perspective and familiarity. And what may be weird to some, will not be weird to others. And vice versa. As I remember during our wedding weekend in Bali, when Fanfan’s mum refused to eat anything from the local menus of Balinese food. Because it was all weird to her. So, in the end, Fanfan would order her meals for her, and it was almost always fried rice, or noodles or a hot and sour soup. So weird obviously goes both ways in food, as she’s otherwise happy to go-to-town on a bag of salty
The Weird Foods of Asia
There will always be a level of weirdness as well when it comes to food. For example, even in the U.K., many local folks would see haggis and jellied eels as being weird. And I’m sure there are some dishes I’d be squeamish to even touch. Otherwise, my own perspective of weird has changed somewhat in living in Thailand, where many Thai street food staples, like blood-filled boat noodles (
By Jane Clements of Scarlet Jones Travels: When I volunteered for a work exchange in the northeast of Thailand I was expecting to work on a fruit and vegetable smallholding but my hosts had recently branched out into farming crickets! During my month with Colin and Wichien I learnt about these bugs and how once hatched they grow in just 6 weeks – providing a protein food source for the local villagers rather than as a novelty for tourists. Frying them in a wok with oil, chilli, lemon-grass and ginger they were bagged up for sale – and a large bowl was placed on the table where they were eaten with delight as a snack just like a bowl of peanuts. They had a crunchy, nutty flavour and the sauce was delicious but the mental block was too huge. I tried hard to convince myself that they were no different to prawns in their shells, but while I eventually got used to handling the bugs I never got used to eating them!
By Lena of The Social Travel Experiment: During my food tour in Yangon, Myanmar we walked by a little stall in Chinatown. On display: two round silver trays filled with just a centimetre of water and wiggling around in it countless fat cream white larvae. My guide told me that the larvae of the palm weevil were a delicacy in Myanmar and that I was so lucky because it is not in season year round. Then he asked me if I wanted to try one. My first impulse was to say ‘thanks, but no thanks’. But then I thought about it. When would I ever again have the chance to try something so exotic? So, what I answered was a very small and very reluctant ‘all right’. I chose my victim from the larvae wiggling in the tray. A burner was promptly turned on, used to heat some oil and my poor larva was fried within seconds. What happened next was something I hadn’t expected. The fried larva was delicious. If I had to describe the flavour and texture, I would say outside it tasted similar to a shrimp, but the inside was like a nutty cream filling. There were no weird bits and no strange aftertaste. It was simply delicious. And I would have wanted to eat another one right away until I heard that the price for one large larva was 3 US dollars!
The BUG Platter in Cambodia
By Stefan Arestis of the Nomadic Boys: One of the weirdest and certainly most unique foods we tried in Asia was the taster platter at the BUGS café in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The BUGS Café is exactly that: a café that specialises in food made from, bugs! The argument being that they are easy to grow, high in protein and therefore a more sustainable and healthier alternative to meat. As we weren’t quite sure which of the many bugs on their menu we wanted, we ordered the taster platter to try, which had a mix of everything. This included: barbecued tarantula, giant water bug and scorpion, chopped tarantula samosa, ants spring roll and lots of water bugs and crickets. Whilst we were at first quite horrified at the idea of eating scorpions and ants, the end result wasn’t bad. Most of it was fried so it had more of a “crunchy” consistency. However, the water bug was a bit of a struggle: you bite into it and a gooey liquid is released into the back of your mouth. Definitely worth trying out once in your life – you won’t forget it in a hurry that’s for certain! Read more about our trip in our article about gay life in Cambodia.
By Clare of Travels in Peru: While I was travelling through Cambodia we stopped at a roadside café for a break from the long drive in a place called Skuon between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. It is famous for its insect delicacies and here you can try deep fried cockroaches, crickets, grasshoppers and tarantulas. I decided to try the deep fried tarantula. As a person terrified of spiders it took me 10 minutes just to hold it!! But finally I got brave got a picture of it near my mouth and then decided to try a leg. It was very crunchy and didn’t really taste of anything!! The body and head is the squishy part that everyone says tastes the best. It is white-coloured meat that does not have much taste, maybe something between chicken and fish!! At this stage though I was freaking out quite a bit about having a tarantula in my mouth and just swallowed it as fast as possible and didn’t savour the taste!!
Scorpions in Thailand
By Bradley Williams of Dream Big Travel Far:
After 4 months spent backpacking in Asia, it’s fair to say I’ve tried a good amount of weird foods. However, perhaps the strangest were the scorpions I ate on Khao San Road in Bangkok. This particular street is perhaps the most famous in all of Bangkok, and here you’ll find all kinds of weird and wonderful things happening. I saw people walking around serving skewers of scorpions all night, and eventually thought, “well why not?!” So, I paid a couple of dollars and decided to share the 3 scorpions with my friends. Overall, they didn’t taste too bad! As you would imagine, they are quite crunchy and the texture is unusual, however, the taste wasn’t as awful as you might think. I actually found them to be a little salty if anything. I think it comes down to them not having much meat in them. Would I eat them again? Probably not. Would I recommend them to others? Hell yeah!
By Theo of Trip Crafting: Once you have seen all the temples, islands and crazy bars in Thailand, you should head to the Isaan. The northeastern part of Thailand usually flies very low under every tourist’s radar. But it is exactly here where you can have the craziest experience. After spending some time there and getting real close to the locals, they honoured me with a special treat. After a cow gives birth, there is a huge placenta left and they simply cook it in some villages in the Isaan. It is not very common and therefore the whole neighbourhood came to have a taste. The whole placenta will be cooked and cut in smaller pieces. The meat, the broth and some vegetables are served with rice. The taste is only slightly unusual, resembling normal beef mostly. But knowing you are eating the placenta of a cow makes it a pretty interesting experience. One you can only have in the Isaan.
Durian in Thailand
By Henry & Zory of This Life Of Travel: Durian, known as the King of Fruit in Southeast Asia, is both a pariah and hero to most of the population on Earth. While I was visiting Southeast Asia, I saw (and smelled) so many stands selling freshly cut durian. I have to admit, the smell is something that can be a bit off-putting. If I had to describe the smell, it would be something akin to smelly wet socks left in a warm area too long combined with a sickly sweet after smell. Not the best description I know… but I just had to try it since everyone in Thailand adored this fruit so much! My first experience was pretty bad – I apparently picked an overly ripe and old piece of durian. Pro-tip: If you’re eating durian for the first time, have an experienced durian enthusiast pick one for you. I pretty much dry heaved and had to spit it out. My second experience was much better. A local friend picked a perfectly ripe piece for me and the experience was so much better. The taste was like a complex, sweet and creamy cheese. There was a lingering sweet aftertaste as well and none of the weirdness from the first one. I will say it’s definitely an acquired taste since the texture is a bit weird too.
By Nick & Val of the Wandering Wheatleys: Eating cobra heart and washing it down with snake blood and bile. We’ve travelled all over the world and dined on a variety of unique cuisines, but our all-time favourite dining experience was eating cobra in Hanoi, Vietnam. Our experience began by selecting our snake. The snake handler was already missing a few fingers when he appeared wielding a long metal pole with a hook on the end. He extracted a 1.5-meter cobra from a row of lockers and presented it for our approval. With a pair of scissors, the massive cobra was unceremoniously beheaded and a slit cut into its body. Using a pair of surgical forceps the heart was quickly extracted, and placed in a shot glass full of rice wine. In order to gain “strength” from the snake, you must drink down the cobra heart while it is still beating. So it was promptly “bottoms up”! A shot of snake heart is a bit like an oyster shooter, but with a taste of grain alcohol and copper. The snake’s now headless body was sent to the kitchen where it was expertly skinned, gutted, and filleted. We were served 10 dishes ranging from cobra meat wrapped in beetle leaves to sauteed cobra testicles. All washed down with shots of rice wine mixed with snake blood and bile. Needless to say, if you’re in Hanoi, feasting on a cobra is an experience not to be missed!
By Rose Munday of Where Goes Rose: Have you ever heard of a century egg? While you might be relieved to know they’re not actually a century old, it’s still not good news for fans of fresh produce! Century eggs are traditionally duck, chicken or quail eggs, preserved with clay or ash for several months, and often stored underground in the process. The result? A thick, sticky consistency almost comparable to a jelly, but far more salty! The yolk becomes darker and the white of the egg turns a colour between green and black depending on the length of preservation time. While it might sound a little gross, the taste is creamy and very flavoursome. I liked it, but it’s not for those without a strong stomach! Find century eggs at Siri Wattana Market in Chiang Mai and countless other locations in northern Thailand!
By Amrita & Agni of a Tale of 2 Backpackers: Travelling has introduced me with a lot of weird and interesting cuisine. One such dish was rats at Basar in Arunachal Pradesh. Eating different forms of meat is not new in India and rats have been a protein-rich diet in many places in India. For the Adi, Apatani and Galo tribes in Arunachal, rat meat is always on the menu for any festival. Sometimes the rats are smoke-dried and preserved in for future use. The rats are eaten roasted or boiled in water with salt and chilli and then eaten with vegetables. The most delicious parts of the rats are the tails and the legs! Rats are a delicacy in parts of Arunachal Pradesh – a delicious meal or a treat for a friend. Rat meat is a part of traditional festivals of these places.
Duck Embryos in the Philippines
By Katherine Cortes of Tara Lets Anywhere: Balut (also called balot) is a common street food in the Philippines. It’s basically a boiled duck egg, 2-3 weeks in development. This means that when you crack it open, you can see an actual small chick inside along with the egg yolk. To eat balut, you need to peel off the upper portion of the egg and sip the warm, delicious broth. Then you need to peel off the rest of the shell and eat the chick and the egg yolk. The chick is tasty and tastes similar to a chicken, while the egg yolk is creamy. The balut white is often tossed away as it’s hard and chewy. Some people add salt and/or seasoned vinegar in balut. Balut is commonly sold by street vendors at night. It costs around P15-16 each. If you’re visiting the Philippines, this is definitely one of the Filipino foods you shouldn’t miss.
Stuffed Frogs in The Philippines
By Mervin of the Pinoy Adventurista: The Philippines is home to an array of dishes that are unique and sometimes exotic. One of the must-visit when in the Philippines is the province of Pampanga. Hailed as the “culinary capital of the Philippines,” and “home of the best kitchens,” Pampanga is a province immersed in rich flavours both in cuisine and local heritage. One of the must-try local delicacies in this province is what they call “Betute,” also called “Tugak,” which is the local term for frogs. The manner of cooking these farm frogs vary in many places in Pampanga, but the most common is deep fried. The Betute were stuffed with minced pork, garlic, onions, salt, pepper, and spices and then deep fried to perfection. At first, I got intimidated by its appearance. But when tried it, I quite liked it because it tastes like chicken. The meat is tender, and it smells clean. The stuffing is an important ingredient in cooking this local delicacy. It has to be tasty and flavorful. Sometimes, they also use frog meat as stuffing to give it a more authentic taste. It is best eaten hot and crispy. Betute is definitely a must-try when going on a gastronomical adventure in Pampanga, Philippines. You really have to try it!
Stinky Tofu in Taiwan
By Mariza from Hoponworld: Ask any foreigner travelling or living in Taiwan what question they get asked most by the locals and the answer will undoubtedly be “Have you tried stinky tofu, yet?” Even if you haven’t eaten stinky tofu yet, chances are you have most probably smelled it wandering the streets! Yes, that rotten stench which you thought might be a decaying body or a garbage heap nearby is in fact stinky tofu – a popular street food in Taiwan. In fact, stinky tofu is so popular here that most locals actually refer to it as the country’s national snack. It’s not a very intricate dish, seeing that the star ingredient is the fermented tofu. And even though it comes in many different forms, there are two kinds which should be on your list of weird eats in Asia. The most common kind, “chou dou fu“ (臭豆腐) is deep-fried and served with pickled vegetables and soy sauce mixed with garlic and chilli. It’s also considered to be the most pungent! If you are feeling a bit more daring, give “mala stinky tofu” (麻辣臭豆腐) a try! It’s basically a huge chunk of tofu served in a very spicy broth with duck blood! Seeing that it is so popular among the locals, you’ll have no trouble finding it on the street or at one of the many night markets dotted around the island. The best place to sample it however is at Shengkeng Old Street (or Stinky Street as dubbed by the locals) in Taipei. Stinky tofu might not be the craziest snack you’ll see in Asia, but it is definitely the stinkiest one you’ll ever try! And, once (if at all) you get past the horrible smell, you might even enjoy it!
Crispy Fried Duck Tongues in Taiwan
By Chloe of Chloe’s Travelogue: Having travelled extensively in Asia, I thought I had seen the whole gamut of bizarre foods that are unique in each of their respective cultures. Understanding that many cultures do not waste any part of the animal, one comes to realize that nothing is off limits. Neither cow tongues nor chicken gizzards intimidate me. So why was I shocked when I was introduced to Taiwanese duck tongue? It wasn’t the gross factor; rather, I didn’t even know the duck tongue was the “thing.” In Taiwan, duck tongues are deep fried, then tossed up in a smoking wok with salt, peppers and basil to flavour. This results in crispy golden-brown duck tongues that smell wonderfully fragrant and taste delightfully savoury. They are not meaty bites for sure. But they are fun nibbles with a crunchy, bony texture to finish. It makes for a creative bar snack that pairs perfectly with an icy cold Taiwan Beer! Note that crispy fried duck tongues are not delicacies that every restaurant serves, so you will have to scavenge for them. I highly recommend trying it if you get a chance. If you can get past the gross factor and try, you might be pleasantly surprised. Crispy fried duck tongues definitely should be one of those bizarre Asian foods that seem unappealing yet taste great! Check out more Taiwanese food recommendations by Chloe’s Travelogue here.
Rabbit Heads in China
By Daisy Li of Beyond my Border: Chengdu is famous for flavoured rabbit skulls, a delicacy adored by many locals. As its name, rabbit skulls aren’t prepared in any way to hide its true form. Evidently, one has to look past its appearance to enjoy this popular snack. Served in a variety of flavours, these fist-sized eats are to be enjoyed with a pair of plastic gloves, a touch of bravery, and some patience. To put it delicately, the end goal of this experience is to suck out the meaty brain of the rabbit head. At first, my friend and I were super hesitant to try these out, but since we were backpacking China, we decided to give this is try. Honestly, once we looked past its sharp teeth and hollowed-eye sockets, the flavours were alright. But you really just get what you see, which is slurping on a skull. At the end of the day, delicacies are delicacies for a reason. And this was definitely an experience.
Sheep Penis in China
By Talek Nantes of Travels with Talek: Insect-eating, or entomophagy, to use the scientific word, is an accepted practice that goes back thousands of years. It is practised in the vast majority of the world and considered a protein-rich, healthy alternative to meats. There is a food market in Beijing China, in the Wanfujing area where all sorts of interesting and unusual foods are sold. Scorpions on a stick, still wriggling their little insect legs are a common sight. So are starfish and beetles. After a while, scorpion snacks no longer appear odd to you. One of the more unusual foods that I’ve seen in that market, one that I don’t think I’ll ever get used to is sheep penis. This bizarre “delicacy” comes wrapped around a stick. It looks pale, rubbery and not at all appetizing. The stalls selling some of these foods are always crowded with tourists snapping photos. I wonder if some of these insects and other unusual foods are really there just to entertain tourists and induce them to buy some of the vendors’ other wares?
Yellow Pea Jelly in China
By Wendy Werneth of The Nomadic Vegan: This dish is called 豌豆凉粉 (wandou liangfen) in Chinese and is often translated as “pea jelly“. If you’re American, be aware that this is nothing like the jelly you eat on toast for breakfast! The consistency is closer to British jelly, or Jell-O as it’s known in the States, but the taste is savoury, not sweet. It’s made by blending yellow split peas with water and salt and then cooking the mixture until it forms a thick paste. This is then left to cool and cut into chunks. I first tasted it in a small village called Xizhou, on the northwestern side of Er’hai Lake in Yunnan province, China. The pea jelly was served with rice noodles, bean sprouts, and a tangy peanut and chilli sauce. Pea jelly is far removed from the stuff that passes for Chinese food in Chinese restaurants abroad. This is authentic Chinese cuisine and is one of the many vegetarian and vegan dishes eaten in rural China.
By Mark Stewart of These Foreign Roads: “Chew vigorously.” I don’t recall who first told us about trying san-nakji, but I do remember being told how to chew it. San-nakji, or live baby octopus, is a bit of a delicacy in South Korea. And while it’s available in several restaurants, we decided to go right to the source – the Noryangjin fish market in Seoul. We arrived at a stall amongst the early morning chaos and asked the elderly lady for a taste. She retrieved two small octopuses from her tank and immediately began chopping them on a wooden board. The squirming mass was then dumped onto a plastic plate and given a quick spray of hot sauce. Without hesitation, I popped a bit of the wriggling tentacles in my mouth and began chewing. They challenged my bites out of instinct. In a futile effort for survival, their suction cups stuck to the insides of my cheeks. The sensation was peculiar but not unpalatable; it tasted of little more than hot sauce and the sea. Almost like a Tabasco-soaked oyster, without the delicious flavour.
By Chris W. from CTB Global® (Chris Travel Blog): “Raw chicken? Are you serious? You are ordering that?” my wife said when we were in a craft beer bar in Kyoto. She already joined me there even though she doesn’t like beer. Yes, raw chicken is quite common in Japan, but I wouldn’t try this unless it’s on the menu! Also: don’t try it at home unless you’re sure it’s safe. Eating raw chicken does come with some risks but it was worth it. It’s delicious, tender, tasty with spring onions and some soy sauce. You can either go for the raw liver or the chicken breast. Both are good and do great with a craft beer!
Black Eggs at Mount Fuji in Japan
By Katie Diederichs from Two Wandering Soles: Not far from Mount Fuji, lies the active volcanic valley of Ōwakudani. If you find yourself visiting Japan’s most famous mountain, be sure to visit this area to see (and smell!) the sulfur steam vents, get an epic view of Mt. Fuji, and eat the famed Ōwakudani Black Eggs. Called “kuro-tamago” by locals, these black eggs might not look the most appealing, but they are actually regular chicken eggs and taste pretty much like a typical hard-boiled egg. However, you may notice a slight odour and taste of sulfur, which comes from the hot spring water in which it was boiled. These black eggs are sold in packs of five for 500 yen (about $4.50 USD), and you’ll find salt and pepper shakers to season them to your taste. Local legend has it that eating one of these black eggs adds 7 years to your life. So eat as many as you can handle while enjoying a fantastic view of Mount Fuji! Trying local foods (even the strange looking ones!) is one of the best things to do in Japan, so don’t miss the opportunity to try this slightly bizarre take on eggs if you’re in the area.