It’s a test of manhood, there’s no going back now… Surrounded by your newly made travel buddies, you stare nervously at the morsel now on the plate in front of you. You just can’t wimp out now – or can you? Surely a buffalo’s anus is nutritious and delicious right? Err… As a backpacker in South East Asia, you’re sure to come face to face with a bizarre and unusual dish or two. Here’s our pick of South East Asia’s strangest delicacies. Would you dare to tantalize your taste buds with the following exotic delicacies?
Perhaps the most daring of all foods that backpackers can try in South East Asia. Balut is fertilized duck or chicken embryo that is boiled alive and eaten while it is still in its shell. This unique finger food is extremely popular in the Philippines, but also eaten sometimes in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Often sold by street vendors and seasoned with a mixture of salt, chili, garlic and vinegar, Balut is considered to be high in protein and rich in vitamins. Like many unusual foods, Balut is also believed by some to be an aphrodisiac, (what’s wrong with chocolate dipped strawberries?) giving amorous men the stamina to keep going all night (yet to be scientifically proven)!
Photo by Martin Butler – one of the brave few backpackers who tried Balut!
Some say it tastes like chicken. Other say it tastes like crab/crap. Eaten deep-fried, scorpions are a scary snack popular in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China. But wait a minute – aren’t scorpions deadly poisonous? Apparently, the poison in the scorpion is neutralized once it is fried (alive) in the boiling oil… apparently. Once again, there is also a belief that eating the sting will make you strong and that it is good for male virility.
3. Chicken’s Feet
Making the most of all of the chicken, in Thailand, Laos and indeed China, chicken’s feet are a tasty treat! Crunchy, gelatinous, a little rubbery and well… slightly bony (as you’d expect), they are either barbecued or deep fried and often sold on the side of the street as a snack. In Isaan, the ‘spicy chicken feet salad’ is a popular dish, made with green chilis, tomatoes, coriander and fish sauce. If you’re lucky/unlucky, you might also find one lurking in your noodle soup! Don’t be chicken…
Why did the chicken cross the road?
Rat meat has been eaten by people in the countryside for centuries, but according to a 2012 BBC report, is now being considered a delicacy in Thailand, more expensive that chicken or pork. Rats caught in the rice fields are the only ones cooked and eaten, not those that you see running around the streets of Bangkok, than God! The meat is said to be extremely tasty and unique – anyone for ratatouille?
Eating dog-meat often horrifies backpackers, as it is so unusual Western cultures. In Vietnam, dog meat is mostly eaten in the north at specialized ‘dog-meat restaurants’ and is even considered to bring good fortune. Either roasted or stewed, dog-meat is also considered to raise the libido.
6. Creepy Crawlies…
A popular street food snack in Thailand, your first encounter with these unusual nibbles is probably on the Khao San Road as they sit, fried and crisped with oil glimmering underneath the bright lights. There are crickets, silk worms, grasshoppers, beetles and last but not least cockroaches! Tempting huh? Curious backpackers and tourists surround the cart, pointing and taking photos, but few are brave enough to taste the local appetizer.
However, eating insects is not just a tourist novelty. It originates from the Thai countryside, where workers in the rice fields have been eating bugs as a daily snack for centuries. Grasshoppers, tree beetles and termites are caught in the fields, brought home and deep-fried to make a tasty snack. Surprisingly insects are actually a rich source of protein, vitamins and minerals. In Thailand, particularly the North East there are several recipes that are made with insects. ‘Malaeng Da Na’ or giant water bigs are fried with mushrooms, onions, chili and garlic to make a delicious bug stir fry. A popular spicy salad (or yam) in the North of Thailand is made from the large white eggs of the red ant.
Did you know? Some scientists believe that it would be more cost effective and environmentally friendly to farm bugs to eat rather than cattle. As it doesn’t take up much space to breed the small creatures that are packed with protein they may just become a valuable part f our diet one day in the West.
Deep fried goodness!
For any of you with a phobia of spiders, why not get over your fear by eating one? Good idea huh? Crunchy and some would say satisfying, tarantulas (the size of your palm) are an eight-legged every-day snack often eaten in Cambodia. Fried in garlic, salt and oil, the legs become crispy whilst the abdomen remains soft and gooey. Now doesn’t that sound an ‘incy-wincy’ bit tasty?
Barbecued tarantula – yum!