How many bizarre foods have you tried while traveling?
When we speak of bizarre foods, Southeast Asia tops the list. Southeast Asia is undoubtedly an exotic destination. Foreigners have somehow influenced cultures and traditions in the region. Thankfully some of its cuisines remain unique to a tourists’ palate.
Here’s a list of exotic foods every adventurous traveler must try in Southeast Asia:
Balut (pronounced as bah-loot) is common street food in the Philippines. It has grown popular as well in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand.
Balut is either boiled or steamed fertilized duck embryo. Some restaurants in the Philippines have turned the popular street food into gourmet dishes. Balut is normally eaten while still warm inside the shell. Locals prefer to eat balut with salt or a mixture of chili, garlic, and vinegar.
Fried spiders are a regional delicacy in Cambodia. I haven’t tried them (probably never will) but the fried spiders are said to be tossed in a mixture of MSG, sugar, and salt. The spiders are added and fried alongside the crushed garlic fried in oil. The taste has been described as bland, “rather like a cross between chicken and cod”.
Isaw (pronounced as e-sao) is another popular street food in the Philippines. Isaw is barbecued intestines from chicken or pig. The intestines are cleaned several times then boiled and grilled.
Like balut, isaw is usually paired with beer. Isaw is dipped in vinegar with onions, peppers, and chili. They are sold on nearly every street corner.
Silkworms are easy to find in any Thailand Talat (flea market). I think they are the cheapest of bugs sold in Thailand.
Silkworms are like little pills at 1 or 2 centimeters. They are deep-fried but not really crispy and fleshy. The worms have a heavily salted flavor. Locals consume silkworms as a snack (I prefer eating them with steamed rice).
Frog dishes are a staple in the Northern provinces of Thailand. If you go to Chiang Mai, you’ll easily find restaurants serving frog dishes. Just look for “Kob” on the menu. They are cooked in spicy curries to grilled dishes.
The frogs are not the typical ones you see leaping out of somewhere. They are fairly huge and cultivated from rice fields.
The curried spicy frog and the deep-fried frog are popular among tourists. They are usually paired with sticky rice or steamed rice.
Every Thai bug cart has scorpions served on a stick. The scorpions sold on carts don’t look freshly fried in oil. They should be crispy for a better experience. If you’re down to try it anyway, the crunchiness is the least of your worries.
A skewered snaked is the first of bizarre foods I’ve tried in Cambodia. It is fried in oil and tastes somewhere between chicken and fish. The skin though is rubbery in texture.
The thickest part of the snake is along either side of the spine. You need to scrape your teeth over the spine to get the rest of the meat.
Snake Blood or Snake Wine
Snake blood and snake wine are traditional Chinese medicines. When Leonardo DiCaprio downed a glass of snake blood in the 2000 movie “The Beach”, thrill-seekers then started hunting for snake blood in the region.
In Hanoi, there is a place known as the Snake Village. Not all taxis are familiar with the English name of the village so just tell them you are going to Lệ Mật. Our taxi fare from Hoan Kiem district to Lệ Mật was around 100VND.
Most village residents are snake catchers. They sell liquors with dissolved snake venom and snake dishes (like cobra meat). They don’t come cheap though.
These bugs are edible like silkworms. Neither crunchy. Your palate will surely feel its legs and claws while munching.
Crickets are consumed as snacks. It is better to eat a handful of small ones than pop them one by one into your mouth.
What does it taste like? They’re bugs so expect no yummy flavor!
Grasshoppers are one of the main attractions in Thai and Cambodian bug carts.
Most of them are around 10 centimeters long. If you’re out to try one, just make sure they are barbecued properly for a crunchy experience.
Last time I was in Siem Reap, restaurants serving croc meat sprawl through Pub Street. Crocodile meat is very tender. It probably depends on how it’s cooked but it tastes like pork. Don’t worry about scabby croc skin on your plate. It’s marinated and cooked well when served.
Cambodia actually has several breeding farms for crocodiles. I’ve seen baby crocodiles in a cage in my previous visits.
Bull’s Testes or Penis
Bull’s testes (or penis) in broth is known to many Filipinos as Soup Number Five. It is not easy to find across the capital.
In Manila’s Chinatown, there are only a few diners that serve Soup No. 5. I’ve tried mine from this art gallery in Angono town.
The bull’s testes and penis are believed to be aphrodisiacs.
Weasel Poo Coffee
Coffee made out of weasel poo is known throughout Southeast Asia as kopi luwak. Sumatra (Indonesia) is the largest producer in the region. Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines have civet farms producing kopi luwak.
Civets eat coffee cherries and digest them. Their feces are then collected by farmers and processed to produce kopi luwak. Kopi luwak is one of the fanciest coffees in the world.
Cockroaches are also popular in Southeast Asia. They’re usually fried but can be roasted, sautéed, or boiled.
Guaranteed crunchy. The catch? They leave an intense aftertaste.
I guess chicken feet are the most common of the world’s bizarre foods on the list. I’ve seen chicken feet and other parts being sold around Yangon, Manila, and Thailand.
Chicken feet are common in Chinese cuisines, steamed or deep-fried. In the Philippines, chicken feet are dubbed as “Adidas”. In Thailand, the Thai green chicken curry is made with chicken feet. In Malaysia, the Malay-style curry is cooked with chicken feet.