10 Unusual Asian Delicacies
Asia is known not just for its diverse cultures and traditions, but also a galore of exotic food that often surprises and astonishes, sometimes not to a positive effect. Now to list all the unusual food found in this colorful region would be simply impossible, they are just too many. So instead, we are starting out here with a list of just ten unusual delicacies from all over the region. Know of any other delicacies that you feel should make the list? Let us know and we’ll compile them on our future update!
Where to find: Japan
If you can handle your food staring back at you, feasting on tuna eyes should come as a pleasure. Except for the bizarre situation of having to look at your food in the eye, they are actually pretty tantalizing for its fatty, jelly-like tissues around the eyeballs. Some prefer to eat it raw, albeit the fishy taste, others would rather steam or fry it alongside garlic or soya sauce to spice it up. Selling for less than 100 yen (approximately US$1) in Japan, this is a popular local delicacy worth trying out!
Where to find: Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia
Either you love it or hate it. This “King of Fruits” has garnered avid lovers and intense loathers alike. So powerful is its aroma (or stench), it could be detected miles away, and the smell lingers in your breath and fingers long after you are done with it. In some areas they are even banned, such is the powerful odor that comes from it! The durian has a shell full of “spikes” which you cut open and take out the fruit. They are the size of a ping pong balls, and the flesh is yellowish, sticky and gluey. Coupled with its distinctive aroma, durians come in two “flavors” – sweet and bitter. It is worth a try, or at least a sniff to experience the acquired taste of the King of Fruits.
Where to find: India
Before anyone gags, lamb’s brains are actually pretty mild and not as revolting as you may think. They are white (when cooked, of course), tofu-like and often considered a gourmet treat prepared with Indian roti and curry. You can enjoy lamb’s brain served in various concoction – fried with tomatoes, egg, masala or even plain.
White Ant Eggs
Where to find: Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam
Walk along the streets of Sukhumvit, Bangkok and you’ll discover a whole new diversity of Thai gourmet. From restaurants to street stalls, the myriad of food will leave you bedazzled. But from delight to shock comes street stalls offering delicacies such as scorpions, beetles, grasshoppers, frogs, usually fried. White ant (or termites) eggs soup are probably one of the weirdest choice out of the rest, but they taste surprisingly good! The soup comes with a mixture of eggs, half embryos and baby ants. The eggs are soft and pop gently in your mouth with a wee bit of sour taste.
Where to find: Hong Kong, Taiwan, China
As the name suggests, this popular street snack is renowned for its pungent smell, often likened to garbage or manure. The smelly toufu is actually fermented tofu, best eaten with sweet or spicy sauces. Despite a smell that turns most people away, even for its enthusiasts, smelly toufu has a light taste and once it tickles your fancy, you could be a fan of it.
Where to find: Phillipines
Native to Phillipines, Baluts are half-fertilized duck or chicken eggs boiled with its shell. It doesn’t exactly look inviting as the semi-developed ducklings are already visibly formed. However, the Balut is a popular local dish eaten throughout the Phillipines, believed to be an aphrodisiac and considered a high-protein, hearty snack. Often served with beer, the biggest challenge in trying out balut is overcoming its unappetizing sight, but most people would agree that it tasted much better than it looks.
Where to find: Japan
This rare delicacy in Japan is only for risk-takers. Intensely dangerous due to its high tetrodotoxin content, which can thwart the nervous systems in minutes and kill in a few hours, this dish is served strictly in licensed restaurants. Like an art, the fugu is delicately prepared through various complicated procedures to ensure that the toxins are thoroughly cleared. It is thinly sliced and often served as sashimi (raw). Dip the meat with wasabi or Japanese soya sauce and pop it gently into your mouth. Some professional chefs prepare this delicate sashimi so there is a minute amount of poison in the meat, giving a prickling feeling and numbness on the tongue and the lips. Fugu is considered a luxury good in Japan, costing up to USD$200 for a full set.
Where to find: Shanghai
When I first heard about the dish Drunken Shrimp, my first thought goes to the usual style of steaming your shrimps in a healthy dose of wine and alcohol. It gives the shrimp an additional dash of sweetness, making it a favorite of mine. The actual Shanghainese Drunken Shrimp however, is an entirely different experience – most notably because of the absence of steaming, or any kinds of cooking whatsoever. The shrimps are not only raw, but live! They are served bathed in strong liquor, which helps to make the shrimps less feisty, and you eat the still twitching body right away after you decapitate the poor fellow.
Beondegi (Silkworm Larvae)
Where to find: South Korea
Literally meaning “chrysalis” or “pupa” in Korean, the Silkworm Larvae are a popular snack in South Korea. They are either steamed or boiled, and then seasoned before serving. If you can get through the subtle, nutty aroma, these little guys are crunchy with a unique, strange texture inside.
Where to find: Skuon, Cambodia
During the years of terror under the Khmer Rogue, starvation was rife across Cambodia, and the people began eating anything they could get their hands on. The tarantula was one such subject, and the people of Skuon, Cambodia, developed a taste for them, even long after the regime change. These distant cousins of the crab are crispy on the outside and gooey in the middle, with the white delicate meat in the head and body tasting rather like a cross between chicken and cod.