One of the top tourism draws around much of Asia is all the adventurous eating. East Asian countries in particular all seem to have a plethora of extreme foods that you’d never be able to get back home. These dishes run the gamut from super spicy to super sweet, may have gooey but oddly pleasant textures, or may come from some animal you’ve never heard of.
Most of the time, while exotic and possibly a little off-putting in appearance, these quirky dishes taste great. But then there are other so-called “delicacies” that a lot of locals won’t even go near, let alone doe-eyed tourists. So put down that burritos; you won’t be needing (or wanting) it, because here’s a list of stomach-churning delicacies from around East Asia:
Hailing from Indonesia, Kopi Luwak are coffee beans eaten and excreted from the Asian palm civet, an adorable weasel-like creature. The excreted beans are then (presumably) washed and sold to coffee snobs for outrageous sums of money. General consensus is that the coffee brewed from these beans tastes kind of nasty and there’s even an argument to be made that the vast majority of Kopi Luwak is fake, which is even more reason to avoid it.
Bird’s Nest Soup
Tourists can enjoy a heaping helping of bird saliva for extravagant prices in parts of China. The soup is made from swiftlet nests, which are literally just big balls of the bird’s spit that hardens over time. We have no idea how it tastes and we’re kind of happy about that.
Served on skewers in the Philippines, chicken blood cubes look kind of like black tofu. The very idea of eating blood seems kind of impossible because blood tends to come in liquid form most of the time, but it’s actually not half bad. It’s got a salty and ever so mildly metallic taste, creating a culinary experience not unlike tasting your own blood after being punched in the face.
Ant Egg Soup
Available in several East Asian countries like Vietnam, ant eggs are supposedly similar to caviar in a lot of ways, in that they pop in your mouth. Unlike caviar, which tends to be pretty salty, these white ant eggs flood your palate with a sour taste as you bite into them.
In Japan, you can enjoy these stewed bee larvae that, like most cooked insects, are a combination of crunchy, chewy and repulsive to the eye. Bugs in general tend to be an acquired taste, but the small size and lack of gangly insect limbs make hachinoko a good gateway bug for adventurous eaters.
Popular in Cambodia and a few other Asian countries, tarantula is apparently a love-it-or-hate-it fried delicacy that supposedly tastes like a cross between cod and chicken. Throughout our world travels, we’ve concluded that most meat generally tastes like chicken, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should eat it.
Basashi is horse sashimi, aka raw horse meat. Dressage riders may prefer to stay away from this extremely tender, very bloody meat, but I for one find it delicious. I go out of my way to order this at Japanese restaurants whenever it’s on the menu. It’s as tender as the best cuts of fatty tuna, but with a taste akin to rare steak.
This is a tuna eyeball. Tuna eyeballs are gigantic, Lovecraftian horrors that are better burned and buried than eaten.
This isn’t a case of creative license. Drunken Shrimp is literally a dish of live shrimp that swim around in an alcoholic brine, very drunk and presumably very happy until you bite their heads off and suck out their insides. Eating this basically makes you the equivalent of the child-eating monster at the end of a cautionary fairy tale passed on from generation to generation in the shrimp community.
This already pretty famous dish served in Korea comes in one of two forms: whole and chopped up. In either case, the “food” is still wriggling when it’s presented to you. The whole version has been known to occasionally kill people, so remember that the next time someone puts a live octopus in front of you and says, “Here, eat this.”
One of many Japanese specialties that foreigners find hard to stomach, shiokara is minced fish stewed in fish guts and miso and then left to ferment for over a month. it’s a very traditional food that’s sort of fallen by the wayside recently; younger generations might eat it once or twice in their lives as a novelty, and even hardcore traditionalists suck it down as fast as possible, presumably because fermented fish guts tastes about as good as it sounds.
We’ve already talked about the balut of the Philippines. It’s a partially gestated duck egg eaten whole, fetus and all. I’ve thankfully never had to face one of these down, but despite the extremely unappetizing description, a quick internet search yields a lot of positive tourist reviews. Most praise the savory and surprisingly mild taste and the pleasant crunch of the partially formed fetus bones. We swear only a few of these reviews were written by serial killers.
The Chinese century egg is a normal egg left sitting in brine for a couple of months, turning all gelatinous and black in the process. It supposedly tastes like egg flavored gelatin. We don’t know why that’s supposed to be a good thing.
A street vendor food enjoyed throughout East Asia, there’s nothing inherently offensive about chicken feet; they’re even enjoyed in parts of the American south. It’s the sort of claw-like appearance that makes a lot of people take one look and say, “Yeah, that’s not for me.”
This is Japanese rice wine with a drowned venomous snake just chillin’ in it. The venom is said to slightly numb the lips and tongue of the drinker and enhance male libido, which explains why I’m writing this with a wicked Habu Sake hangover right now. Very rarely you’ll hear news stories about the snake inside suddenly waking up and attacking whoever opens the sake jar, so I guess you could say this is a drink with some serious bite. HAHAHAHA!
Sembei is a rice cracker extremely common throughout Japan. Wasp sembei is a sembei rice cracker with wasps in it. This is totally badass and tastes pretty good to boot, just so long as the wasps are dead.
Another Japanese “delicacy,” shirako is the sperm sack of a male fish often served cold with a splash of ponzu vinegar soy sauce. I ate it once. …Prior to.
Korean silkworm larvae. These little steamed or boiled critters don’t taste bad at all, apparently. These, like the hachinoko above, might make for a great introduction to bug eating, just in case you get lost in the jungle some day and have to survive on grubs.
Inago are Japanese fried crickets. This deep into the list, this actually seems pretty pedestrian and normal. Due to being cooked in sugar and soy sauce, they’re sweet, salty and crunchy at the same time, which makes them pretty delicious in my book.
Much has been said of fugu, the poisonous Japanese puffer fish. I’ve tried this multiple times and I haven’t died even one time! The taste is exceptionally bland; it just tastes like whatever sauce or seasoning it goes with. And the texture is nothing to write home about either; kind of similar to the crunchy/chewy texture of cartilage.
If you haven’t heard of durian by now, you’ve either been living under a rock or haven’t been reading RocketNews24. The famously stinky fruit’s pungent odor is so strong that it’s banned in public places in some regions. People swear that if you can get past the nauseating smell, the flesh of the fruit itself is sweet and pleasantly creamy, but given that the senses of smell and taste are so inextricably linked, many find the offensive odor to be a deal breaker.
The name itself kind of makes you do a double take, but China’s turtle jelly is made by boiling down powdered turtle shell and letting it firm up into a gelatin. People say it has health benefits and increases virility in men, which is kind of a running trend among gross foods, we’ve noticed.
We’ve saved the last entry for natto, which we kind of have a special relationship with. Expats living in Japan tend to be an adventurous bunch and usually aren’t averse to trying foods that might not necessarily agree with their western palates. But if there’s one Japanese staple food that foreigners pretty consistently find disagreeable, it’s natto. The sweaty gym sock smell is so overpowering that it’s customary in Japan to ask those around you if it’s okay to crack open a packet, and the taste and texture, while not overtly gross, are nothing special either. On the other hand, the Japanese seem to love springing natto on foreign guests as some kind of hideous prank, so you have to be prepared to suffer through it at a moment’s notice.
Have you tried any of the foods on this list? Think something’s missing? Let us know in the comments!
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