Eating unusual foods in Asia is as much of a tourist activity as any. You cannot leave without having sampled a local delicacy and experiencing a different food culture. Here is my guide to some of the tasty treats I tried when I was in the area.
1. Duck Tongue (Hong Kong)
Duck Tongue was my first “alternative” food I tried in Asia. But, to be completely honest, I can’t really give much feedback on this. After biting into it, and finding a hard centre, I accidentally dropped it on the floor. I wasn’t too bothered about trying it again.
2. Pig Intestine (Hong Kong)
The Gap Year Buddy and I were made to try this by our friend in Hong Kong and it was served to us on skewers – like an intestine kebab. The Gap Year Buddy claimed hers tasted of – well, to put it politely – sewage but I didn’t think mine really had much taste at all. Either way, I can’t say this is something I have craved since.
3. Bubble Tea (Hong Kong)
Bubble tea is tea served cold with little balls in it, which you suck up using a straw and which burst in your mouth when you bite down on them. I had milky black tea with little black balls but I’m sure other tea options and different coloured balls are available. As a big tea lover, I can’t say it tasted bad but, unless you’re talking Lipton’s Ice Tea, I prefer mine hot and preferably ball-less.
4. Squid Mouth (Hong Kong)
It had never really occurred to me that squid had mouths – but obviously they do. It equally hadn’t occurred to me that you can eat them – but it turns out you can. They were served up looking like little battered pouts and, surprisingly, they weren’t that bad. In fact, I think that on this occasion I actually ate more than one.
5. Chicken Foot (Hong Kong)
I was rather skeptical about eating chicken feet. Having owned pet chickens, I was pretty sure that there was very little meat on their feet. It turned out that I was right. The feet were mainly bone. However, what little meat they did have did still taste like chicken though.
6. Chicken Cartilage (Hong Kong & Laos)
Somehow, I’ve now had chicken cartilage (or chicken bone) on more than one occasion. The first was with a friend who lived in Hong Kong. The second was when a guy on my tour in Laos ordered everything “weird” on the menu one night at dinner and offered his dishes around the table. It comes battered and unsurprisingly hard. I don’t think there will be a third occasion.
7. Crickets (Laos)
Crickets are probably one of the most well known Asian delicacies and a backpacker’s rite of passage. You can get them all over but I tried mine in Laos. Admittedly, I only had a few little ones, instead of one of the big ones, but I was pleasantly surprised. I’m not sure “pleasantly” is really the right word, they were just not as bad as I had thought. They tasted like chicken. If chickens had stringy legs that got stuck in your teeth.
8. Duck Bill (Laos)
I’d guess that you didn’t think a duck’s bill was edible. Well, I’ve tried it and I can confirm that you are right. I can’t say that I enjoyed this one. It just felt like bone with some slimy stuff on that you could scrape off with your teeth. Mhmm.
9. Water Buffalo (Laos)
Water Buffalo stands apart from nearly everything else on this list as being not just better than expected but one of the best thing I have ever tasted. I ordered a water buffalo curry which was nice but my travel buddy just went for a water buffalo steak and I ended up eating half of it. Oh My God it was good.
10. Jellyfish (Malaysia)
Jellyfish is not something that I had expected to eat. In fact, I didn’t even realise it was a thing. I mean I knew jellyfish were a thing, but it just didn’t cross my mind as falling into the food category (admittedly, much like most things on this list). I can’t say it tasted of much, it just felt like jelly, and it was hard to get a grip on it. As I bit down on a piece, it would just whiz over to the other side of my mouth. Tricky.
11. Durian Fruit (Malaysia)
The reputation of this fruit preceded it – I’d heard about the smell. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it reminded me of but sewage seems a reasonable comparison. In some countries, durian is actually banned from some places because of its scent, for example you can’t take it on the underground in Singapore. Crack open a durian fruit and you’ll find multiple pieces to eat. Each has the texture of custard covered in a thin skin. In all honesty, it didn’t taste too bad but I couldn’t get past the smell, which unhelpfully lingered for a while. I think its Southeast Asia’s answer to Marmite: you either love it or you hate it. Unlike Marmite, I fell into the latter category.
12. Fish Head Curry (Singapore)
Fish head curry may not sound (or look) particularly appealing but actually it just tasted like any other part of a fish in a curry sauce. It was good. Apart from the eye. The Gap Year Buddy and I had it in Singapore with her uncle, who informed up that it was the man of the house’s prerogative to eat the eye. That was fine by me but I think he regretted pointing that out to us.
13. Ais Kacang (Singapore)
Ais Kacang is probably the most random dessert you could imagine. While it is camouflaged as crushed ice covered in syrup, hidden below were beans, sweetcorn and agar jelly. If agar jelly sounds familiar to you, that’s because it’s the stuff you used in petri dish-related experiments in Biology lessons at school. Does that bring back fond memories that make you hungry? I’m guessing not. Admittedly, the ice/syrup combo was actually pretty nice and the rest didn’t taste of too much but it was just too weird for me.
14. Pork Balls (Vietnam)
On the first night of my second Southeast Asia trip, I ordered pork balls and noodles for dinner at a restaurant in Hanoi. At home, sweet and sour chicken balls are one of my staples, so I thought this was a safe bet until I had acclimatised and was ready to try something new and a bit more out there. However, when they arrived, they were sliced instead of in ball shapes and were rather more gelatin-like than meaty. I fear I may have misinterpreted the word ‘balls’. I guess I will never know but I fear the worst.
15. Snake Wine (Vietnam)
Whilst on a day-trip along the Mekong Delta, I was offered some liquid from a tub filled with snakes: i.e. snake wine. It didn’t taste great but I can’t pinpoint whether it was the snakes or the very strong alcohol. Maybe it would have tasted better mixed with some lemonade?