Frog's legs in France, huhu grubs in New Zealand, every country has its own version of a wild food. South East Asia is no exception, with an extraordinary number of exciting dishes that lure huge numbers of tourists every year – and send just as many running for the hills.
Whatever your take on exotic foods, South East Asia has a fascinating array of choices, from toasted tarantulas to snake heart shots.
Join me on an insider's peek into the quirky delicacies of South East Asia, and what this culinary adventure destination has to offer.
Tarantula Kebabs in Cambodia
Crispy, crunchy legs, delicate white flesh – you could be forgiven for expecting lobster, not tarantula. This Khmer street food has rapidly gained popularity with the extreme eaters in the tourist circuit, despite having been eaten in Cambodia for a long time. It is thought they date back to the Khmer Rouge ruling when food became scarce, and locals took to frying up any source of protein that they could get their hands on.
The verdict is split on whether they are worth a try, with some taste testers repelled by the eyeball textured pus in the abdomen and hairy legs, others claiming the gooey insides of the belly is the sweetest part. These readily available arachnids are found mostly in Skuon, but you will spy them at various street vendors across Cambodia, and even some restaurants who farm the creepy crawlies to maintain stock levels.
Duck Blood Soup in Laos
Spicy, Tangy, Sour soup, all South East Asian signature flavours. If you are looking for something unique and traditionally Laotian to tempt your taste buds, try ordering the leuat paeng next time you see it on the menu. Carefully crafted from ducks blood, this speciality dish is found all around Laos, and similar raw blood soups are served up in North-Eastern parts of Thailand.
Served raw, it is an adventurous delicacy, and a dish often craved by people low in iron. And with a blend of herbs, spices, noodles and lemon it is a delicious treat – if you can get past the blood drinking nature of the situation.
Bamboo Worms across South East Asia
The word bamboo strikes up images of tranquil forests, meditating monks and panda bears, but across South East Asia bamboo also serves as a home for the latest wild-foods craze. Despite sounding slimy, bamboo worms, once deep fried bear a resemblance to crunchy, buttery popcorn.
With their very low prices, and popularity across most South East Asian countries, they make for an economical and accessible snack for tourists and locals alike.
Scorpions in Thailand
Despite their uninviting look & nature, scorpions are believed by many Thai people to treat a number of ailments, even cancer and hepatitis B. With these kind of health benefits, it is no wonder people flock to street side vendors to munch on a skewered, roasted scorpion for lunch. You will find these thorny little devils easily around the streets of Bangkok, and for as little as 100 baht they are a bargain snack.
Generally cooked with the stingers still attached, the stall operator will remove the stinger for you before handing it to you to devour.
Snake Hearts in Vietnam
Thankfully, the killing and eating of snakes around Asia is becoming illegal. Many species of snake are endangered, and the eating of these misunderstood reptiles is not condoned. However, it is fascinating to know that one dish the Vietnamese consider a delicacy is the heart of a recently beheaded snake. The blood is served to drink, next to it, a heart in a shot glass. It is believed to increase libido, and work like an ancient Viagra – it is even said that you can feel the heart still beating as it slides down your throat. The rest of the serpent is taken away, and prepared in a number of styles to be served up later.
There certainly is no shortage of bizarre South East Asian delicacies, and as well as being commonplace (and often traditional) dishes for the locals, they are an excellent source of tourism for the countries. Next time you take a tour to a foreign destination, take an extra moment to taste something new & adventurous – whether you love it or hate it, it will make for an unforgettable travel memory.