Published on January 19th, 2014 | by Kellie Bright


5 of Asia’s best (worst) foods

Read time: a bit over 4 minutes

Encounters of the food kind are a massive part of why we travel. We’re excited any time food is in and around our mouths whilst we’re abroad. Some of us are adventurous eaters, and some of us are total wimps. Whatever side of the fence you sit on, we won’t judge you. In fact, when it comes to Asia, we’re pretty sure there are more than two sides to the fence anyway. There’s probably like, seven.

If you’re the adventurous type, why not put your money where your mouth is and see how many of these you can tick off your list. Here are five culinary delights from Japan, China, Cambodia, Korea and the Philippines we reckon you should get your chompers around:

Fugu, Japan

Eating a toxic Japanese puffer fish is kinda dangerous. But spare a thought for the chef. A fugu chef has to complete a three-year apprenticeship just to get a license to serve the fish. They are constantly tested, and must be able to successfully remove all the poisonous cells. Poison is contained in 11 parts of the fish, including skeleton, liver, ovaries and intestine. That requires some damn fine knifework.  It helps explain why there’s only a 40% pass-rate on the licensing exam. And you thought your job was stressful? Puffer fish produce tetrodotoxin.There is no antidote and accidental poisoning can result in death. On average, less than 70 people are hospitalized each year from fugu poisoning, and there’s less than 10% fatality rate. That fish cray.

Century Egg, China

There’s a popular theory that Chinese Century Eggs are buried underground for 100 years. Don’t be crazy, nobody would be around to remember where they were. The “cooking” process is actually a lot shorter than that. Take your choice of duck, quail or chicken egg and cure it in a mixture of ash, clay, salt, tea, lime and rice hulls. It can take weeks or months, depending how old you want your egg to taste. Most people stick to the standard 100 days. When time’s up, the yolk should be a delightful dark green with a creamy consistency. And the white will be a wobbly, transparent brown jelly. It will also have an odour somewhere between sulphur and ammonia. Slice it up and serve with soy and vinegar, or on top of congee. If you’re wondering how this traditional dish came about, you’d have to go back about 600 years when someone stumbled across a bunch of old eggs that had been preserved in lime. For reasons unknown, he decided to pop one in his mouth and his only complaint was that it needed more salt.

Fried tarantulas, Cambodia

Back in 1970s Cambodia, when the country was still under the Khmer rule, things were pretty bleak. Things were so bleak, in fact, that people began to experiment with different ways of staving off hunger. Fried tarantula, or a-ping, became a local delicacy that is still popular today. They’re about the size of your palm and come deep-fried in oil and garlic. The crispy critters are then dipped in that delicious Cambodian favourite of lime juice and pepper sauce. The best place to find a-ping is about 75km north of Phnom Penh in the town of Skuon. Arachnophobes beware, there’s no avoiding these eight-legged creatures as excited vendors will appear from out of nowhere thrusting their piles of crispy treats in your face. The best way to eat them is by pulling off a couple of legs and tucking in. They’re a lot like soft-shell crab, and you’ll get a nice crunchy sensation. Brave eaters might then attempt the abdomen, which will pop and ooze into your mouth with a nutty, gooey flavour that will either appeal or put you off for life.

San Nak Ji, Korea

They don’t muck around with this dish in Korea. Basically, octopus are grabbed out of the tank, chopped up, drizzled with a bit of sesame oil and served on a plate while they’re still wriggling. The danger comes when you try and swallow them. Now, keep in mind that each octopus tentacle has its own brain. So they’re going to be clinging on to anything they touch – which includes your throat. So chew thoroughly to make sure those suckers don’t stick on the way down or they’ll be the ones getting the last laugh (because you might be dead).

Balut, Philippines

Another delicacy from the egg family. But trust us, after trying this one the Century Egg will seem like a bowl of ice-cream. If you’re eating lunch,  stop now. The eggs that most westerners consume are the unfertilised variety. But balut is a partly fertilised duck egg, which has been incubated or allowed to grow invitro for a certain length of time. It’s then boiled and served as a snack. To eat, you’ll need to peel back the shell to reveal the treasure inside. This is where you’ll encounter the partly grown duck fetus complete with bones, feathers and a beak. Sprinkle it with salt and then choose your next step very carefully: slurp it out, or eat it bite by bite. Locals regard it as an aphrodisiac. Every cloud, right?

Have you had any close encounters of the food kind on your travels? Let us know in the comments below. Gross us out.

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About the Author

Nachos in Vietnam. Margarita pizza in Jaipur. Cheese in Morocco. Spaghetti bolognese in Botswana. These are just a few of the edible surprises I've come across on my travels. Sure, it's not all about food… but at the same time it kinda is. I'm a copywriter for Geckos and the most fun I ever had at work was writing our brochures. The most fun I ever had outside of work was watching a honey badger tear open a bag of chips at our campsite in Chobe National Park.

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