If you’re about to eat your dinner or a tasty snack, put it down and come back to me when you’re done. That is unless you have a tough stomach, or just enjoy the delicious tastes of Asian dishes complete with bugs, live shellfish or fermented eggs. Asia is a large place, and so we can understand the variety but perhaps, what we can’t understand is - WHY WOULD WE WANT TO EAT BUGS?!
Having done my research - or rather been talked at for hours by a friend who is knowledgeable in these sorts of things, I have learned that it is predicted that we will all have to man up and eat the creepy crawlies of this world within the next hundred years. The reason? With our growing worldwide population it’s the only way we will be able to keep a sustainable source of protein and food for the human race - pretty grim right?
Well - it’s not SO bad and I’ve had my fair share of insects over the last few years while hopping through Asia. But, insects are not the only delights in store for you below as we know, it’s not all Teriyaki dreaming here...
Cambodia went through a real life horror story called the Khmer Rouge between 1975 - 1979. During this period of terror, a lot of people went starving and so turned to any kind of food they could find; this included tarantula. When in Cambodia I was greeted by a young local girl who decided it would be absolutely hilarious to see the tourist eat one. So, she took me by the hand and led me over to her father's stand. Here he roasted me a fresh one, (because that will clearly make a difference to the taste…) and they both served it up to me so proudly I really could not say no.
Top tip if ever asked to try a tarantula - eat the legs not the body. Legs = crunchy and don’t really taste of anything so is a bonus. Body = gooey, gross and gross and just GROSS. Ignore people who tell you otherwise!
Cockroaches, Locusts & Crickets
You will find these all over South East Asia, and they’ll generally be fried in oil alive until they sizzle out… This is the point where they’re served up to you in a cup or on a stick. To be honest, they don’t taste of much and are fairly crunchy; once you get over the idea of it you could eat them as though you were a local! If you have nut allergies though, steer clear as they normally cooked in peanut oil.
Scorpion is another pretty 'delicacy' that is served on a stick all through Asia. You would think that this could be pretty deadly with the scorpions reputation for venomous, however I ate one and I was fine (well, only a stomach ache)! Lots of people say they taste like shellfish but I just thought they tasted a little like peanuts. Safe to say, it was an experience I won't relive willingly!
This not so disgusting but fairly cruel in my mind. The shrimp is put in a bowl and fill it with alcohol - sounds kind of delicious right? Add a little seafood sauce and bon appetit. Not quite; in reality the shrimp are actually alive and are drowning in alcohol. You then catch the half swimming drunk shrimp, take off the head and eat the still wriggling body. They’re not always alive as it depends on how you order them - many now serve drunken shrimp differently. Ethically, they’re not too different to how we eat oysters though I guess, as long as it’s quick!
Sounds harmless wouldn’t you agree? Maybe at home but perhaps not in China; when one orders chicken soup here it can be slightly different. A friend of mine told me that he did this. He was presented with a bowl full of water and a few spices, but the main event was a whole chicken boiled in the bowl from head to foot only missing the feathers! I don’t know if this was normal or just a ‘lucky’ one off, but in Asia they use do all of the chicken from the feet and the ‘male’ parts as a delicacy - so enjoy?
This is essentially a fertilised duck embryo and is boiled then eaten from it’s shell. It’s a dish commonly found in the Philippines, but can also be tried in South East Asia. It’s the sort of thing that you want to have a pint handy to down it with to clear the taste. Regularly sold in street food markets, it’s now becoming rather popular to serve balut as appetisers in restaurants, or just to freak out tourists. However, if this is what the locals enjoy to eat we can't deny them that. To me though, it can only taste as bad as it sounds...
Now Kopi Luwak is a personal favorite of mine because it actually tastes delicious. It’s the most expensive coffee you can buy in the world and I was lucky enough to taste a similar coffee which is harvested through the same process in Vietnam. The beans are grown and then eaten by Asian Palm Civet, a cat-like animal, and digested. The Civet will, essentially, shit the beans out and these will be collected, cleaned and ground into coffee for us to drink by monks!
Ant Egg Soup
Ant Egg Soup is literally what is says on the tin (not that it’s really served in a tin, but 'whatever'). The eggs taste like super soggy puffed rice and there were a few living ants included which aren’t too bad to be honest, just slightly sour I guess. Ants are not crunchy like other insects that are eaten in Asia, it’s just a really weird thought to be eating ant eggs; it's definitely not akin to caviar!
Habu Rice Wine
Anyone who’s been to South East Asia knows what rice wine is, and has probably tried it or even passed out from drinking it with villagers. It’s a very strong home-made spirit that is drunk by locals as they can’t afford much else. The difference between this strong, but rather fun drink is that habu rice wine will have a whole snake in the jar or bottle too. They say that the poison will add flavour and make your lips and tongue numb. I think I’ll stick with the basic version however, as there are stories of the snake still being alive when the jar is opened and biting the drinker!
Our final addition to the list are eggs. Not your typical omelette worthy egg however. These really are quite grim and one I couldn’t stomach. It’s known also as the preserved egg, the hundred year egg, the thousand year egg and so on. It’s normally a duck or chicken egg that’s been preserved for weeks to months in a mixture of clay, ash, salt and quicklime. As you can imagine, this smells quite vile and changes colour to green and finally to black. People say it’s jelly like in consistency and tastes rather salty - I hope to never find out! I don't have a picture of this one, but feel free to pop it into google images to see what comes up...