One of the greatest things about exploring Southeast Asia is the gastronomic experience that travelers enjoy as they troop across the region. From aromatic herbs to rich stews, the region offers unique flavors and signature dishes that visitors dig into with gusto.
At the same time, Southeast Asia also surprises with an assortment of bizarre and exotic specialties that may seem unappealing to squeamish eaters. If you’re up for a gustatory adventure, here are some unusual (yet delicious!) Southeast Asian eats to try:
One of the most famous exotic delicacies in Asia is the Philippines’ balut, which has been featured many times in pop culture, most notably in shows like Fear Factor. The dish consists of a boiled duck embryo, complete with feathers, bones, and a beak.
Balut is found sold by street vendors all over the Philippines, served with salt or vinegar mix. While everything inside the shell can be eaten, many prefer to just drink the tasty broth. It is also eaten in Vietnam and Cambodia.
Filipinos refer to tamilok as woodworms, but the slimy delicacy isn’t actually a worm, despite appearing worm-like. Tamilok is a type of shell-less saltwater clam that burrows into wood-like dead mangroves. In a few provinces in the Philippines, locals crack open rotting mangrove branches in hopes of finding one of these delicious creatures hiding inside.
Tamilok is usually eaten raw, cured in vinegar as kinilaw, like ceviche.
Scorpion (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam)
In most parts of the world, the scorpion is regarded as a deadly predator. However, in a few Southeast Asian countries, it is better known as a delectable street snack. Deep-fried, skewered, and sprinkled with a bit of salt, scorpions are a novel and popular option for both locals and tourists. It is also believed to improve health and virility.
Another creepy crawly creature that’s being served fried along the streets of Southeast Asia is the tarantula. The palm-sized spider is quite intimidating when it’s alive—and it looks nearly as scary when it is dead and cooked.
Despite the way it looks, locals love eating this eight-legged delicacy in Cambodia, describing its taste as similar to crab. Cooks prepare the dish by deep frying the tarantula until the legs are perfectly crunchy while the abdomen remains tender.
Small bats are a great snack option in Laos, where the animal is usually served fried and skewered on the streets. However, since bats have a similar texture to chicken, vendors can cook it in many different ways, whether it be grilled, barbecued, or stewed.
Bat dishes are also served in parts of Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam, as well as countries beyond Southeast Asia such as China, Japan, Papua New Guinea, and more.
The snake is a regular part of the Vietnamese diet with the animal offered in various ways in the country. Perhaps the most popular yet jarring way that snakes are served in Vietnam is as snake wine, where an entire venomous snake is stuffed inside a bottle—sometimes alive—and left to steep in rice wine or another type of grain alcohol.
Various parts of snakes are also used throughout Vietnam for different dishes. Snake meat, snake heart, or even snake bile is available for consumption for the most daring foodie traveler!
Rats are considered pests in many countries, but it’s actually a very tasty, somewhat chewy meat alternative. While the rodent is enjoyed as a protein source in several countries including Thailand, it is most popular in Vietnam where farmers trap and catch wild rats in rural farmlands.
Usually cooked by frying or grilling, rat meat is said to be gamier than chicken. It’s also very healthy with a high amount of protein and a low amount of fat.
Water Monitor (Indonesia)
Satays are an Indonesian staple with all kinds of animal meat skewered and grilled to perfection, including water monitors. These lizards are common in Asia, but it’s in Indonesia where they find a place on the street food scene.
Fried water monitor satay or sate biawak are offered by vendors in Java, Indonesia with the meat slathered in peanut sauce. It’s believed to help with various conditions, like skin diseases, burns, and asthma.
Insects (All Over Southeast Asia)
Insects are a class of the animal kingdom that many people aren’t really comfortable with, but these crawly creatures are found to be an excellent source of protein. Many Southeast Asian countries are ahead of the curve, having served insects on streets for many, many years. For instance, in the Philippines, beetles or salagubang larvae are roasted, sautéed, or cooked as adobo. The beetle itself is usually roasted and eaten as bar chow on the streets.
However, Thailand is probably the country best known for frying and selling all types of insects, most notably along the Khao San Road. Here, you can roam the carts and take your pick from the crickets, worms, beetles, grasshoppers, and even cockroaches.
Chicken Feet (All Over Southeast Asia)
Chicken may not sound like an adventurous street food option, but you’d be surprised how many tourists balk at eating chicken feet. It’s a common dish all throughout Asia, though, starting in China and now found all over the continent. While it’s used in a variety of dishes, try the street version first, which usually comes deep-fried and skewered.
Are you brave enough to take a bite of these exciting street food offerings? Explore Bangkok and sample the best and most exotic Thai street food in a Midnight Food Tour with Tuk-Tuk with KKday.
*Featured image by Michelle Maria via Pixabay