An important part of traveling in Asia is trying all the local foods. Sometimes the Asian food favorites can be very different to the western ones though. Some foods that the Asian people find the best delicacy can cause chills and a vomiting reflex to travelers. As we are fans of Asian food, we don’t normally have any problem with trying new dishes. We rarely say no to even stranger things, even though we are not as crazy as the Finnish Madventures.
After our backpacking trip to Asia, it’s fun to look back and think what kind of weird foods we have put to our mouths on the way. These strange and even disgusting dishes are almost always connected with animal products so all the vegetarians out there, you have been warned.
Chicken feet are by no means the same as chicken legs but literally feet including toes and everything. This dish is a big delicacy in Vietnam, China, and many other Asian countries. We avoided eating this not so tempting dish quite long. But when we were traveling in Malaysia, our local friend decided that we just have to try them. We sat in a Chinese restaurant and were soon served a whole plate of cooked chicken feet. We couldn’t do else than to start to eat.
The feet are boiled a long time so that the skin and other parts get very tender. Well, there is not much more to eat than the skin anyway. You need to suck all the eatable parts out of the toes and then spit the small bones out. Even though the structure is nicely soft, we cannot really say that chicken feet were our thing. Eating takes a lot of effort but your stomach doesn’t really get full. A big plus to very tasty sauce where the food was marinated though.
In Asia, the people don’t like to waste any parts of the animals. In case of South Korea, even the bottom part of chicken doesn’t go to waste. One of the most popular foods in Korea is fried chicken, and there are chicken restaurants at every corner. We also used to go to enjoy this yummy food with a group of people when we were in Korea. Every time we ordered chicken in the restaurant, there were some free extra bites we got to the side. Their color was dark and the consistency very chewy.
One time when we were in the restaurant, someone of the group mentioned that this part is chicken butt by the way. We thought first it was a joke, but when the same discussion repeated later, we realized that it wasn’t actually a joke. Well, we still continued eating these chewy bits as we had already had them several times before. Luckily almost anything tastes good when it’s deep-fried, haha.
Frog doesn’t maybe sound that extraordinary especially for French food lovers but for us, it was a whole new thing before traveling in Asia. We tried frog two times in Vietnam and it surprised us in a positive way. Frog meat reminds pretty much of chicken for its taste and consistency but there are just more bones in there.
When we were traveling with the motorbike in Vietnam, we stopped once in some village to have rice for lunch. The table was full of different yummy foods. One stew had some unrecognizable meat besides vegetables and we thought first it was chicken. After eating for a while, we spotted a bony webbed foot in the stew. Oh, it’s a frog, we realized. We did finish all the food with a good appetite and continued driving our stomachs full.
In Thailand, we ended up spending a few nights at the east coast in Prachuap Khiri Khan. There is a huge night market at weekends in the town. While looking around among the food stalls, we found one stall full of different bugs and caterpillars. We just had to use the opportunity and try something so we bought a bag of grasshoppers. Even though the legs and horns of the grasshopper felt a bit weird in the mouth, the fried and well-seasoned bites were actually very tasty. They were almost equally good salty snacks as normal chips. Jarkko wasn’t that excited of the grasshoppers though but Johanna finished the whole bag.
Duck egg, also called balut in Vietnamese, is not just a normal duck egg. Inside the egg, there is a half developed duck embryo. These eggs are an everyday delicacy at least for Vietnamese and Filipinos. In Vietnam, duck eggs are normally enjoyed with herbs, ginger, pepper, and salt. In our case, we cannot really talk about enjoying because the consistency and taste of the eggs are quite disgusting to us.
We tried balut two times in Vietnam and noticed that the experience can be very different depending on how developed the embryo is (how disgusting can this sound). One time the consistency wasn’t that much different from a normal boiled egg. The second time the egg was super crunchy though and we could feel all the small bones in our mouths. The rest of the appetite disappeared when we saw the small head inside the egg. Anyhow, trying balut is recommended if you want to get really inside the local food culture and impress the local people.
We almost left this out from the list because we are not proud of this food experience at all. Before anyone gets angry or upset, we have to say that we never planned to eat dog and we didn’t buy it anywhere ourselves. When we were couchsurfing in Hanoi, our host surprised us with a “lovely” breakfast one morning. Besides the duck eggs mentioned above, the meal consisted of fried dog. This was definitely the most hardcore food experience we have had and we honestly wanted to skip the whole thing. But as the food was already on the table, we decided to be polite and try a bit. The dog tasted mostly like, well, wet dog. It wasn’t a pleasant taste at all. We swear we will never eat dog again.
Eating dog is still quite common especially in Northern Vietnam. If you visit a marketplace somewhere outside the touristic center of Hanoi, it’s not unusual to see a row of fried whole dogs on the table. We had to witness the same phenomenon in South Korea as well. At the back of one marketplace, there were dog restaurants and living dogs in cages waiting for a buyer. We don’t support eating dogs on any level especially after seeing how the dogs are often treated in these countries.
Pig ears and intestines
Pig ears and intestines are another food that we got to experience thanks to our Malaysian friend. Lok lok skewers are very popular street food in Malaysia. The customers pick whatever they want to eat at the stall. There is normally meat, seafood, and tofu on the skewers. The skewer is thrown into boiling water to cook and eaten with peanut sauce. Eventually, the vendor counts the empty skewers and the customer pays for them.
We laughed and told our friend that in Finland we only give pig ears to dogs but the people would never agree to eat them. Boiled pig ears were quite eatable but nothing very special. The pig intestines again were even tasty. At least if you tried not to think what you were eating. But come on, after eating chicken butt we are not frightened of any internal organs anymore…
Besides these interesting dishes, we have quite often had suspicious meat dishes, bony chicken and other foods in Asia that we cannot name and maybe don’t even want to. Street food is cheap and the food is normally super tasty too. Anyhow, sometimes it’s better to not think too much what the food actually contains… If you want to be on the safe side, choosing a vegetarian dish is always a safe option.
Now we would like to hear food stories from you as well. What are the weirdest foods you have tried on your travels?