Bizarre foods are easy to find in the streets of Southeast Asia. They are literally in every corner.
Foreign influence is evident, not only in cultures and traditions but in Asian cuisines as well. Street foods, however, remain unique. The question is, are you adventurous enough to try them?
Here is a list of exotic foods for the adventurous traveler to Southeast Asia:
Balut (pronounced as bah-loot) is common street food in the Philippines. It has grown popular as well in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand.
Balut is either boiled or steamed fertilized duck embryo. Some restaurants in the Philippines have turned popular street food into gourmet dishes. Locals eat balut, warm inside the shell. They prefer to eat balut with salt or a mixture of chili, garlic, and vinegar.
Fried spiders are a regional delicacy in Cambodia. Locals would usually toss a mixture of MSG, sugar, and salt with fried spiders. They also deep-fry the spiders with crushed garlic. Tourists who have tried spiders described them “rather like a cross between chicken and cod”.
Isaw (pronounced as e-sao) is another popular street food in the Philippines. Intestines from chicken or pig are cleaned several times, boiled, then grilled.
Isaw and ice-cold beer go well together. Vinegar with onions, peppers, and chili makes isaw experience even better.
Silkworms are easy to find in any Thailand talat (flea market). I think they are the cheapest bugs sold in Thailand.
Silkworms are like little pills at 1 or 2 centimeters. They are deep-fried but not crispy and fleshy. The worms have a heavily salted flavor. Locals snack on silkworms even but I prefer eating them with steamed rice.
Frog dishes are a staple in Northern Thailand. If you go to Chiang Mai, you’ll easily find restaurants serving frog dishes. Just look for “Kob” on the menu. Frogs are good for hot curries and grilled dishes.
The frogs are not the typical ones you see leaping out of somewhere. They are fairly huge and cultivated from rice fields.
The curried frog and deep-fried frog are popular among tourists. They are usually paired with sticky rice or steamed rice.
Skewered fried scorpions are sold in the streets of Thailand or CambodiaEvery Thai bug cart has scorpions served on a stick. The scorpions sold on carts don’t look freshly fried in oil. They should be crispy for a better experience. If you’re down to try it anyway, the crunchiness is the least of your worries.
A skewered fried snake is the first bizarre food I’ve tried in Cambodia. It tastes somewhere between chicken and fish. The skin though is rubbery in texture.
The thickest part of the snake is along either side of the spine. You need to scrape your teeth over the spine to get the rest of the meat.
Snake Blood or Snake Wine
Snake blood and snake wine are traditional Chinese medicines. When Leonardo DiCaprio downed a glass of snake blood in the 2000 movie “The Beach”, thrill-seekers then started hunting for snake blood in the region.
The Snake Village in Hanoi is the place to go. Not all taxis are familiar with the English name of the village so just tell them you are going to Lệ Mật. Our taxi fare from Hoan Kiem district to Lệ Mật was around 100VND.
Most village residents are snake catchers. They sell liquors with dissolved snake venom and snake dishes (like cobra meat). They don’t come cheap.
These bugs are edible like silkworms. Your palate will surely feel its legs and claws while munching.
Snacking on crickets is also popular among Southeast Asians. It is better to eat a handful of small ones than pop them one by one into your mouth.
What does it taste like? They’re bugs so expect no yummy flavor!
Grasshoppers are one of the main attractions in Thai and Cambodian bug carts. Most of them are around 10 centimeters long. They are crunchy when barbecued properly.
Restaurants serving croc meat sprawl through Pub Street in Siem Reap. Crocodile meat is very tender and tastes like pork. Don’t worry about scabby croc skin on your plate. They marinate and cook the meat well. Crocodile meat is a little expensive but you can choose how you want it cooked.
Cambodia has several breeding farms for crocodiles. I’ve seen baby crocodiles in a cage. Most local tours include visits to a crocodile farm.
Bull’s Testes or Penis
When Filipinos say “Soup Number 5”, they mean bull’s testes (or penis) in broth. It is not easy to find across the capital. Locals believe the bull’s testes and penis are aphrodisiacs.
There are only a few diners that serve Soup No. 5 in Manila’s Chinatown. I’ve tried mine from this art gallery in Angono town.
Weasel Poo Coffee
Southeast Asia named coffee made out of weasel poo as kopi luwak. Sumatra (Indonesia) is the largest producer in the region. Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines have civet farms producing kopi luwak.
Civets eat coffee cherries and digest them. Farmers collect their feces and process them to produce kopi luwak. Kopi luwak is one of the fanciest coffees in the world.
Fried cockroaches are also popular in Southeast Asia. Others roast, sautée, or just boil them even.
Those who have tried fried cockroaches guarantee their crunchiness. The catch? They leave an intense aftertaste.
I guess chicken feet are the most common of the world’s bizarre foods on the list. Yangon, Manila, and Thailand street vendors sell them in skewers for cheap.
Chinese cooks usually steam or deep-fry chicken feet. Filipinos call them “Adidas” for an obviously funny reason. Thailand and Malaysia cook chicken feet in green curry.
Have you tried any of these Southeast Asia’s bizarre foods? I urge you to try a few if you find yourself in the region. These bizarre foods are part of our unique charm. You don’t even have to go far to find these foods. You only need to find out if you have them in your locale. Let me know if you’ve had a bizarre food experience in any of your travels.