Photo by Justin Friend
The Far East is renowned for having some quirky and different foods, and the best places to try these wonders are in the markets and out on the busy streets.
Some of the treats you will stumble across whilst in Asia might be a little more striking than others; here are some of the local foods you don’t want to miss out on.
Deep fried locust and in fact crickets, cockroaches and other creepy crawlies too, can be bought on most roadsides in Thailand and Cambodia. If you purchase fried locust from the right stall you may be pleasantly surprised, with the right amount of chilly or sugar if you have a sweet tooth, these crunchy snacks can be quite a delight. What might surprise you is that these fried insects are actually an excellent and cheap source of protein and are an excellent source of nutrients, especially in the developing world.
Bird Nest Soup
Dubbed the caviar of the east, birds nest soup is an intriguing staple in the Far Easts diet. The nests, made from bird’s saliva, have been a big part of Chinese cooking for over 1,000 years. Used in both sweet and savoury dishes, the bird nests are used as a thickener in some dishes but are also the main ingredient in the popular bird nest soup. The soup itself can be served with sugar or with meat and is said to boost the immune system, relive asthma, improve complexion and even increase your libido.
Known in South East Asia as the king of fruits, the durian fruit is like no other. If you haven’t heard of this fruit before then be warned, durian is probably one of the smelliest fruits you could ever encounter. The smell that comes from a durian is actually so offensive it is banned in most public places such as hotels, public transport and shopping malls. Forget marmite, this is the ultimate love it or hate it food, with descriptions varying from, “a mix of onions, sherry, almonds and cream cheese,” to, “an overripe guava or banana that someone rubbed all over his feet”… the only way to really know what it tastes like is try it yourself!
Balut loosely translated, means “wrapped” which may refer to the shell surrounding this popular snack. A balut is a fertilized duck embryo served boiled and eaten out of the shell. This snack is not for the faint hearted – the eggs are kept in an incubator until cooked and are pretty much fully formed by the time you tuck in. The bones of the duck give the egg a unique crunchy texture and are typically served at night time alongside a nice cold beer.
Mango and Sticky Rice
If reading about balut has left you felling queasy, here’s something sweet to take your mind off it. Mango and sticky rice is one of Thailand’s favourite dishes, it’s eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner and can be found everywhere you go. Usually served with coconut milk, this delightful creation is beautifully sweet and the sticky rice helps it not be too sickly. If sweet is not your thing, the Thai also love dipping less ripe mango into a bag full of salt and chili for a savoury alternative.