Do you like traveling around the world and trying the most bizarre local food and you think you have a stomach made of steel? Then you’ll surely like this list of the most unusual food in Asia. Even though the words ‘bizarre’ and ‘unusual’ are a matter of perspective and what’s strange for me might not be strange for you and vice versa, but here are some Asian dishes that most people in the rest of the world would find bizarre.
Hachinoko is one of Japan’s lesser-known delicacies that consists of baby bee innards. As gross as it might sound, this local Japanese delicacy has a crunchy texture, it’s full of protein, and consumed by locals because of its nutritional value. At a glance, Hachi No Ko looks rather disgusting but truth to be told, it tastes a lot better than it looks.
Wasp Crackers, Japan
Are you brave enough to try a cracker that looks like it fell into a wasp’s nest? Japanese people are. In fact, it’s one of the most popular snacks in the city of Omachi, so much that it stimulated a lot more people to become wasp hunters and set traps around the country to capture more wasp for this favorite local delicacy. As bizarre as it might sound, wasps are actually very nutritional; they have the highest concentration of protein among insects- 81%, making wasp crackers one of the most potent protein boost snacks in the world!
Natto is a traditional Japanese breakfast consisting of fermented soybeans. It’s served with karashi mustard, more soya sauce, and Japanese bunching onion. Natto definitely isn’t for everyone; it has a gooey texture, strong smell and even stronger smell (some foreigners even compare it to dirty socks) that most people can’t take. Japanese people, however, are an exception; according to a survey from a few years ago, more than 70% of Japanese find the taste of natto pleasant.
Shirako translates to white children and the name is rather descriptive, as this dish is the male counterpart of caviar. Yes, that’s right- shirako is basically cod fish’s sperm even though it can come from several different kinds of fish. The dish itself is creamy and buttery and it doesn’t taste bad. It can be prepared by steaming, deep frying but nothing can take away the feeling you get when you realize what exactly are you eating!
Tuna Eyeballs, Japan
Tuna eyeballs are one of the most noticeable things in Japanese fish markets. You can get these at any street market for less than a dollar. They taste kind of like squids and the preparation method is the same as boiling an egg. After boiling, people just season them and eat them like that. If it’s any consolation, it tastes a lot better than it sounds.
Japanese people enjoy eating a lot of things that are difficult to digest for people in the western world and shiokara is another one of them. This dish consists of raw viscera of different animals that are served after getting fermented and being heavily salted. If it can be compared to anything, the closest thing to it would be cured anchovies but the flavor of shikar is a lot more powerful and you would definitely need to have an acquired taste in order to try something like this.
A lot of Japanese people like to drink the entire thing at one go and follow it with a shot of whiskey. If you think you have a strong stomach, this will be a nice challenge for you!
And speaking of alcohol and unusual food in Asia…
Habu Sake, Japan
Habu Sake is a drink originating from Okinawa. Spirit makers drown snakes in alcohol and let them release their venom to create this unusual drink. According to local beliefs, this drink enhances male libido.
Basashi (Yuuk-hwe), Japan and Korea
Shiokar isn’t the only raw food you’ll discover on this list of unusual food in Asia. In Japan and Korea, raw horse meat sashimi is a popular delicacy. In Korea, this dish is called yuu-hwe while in Japan they refer to it as basashi. Several studies have shown that horse meat contains high doses of minerals and acids that can be beneficial to one’s health. I know that eating horse meat is taboo in most countries but if you can eat sushi, you can eat basashi too; the taste is actually surprisingly similar.
Pufferfish, Japan and Korea
Known as Fugu in Japan and Bok in Korea, this is one of the most expensive delicacies you can find in this part of the world. The reason why this dish is so expensive and deserves a mention on this list of the most unusual food in Asia is that a lot of people actually died from trying pufferfish that wasn’t properly prepared.
The reason for this is obvious; pufferfish is one of the most poisonous vertebrates in the world and mastering the art of pufferfish preparation can take years. If you want to try this exotic Asian delicacy, I suggest you do it in a reputable restaurant prepared by a master chef. It might cost you up to $100 per plate, but it’s definitely worth it.
These steamed silkworm pupae are one of the most popular street food dishes in South Korea and one of the nation’s most beloved snacks. You can find it at street food stalls around the country as well as in a lot of restaurants, bars, and even in supermarkets where it’s being sold in cans.
This is perhaps one of the most famous delicacies on this list. Sannakji is a Korean delicacy that consists of small pieces of octopus that are served immediately after cutting an alive octopus. Upon serving, the suction cups are still moving and you have to be careful when eating to avoid them sticking to your mouth or even worse, your throat. However, Koreans don’t seem to be very concerned about this.
Chicken Butt, Korea
As you’ll see in multiple instances on this list of unusual food in Asia, people in this part of the world don’t like to waste any parts of the animal. In South Korea, this includes the bottom part of the chicken too. In fact, a fried chicken butt is one of the most popular street food delicacies in Korea. It actually tastes really good until you don’t know which part of the chicken you’re eating.
Dog Soup, China and Korea
Eating dogs is probably one of the worse stereotypes that follow Koreans and Chinese. And even though a lot of people in both countries condemn this act, there are still a lot of people who eat dog meat. A lot of people eat it in the hottest days of the year because they believe it enhances virility and sexual potency.
In a lot of Korean restaurants, you could find this soup as ke-go-gi (meaning dog meat) but most restaurants have adopted the name yong-yang-tan (nourishment soup) to avoid social backlash. In China, on the other hand, people aren’t even trying to hide this custom and in some regions, this is even proudly presented via dog-eating festivals.
Eating frogs is nothing strange in China even when they’re still alive but Chinese people take things to another level. One of the most exotic dishes you can get in China are grilled toads but I wouldn’t recommend you to try it unless you’re in a five-star restaurant. A lot of people actually die every year from eating poorly prepared toads because their skin lets out a bitter taste and smell that burns the eyes and nostrils of predators, similarly like a skunk and if not cleaned and cooked well, eating this delicacy can be fatal.
Deep-Fried Pigeon, China
I know this doesn’t sound as extreme as some other things on this list but the traditional Chinese deep-fried pigeon is served together with its head (and eyes). Pigeon is actually considered to be a prized food in China and is usually served on banquets and family celebrations. Pigeon meat is actually tasty but nothing spoils the experience like having a head looking at you while you’re eating.
Bird’s Nest Soup, China
Bird nests have a special place in Chinese traditional cuisine. If you’re unfamiliar with how bird’s nests are built, they basically consist of small strands and ‘saliva cement’. Chinese people have been using these bird nests for cooking traditional soups for over 500 years. In fact, bird’s nests in China are sold for up to $2,500 per kg!
Shark Fin Soup, China
Chinese have a thing for strange soups. Shark fin soup is exactly what it sounds and is one of the most luxurious dishes you can try in China. That’s why it’s always served on special occasions like weddings and banquets. The taste of this dish comes from the other spices but the most important item of the soup is the shark fin that gives the dish its unique texture.
As you can probably imagine, the process of gathering shark fins is quite gruesome and like many other food items in China draws constant criticism from the international community but just like many other food items, Chinese people don’t seem to care when it comes to the food on their tables.
Drunken Shrimp, China
Speaking of animal cruelty, we should also mention this Chinese dish famous as “the drunken shrimp”. The drunk shrimp is, as its name suggests, a bunch of shrimps stunned in strong alcohol and eaten alive. A more “humane” alternative is keeping the shrimps in alcohol after taking them out from the water and boiling them rather than serving them alive. This bizarre delicacy is also popular in several other places in Southeast Asia too.
When speaking of unusual food in Asia, we simply can’t forget Guīlínggāo; a traditional medicine that’s also a very popular dessert. This dish consists of a crushed turtle shell and a myriad of herbal products. Needless to say, because of the price of the ingredients, this dish is very expensive. The name of the dish actually translates to Tortoise Jelly and you can find a variation of it in some supermarkets but note that this dish doesn’t contain any turtle shell powder.
Tong Zi Dan, China
If we would translate Tong Zi Dan to English, the closest translation would be ‘virgin boy eggs’. When I heard about this for the first time, I was even more confused about what this dish is actually made of. And when I heard just how this dish is prepared, I decided to skip it.
Tong Zi Dan basically consists of eggs boiled in young boys urine collected from school toilets or directly from little boys. The eggs are cooked all day on low heat and locals believe that these eggs can help revitalize the body. In fact, this was even recognized as an intangible cultural heritage back in 2008.
Rabbit Skull, China
The city of Chengdu is famous for one of the most bizarre delicacies in China- a rabbit skull. This dish has several different varieties but they all look equally disturbing and are consumed in the same way; by trying to suck out the meat from the skull (or what’s left of it). Overall, this is a challenge even for the bravest travelers. Even if you do have an acquired taste, you would still have to go past the disturbing appearance of this popular Chinese snack.
Sheep Penis, China
If you thought that Chinese can’t top urine eggs and animal heads, you probably haven’t heard about this Beijing delicacy. The street markets in the capital are home to some of the most unusual food in Asia and sheep penis on a stick is certainly one of them. This ‘delicacy’ is served on a stick, it looks pale and gooey, and at a glance, it doesn’t seem appetizing at all. Would you dare to try it?
Snake Soup, Hong Kong and China
According to traditional Chinese medicine, snake meat is a good source of positive ‘Yin’ and as surprising as it may sound to some, snakes do hold a special place in Chinese traditional cuisine. One of the most popular ways to prepare a snake is in a soup with a lot of mushrooms and cloud ear fungus.
This dish is usually consumed in the winter but barely anyone eats in the summer because according to Chinese traditional medicine, this dish might be counter-productive when combined with hot weather. And as far as appearance goes, the dish doesn’t look very exotic; the tiny pieces of snake meat can easily be mistaken for a chicken.
Baby mice fetus, Hong Kong
As shocking as this one might sound, it’s just another one of the many at-a-glance bizarre Chinese dishes that are said to having the ability to prolong one’s life. The baby mice fetuses are drowned in rice wine and served as shots. To make things even more bizarre, the right way to consume them is by swallowing without chewing.
Rooster testicles, Hong Kong
Coming in different shapes and sizes, rooster testicles are one of Hong Kong’s most popular street food snacks. You would be surprised how different the testicles of two different roosters can look in size, shape, texture, and even flavor. Similar to many other bizarre Chinese delicacies, rooster testicles are known to have numerous medicinal properties.
Crispy Fried Duck Tongues, Taiwan
As gross as this might sound, Taiwanese people say that this street food delicacy can easily rival KFC’s crispy chicken. In Taiwan, duck tongue is prepared by deep-frying and tossing the tongue in a smoking wok with several different local spices and herbs. The final result is a very appealing, crispy, golden-brown delicacy that smells as good as it tastes.
If you want to try it tho, don’t waste your time searching for this “snack” in the restaurants; crispy-fried duck tongue can only be found at some of the many street food stalls in Taipei.
Pig’s Blood Cake, Taiwan
Pig’s Blood Cake is another seemingly gross but actually edible street food snack from Taiwan. As its name suggests, this snack is made of pork blood, soy broth, and sticky rice. The mixt gets fried or steam and subsequently coated in peanut flower before being served on a stick at street food stalls in every corner of Taiwan.
Duck Embryos, Philippines and Hong Kong
Thinking it was a regular egg, I was completely shocked to see a small chick inside the egg yolk after cracking the egg. I couldn’t eat it but I saw a lot of locals peeling off the upper portion of the egg, sipping the broth and eating the chick and the egg yolk once they were done. Most people season the balut with salt and vinegar before eating.
You can find this ‘delicacy’ at most street food vendor stalls and varieties of it can be found in China, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Vietnam too. There, this dish is known under the name ‘century eggs’ or ‘preserved egg’ and it can be made of duck, chicken or quail eggs.
Skewered Scorpions and Grasshoppers, China, Indonesia and Thailand
In parts of South East Asia and China, grasshoppers and scorpions are a popular street food delicacy. In the places in which these dishes are available, they are very popular among locals because of their cheap price.
The preparation method for both, grasshoppers and scorpions, is the same and it includes marinating and deep frying which can apparently neutralize the poison in the scorpion. However, even if you do decide to try, don’t eat too much as I’ve seen people getting a nosebleed from eating too many scorpions at one go.
Uni, Japan, China, and The Philippines
The gonads of sea urchins are a culinary delicacy in many parts of East Asia. In Japan, this delicacy is known as uni and is served either raw as sashimi or in sushi with wasabi and soy sauce. To eat it, you have to break the spiky exterior to get to the creamy, briny and tasty sea urchin. This is one of the most exotic delicacies in this part of the world and the price for it is very expensive.
Blood Soup, Vietnam and China
Blood soup is exactly what it sounds; a soup whose main ingredient is raw blood. The most common variation of this dish includes duck blood but it’s not uncommon to use pig or even goose blood. The raw blood is mixed with a salty fish sauce that prevents the blood from premature coagulation and gives the soup a jelly-like texture. Minced meat and other intestines are added to the mix and the soup is topped with peanuts and a variety of local herbs and spices.
Fermented Shrimp paste, Vietnam
Fermented shrimps are another Asian delicacy that requires an acquired taste and a strong stomach. This unusual food is available in other parts of Southeast Asia but it originates from Vietnam. The fermenting process and the special enzymes that are the final result of the whole process give this dish a smell that keeps most foreigners away but Vietnamese people love it. Fermented shrimps are eaten raw but also used in several other dishes, mostly with fried tofu and rice vermicelli.
Cobra Heart, Vietnam
Speaking of unusual food in Asia, we just have to mention this extremely bizarre Vietnamese delicacy. The name of the dish is self-explanatory but the consumption process is even more bizarre. The whole experience begins with choosing your own snake. The vendor (who might have lost a few fingers in this process) proceeds to behead the snake and cutting into its body to extract the heart with a pair of surgical forceps.
The rice heart is then placed in a glass of rice wine and is to be consumed right away while the heart is still warm. By doing this, local people believe that they will gain the snake’s strength. Whatever is left of the snake is taken to the chicken and several different delicacies are prepared, including cobra meat, sauteed cobra testicles, raw cobra blood, etc.
Rats, Vietnam, Indonesia, and parts of India
In parts of Vietnam, Northern Sulawesi (Indonesia), and a few eastern states in India, barbecued rats are a popular local delicacy. Rodent meat is actually rich in proteins and doesn’t even taste bad but the mere thought of it is what stops most people from trying this bizarre delicacy. In most places, rats are prepared barbecued or grilled and are served on a stick like a kebab.
White Ant Egg Soup, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam
White ant egg soup is extremely popular in most countries in Southeast Asia. Ants are fried and consumed as a quick snack but for this delicacy, their eggs and embryos are cooked in a soup with a mix of different local spices and herbs. The texture resembles caviar but the eggs pop in the mouth while chewing releasing a sour flavor.
Cow Placenta, Thailand
When a cow gives birth, the placenta is cut and thrown in most of the world, but in the province of Isaan in Thailand, it’s a local delicacy. The placenta is cut in small pieces, cooked, and served with vegetables and rice. The taste resembles beef and it doesn’t feel unusual unless, of course, you know what you’re eating.
Larb Leuat Neua, Thailand
If you’re one of those people who think ordering a rare beef at a restaurant isn’t macho enough, you should try Larb leauat Neau in Thailand. This dish basically consists of raw beef meat with a side of uncooked blood to go along with it. Who needs cooking the meat to kill all the bacteria in it, right?
Deep-fried Tarantula, Cambodia
Cambodia is probably the only country in the world that breeds tarantula for food purposes. In cities like Skuon, it has even become a popular tourist attraction. This street food delicacy doesn’t have a long history like some of the other items on this list tho. It dates back to the Khmer Rouge era, when unfortunately for the tarantulas, times were so difficult that a lot of people were forced to eating anything they could get their hands on.
Bug Platter, Cambodia
The traditional Cambodian bug platter has to be one of the most unusual food I tried in Asia. In the country’s capital, Phnom Penh, you can even find a restaurant called The Bugs Café that specializes in dishes made from bugs. A lot of locals eat bugs because they are easy to grow and more sustainable than producing meat and rich in proteins.
Chilli Wood, Laos
Mai Sakahn (more famous under its popular tourist name ‘chili wood’) is a species of black pepper that grows in northern Laos. But nothing can spice up your meal like a small piece of this plant’s vine. Most people collect this plant for producing black pepper but some harvesters focus on the vine itself.
After gathering it, they cut it into splinters and add it to soups or stews. The vine itself is actually lingering but it can make your tong and mouth feel numb. It’s an irreplaceable part of or lam, one of the most famous local beef stews but a lot of people even eat it raw because it’s a natural antiseptic and it works great for opening an appetite.
Silkworm poo tea, Laos
If you’re wondering how bizarre a tea can be, Laos has the answer. There are several tea estates in different parts of the country that are famous for preparing tea in which the key ingredient is silkworm poop. The flavor isn’t nearly as disgusting as the name might suggest but the tea is rather bland and earthy.
Buffalo Penis soup, Malaysia
China isn’t the only country on this list to have a dish in which the main ingredient is an animal’s phallus; Malaysia has it too. The phallus (some of which up to two feet long) are chopped off, cut into small pieces, and cooked in a stew. According to a local shop owner, one buffalo phallus is enough to make 10 plates of soup. Many locals believe that this soup is one of the best natural aphrodisiacs.
Sate Biawak, Indonesia
Did you ever hear of a monitor lizard? It’s a reptile that lives in rivers and swamps and happens to be a local delicacy in parts of Indonesia. The meat of biawak (monitor lizard) is consumed by locals because of its ability to heal skin rashes and other conditions and some locals even claim that eating this meat can ease the symptoms of asthma.
Sate Ulat Bulu, Indonesia
If you’re visiting parts of Central Java, you’ll find a lot of street food stalls selling Sate Ulat Bulu (caterpillar satay). According to local beliefs, caterpillar meat can cure toothache and a lot of people consume them for their medicinal properties but some people eat them only because of their taste.
Kopi Luwak, Indonesia
Did you know that one of the world’s most expensive coffees is made from civet poop? Kopi Luwak is a local coffee made in different parts of Indonesia. The main ingredient of the coffee are civet excrements. Unfortunately, because of this, a lot more farmers started capturing civets and keeping them in cages because of their poop.
Fruit bat soup, Indonesia
Indonesian cuisine is very popular among tourists but there are some lesser-known delicacies that certainly deserve a mention on this list of the most unusual food in Asia. One such example is fruit bat soup. The main ingredient of this dish are fruit bats who live in North Sulawesi and live exclusively on exotic fruits. Their meat is high in protein but it does tend to emit a very potent odor that resembles ammonia.
Chicken blood cubes, Philippines
If you ever see rectangular brown blocks on a stick at street food stalls anywhere in the Philippines, sorry to disappoint you but it’s not chocolate. This seemingly appealing street food snack is made of grilled coagulated chicken blood marinated in a special barbecue sauce. The local name for this dish is Betamax.
Stuffed Frogs, Philippines
No trip to the Philippines province of Pampanga is complete without trying the finest local delicacy; stuffed frogs. The local name of this dish is Betute and it’s prepared by deep frying the frogs and stuffing them with a mix of minced pork meat, onions, and garlic. At first, it sounds disgusting and unusual, but surprisingly, this is one of the tastiest snacks you’ll find in the Philippines.
Pig Brains, Myanmar, China, and India
Needless to say, the idea of eating pig brains for lunch is not very appealing to most travelers but locals in Myanmar and different parts of Asia love it. As expected, this dish is mushy and slimy and even though this doesn’t sound great, the preparation method and the local spices turn this dish into a tasty treat. The best place to try this is probably Yangon in Myanmar but you can also find this dish in parts of Northeast India and China too.
Baby Shark Curry, India
Even though India is the country with most vegetarians in the world and the food you get here is not nearly as bizarre as some of its neighboring countries (cough, China), there are exceptions. One such example is the baby shark curry that can be found only in Goa. The taste is similar to a regular fish curry (even though the texture is different) but because sharks are very hard to get, the price for delicacy is very expensive.
Eri Polu, India
Saris aren’t the only thing silkworms are used for in India. In the northeastern state of Assam, silkworms are a very popular delicacy. Eri silkworms are used as soon as they spun their cocoon. Afterward, they’re cooked on low fire and served with fermented bamboo shoots that give the dish a very sour taste and a very potent odor that keeps most tourists away.
Red Ants Chutney, India
Some Indian chutneys can make any dish better but there are a few them that you would rather just not try. The red ant chutney comes from the Indian state of Chhattisgarh and is made from red ants and their eggs. The preparation process includes drying the ants, crushing them, and spicing up the mix with salt and local spices. Red ants contain formic acid that is famous for its medicinal properties.
Shubat (Chal), Central Asia
The camels galore in different parts of the world inevitably lead to fermented camel milk becoming a local traditional delicacy in most countries in Central Asia. This fermented milk is famous for its healing properties but most tourists stay away from it because of its almost sickly sour taste.
Beshbarmak (Five Fingers), Central Asia
Beshbarmak is the national dish in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The dish name translates to ‘five fingers’ and it consists of boiled horse, sheep, or lamb meat served with large noodles (large but not as appetizingly-looking as per se, udon noodles) that look like lasagne in an onion gravy broth. Oftentimes, the dish is served with the head of the animal. The traditional serving procedure includes giving different pieces of meat to people belonging to different age groups, with the prime meat pieces being given to the oldest person.
Kumis, Central Asia
Horses hold a special place in central Asian culture and cuisines. This region is also probably the only region in the world where horse milk is massively consumed among the local population. Kumis is a fermented dairy product made from mare’s milk but there are some variations that include donkey milk too. This drink consists of a lot more sugar than cow milk and that’s why when fermented kumis has a relatively higher (but still mild) alcohol content compared to some similar fermented dairy products.
Head Cheese, Mongolia
A lot of people don’t mention head cheese when talking about unusual food in Asia, mainly because Mongolia, the country where this ‘delicacy’ comes from remains under most tourists’ radars. The dish consists of boiled and jellied sheep’s head topped with spices and some leftover hair to ‘enrich the flavor’. This is actually one of Mongolia’s national dishes.
Stomach Butter, Mongolia
Stomach butter is exactly what it sounds; butter left to rot in a yak’s stomach. The disgusting smell alone is enough to put most travelers of from coming near this dish and not yet trying it but this is one of the most beloved snacks in Mongolia. A leftover from the good old nomadic days when preserving food was a real challenge, I suppose.
Sheep Eyeball Juice, Mongolia
When Mongolians have a hangover, they come back to normal by drinking raw carrot juice, decorated with a pickled sheep eyeball. Even though I couldn’t get myself to try it personally, locals claim that nothing beats a hangover better than a sip of this ‘juice’.
Even though this dish isn’t widely consumed mainly because of the difficult preparation process, this list of unusual food in Asia wouldn’t be complete without it. Boodog is a type of local marmot and one of the most popular delicacies in Mongolia. The traditional procedure includes removing all organs from the animal and cooking it inside out by using hot rocks and innards. After the meal is cooked, the boodog is eaten from the carcass.
Sheep Head, Mongolia
If you didn’t get it by now, Mongolians sure have a thing for sheep. That’s why baked sheep head is one of the country’s national dishes. It’s served without removing anything, including bones and eyes, and if you’re a guest in someone’s home, you have to eat both eyes, according to Mongolian traditions.
PS. We do not support or endorse preparing or eating most of these dishes. We believe the way to abandoning some of these brutal eating habits is to spread the word about them because a lot of people around the world aren’t aware of some of them (and once they do, more people can act and publicly bash some of these animal cruelty practices, as was the case with the dog eating festival in China recently). If the rest of us just keep ignoring it, these practices will last forever. Thank you all for understanding.
How did you like this list of unusual food in Asia? Would you try any of these? If so, which one would you go for first? Let us know in the comments!
If you liked this post, also check out this list of the most bizarre dishes food from every US state.
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