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17 Asian delicacies only the brave will try

One man’s culinary heaven is another’s hell. Like much of the world, culinary delicacies were often born from the only sources available in times of hardship and food scarcity. Although many with a western palette will find these hard to handle, one must remember that no one is born with a particular aversion to any food, its nurture that has molded our likes and dislikes.

Here’s a rundown of seventeen of Asia’s finest delicacies that only the really brave will try.

Balut

Eating balut eggs
Flickr: Jerick Parrone

Bravery level: 10
Country:
Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and China

We’ll start with a toughie. Balut are fertilized duck eggs that are buried in sand for 17 days before being boiled and sold as a street food, often accompanied by beer. At this time the chicks are fairly unrecognizable, with little to no hair, bones or beak and wrapped in the egg whites. It’s worth noting that if you purchase one of these in Vietnam they prefer a more maturely developed egg with crunchy bones.

Nattō

Natto fermented soy beans
Flickr: snowpea&bokchoi

Bravery level: 5
Country: Japan

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Nattō is a popular breakfast dish. Soybeans are fermented to produce a stringy, slimy foodstuff with a powerful odor. Simply served over plain rice it takes some bravery to try, particularly in the morning. Even the Japanese are divided – some can’t live without it whilst others most certainly can.

Beondegi

Beondegi in Korea
Flickr: Istolethetv

Bravery level: 8
Country: South Korea

These little morsels are boiled silkworm pupae – the stage in the insects life between larva and adulthood. These seasoned snacks are a common street food in Korea.

Basashi

Basashi or horse sashimi
Flickr: [email protected]

Bravery level: 4
Country:
Japan

Whilst horse meat is commonly eaten around the world, the Japanese prefer it raw, thinly sliced in much the same as sashimi. Served with a little rice, soy sauce, ginger and accompanied by sake, it’s surprisingly good. It’s often found in Japanese pubs (Izakaya).

Bird’s nest soup

Chinese bird's nest soup
Flickr: stu_spivack

Bravery level: 3
Country:
China

Bird’s nest soup is exactly that. Swiftlets create nests in caves using their own salvia which hardens in contact with air. These prized nests are gently simmered in stock to create a thick, gelatinous soup. Like many of the dishes in China, bird’s nest soup is not only a food but a medicine used to boost the immune system. Expect to pay up to a 100 bucks for an authentic bowl in Hong Kong, and much more for the rarer red nest.

Habushu

Snake wine from Japan
Flickr: David Pursehouse

Bravery level: 7
Country: Japan

Also known as habu sake, habushu is a snake wine from the Okinawa region of Japan. The name comes from the habu snake, a relative of the rattlesnake, whose poison is neutralized by the alcohol during production. Okanawans have one of the longest life-expectancies in the world, but it’s anyone’s guess as to whether this drink has contributed to that statistic.

Century eggs

Century eggs in China
Flickr: irrational_cat

Bravery level: 8
Country: China

Although they also go by the name thousand-year or hundred-year eggs, you’ll be pleased to hear that they aren’t that old. Originally used as a method of preservation and now a delicacy in China, eggs from ducks, chickens or quails are left in a mixture of ash, clay, lime salt and rice husks for just a few weeks. The outcome is a brown, salty jelly, enveloping a creamy, sulphurous yolk. Not for the faint-hearted.

Chicken feet

Hong Kong chicken feet
Flickr: Alpha

Bravery level: 6
Country: China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam

Unlike the west, chicken feet are used throughout Asia (and much of the rest of the world). Having no muscle and plenty of small bones, it’s the gelatinous skin that is its appeal. In Hong Kong, chicken feet are so popular they often command higher prices than the breast meat.

Drunken shrimp

Drunken shrimp in China
Flickr: James Creegan

Bravery level: 7
Country: China

Fresh-water shrimp are marinated for a minute or two in alcohol, usually baijiu, before being served live.

Durian

Smelly durian fruit
Flickr: Jeng Shin

Bravery level: 2
Country: Throughout South-East Asia

The rich, nutty, calorific flesh of this fruit is delicious, much like a set custard. But many are divided on the smell. Some find it pleasantly fragrant, others vile and revolting, likening it to rotting flesh. Either way, its smell is so pungent it’s banned in many public areas including the subway in Bangkok where you’ll find signs that say no smoking, no drinking, no durian.

Fugu

Fugu or puffer fish from Japan
Flickr: Peter Kaminski

Bravery level: 7
Country: Japan

Fugu (puffer fish) is perhaps the most notorious of dishes in Japan. There are many methods of preparation, but most commonly it’s served as thinly sliced sashimi. So why is it brave? Many of the fish’s organs are lethally poisonous due to the high levels of tetrodotoxin. If eaten, the victim stays fully conscious whilst becoming completely paralyzed, eventually dying from asphyxiation. Fugu is 1,200 times stronger than cyanide and there is no antidote. You’ll be happy to know that chefs go through three or more years of rigorous training before becoming licensed to prepare fugu, so restaurants deaths are almost non-existent.

Inago

Fried locusts in China
Flickr: uraslmaru

Bravery level: 6
Country: Japan

Like much food which seems strange to the western palette, these locusts were an important nutritional foodstuff in times gone by. The name inago translates to children of the rice fields. They are enjoyed for their crunchy texture.

Kopi Luwak

Kopi Luwak or weasel coffee
Flickr: shankar s.

Bravery level: 3
Country: Indonesia, Philippines

Looking for something different in your morning brew? Kopi luwak is coffee made from beans that have been eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet, a small mammal that lives in south-east Asia. Unfortunately due to high prices the product commands, imitations are rife, as are the appalling conditions of wild civets which have been caged to speed up production. One should be very careful with the supplier used and however tempting, stay clear of the cheap stuff.

Shiokara

Fermented fish Shiokara
Flickr: djjewelz

Bravery level: 7
Country: Japan

Another Japanese favourite. This concoction is created from salted marine creatures, typically squid, left to ferment in its own insides. It’s often consumed in one followed by a shot of neat whisky.

Live octopus

Live octopus eaten whole in Korea
Flickr: Alice Cai

Bravery level: 10
Country: South Korea

Perhaps the bravest dish on our list, and not without its controversies. Eating live octopus is popular in many restaurants in Seoul, served either whole or chopped up into smaller pieces and eaten immediately with a little seasoning. Care should be taken, particularly after a few drinks as the suckers have a tendency to stick to the throat on the way down.

Shirako

Shirako or milt
Flickr: Jos, Joanna, Micaela, and Finn Purvis

Bravery level: 8
Country: Japan

Many will have tried fish roe before. Shirako (literally white children) is the male counterpart – what we would refer to as milt. The sperm-filled sac of cod (or sometimes pufferfish) is quickly heated through in boiling water and served immediately with a little garnish.

Tarantulas

Fried spiders in Cambodia
Flickr: Simon Davies

Bravery level: 9
Country: Cambodia

A regional delicacy, particularly from the town of Skuon, where these palm-sized critters are foraged from nearby forests and deep-fried with a little seasoning. Although nobody knows when this culinary delight was born, many believe they were eaten during the desperate years of the Khmer Rouge.

We’d love to hear about your culinary adventures! Let us know by commenting below.

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