When it comes to food, what do you define as weird?
Talking about food is always fun. What would you call ‘weird food’? The degree of ‘weirdness’ itself is different for each person. In Indonesia, we eat frogs, rabbits, dogs, bats, rats, snakes, turtles and monitor lizards. Probably some people will find it weird or cruel, because those animals are pets and some of them are endangered. But the habit of eating those animals started a long time ago and is continued by local people in remote villages as a means of survival.
Fried insects in Thailand
Have you tried the fried insects that are sold on the streets in Thailand? At first I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to try them or not. I’d heard about them before and it didn’t sound very appealing. But when I was teaching in Thailand, I stayed with a local Thai teacher and I asked about the fried insects — she made it sound like a really common snack there (which actually is!). She said that she liked the insects and she encouraged me to try. So one afternoon when we were walking home from the local market there was a fried insect seller. She encouraged me to try then and while I wasn’t ready at the time, I finally gave in to the challenge.
There were lots of choices — probably more than 10 different kinds of insects. I said, please choose for me, and don’t choose the ones which look ‘scary’ . Her favourite is the silkworm. They are small and fat. And then we also bought the crickets and grasshoppers. There’s another type that I don’t know the name of. They (the local people) can’t even explain in to me. Probably they don’t know the English word, and I don’t know what that is. So let’s just call it ‘Superman’. I didn’t create the name, that’s just how my friend calls it. Why? Well, let me explain a bit about this creature. It looks like a frog, but smaller. And it’s fried really well until it looks really crispy. I don’t know whether it is a family of frog or insect. So…why do they call it ‘Superman’? Ah…apparently they name it by how the final shape of the fried thingy. Almost all of the fried things have the ‘Superman’ pose, with one arm (or leg??) stretched to the front like a Superman pose when he’s flying. Hmmm….interesting.
There’s nothing special in the way they fry the insects. They put the insects in a wire basket (like the one we would use for french fries) which is then dipped in a pan with boiling oil. I noticed that there were some kind of leaves thrown into the pot. I dunno what, but probably to give some nice fragrance. After the fried insects were strained, they were put into a plastic bag and covered with a piece of paper (to absorb the oil). Last step, don’t forget to spray some seasoning to make the fried insects taste more savoury!
So how do they taste? Let’s start with the silkworm. I think this is the most ‘not-so-scary’ fried insect. They are a bit juicy, especially if you got the fat ones. The ‘Superman’ tastes like really crunchy fried frog. You can eat everything, they’re boneless (well…since I dunno whether they’re tiny frogs or insects. Frogs have bones.) Eating crickets and grasshoppers were a bit complicated because they have lots of legs. Actually you can eat the legs, but sometimes they are too sharp and can be stuck in your throat. So, to eat them safely, you have to remove the legs. The body was crunchy, but the head part was a bit juicy (probably that’s the brain!).
There are still many types of insects that I haven’t tried. One of them is beetles. They look really scary and my friend said they are a bit smelly. The other is scorpion. I didn’t find this kind of insect at all fried insect seller stalls. One consideration of eating insects, besides the scary look (of course) is because of my friend’s experience. He said he was paralyzed after eating them. But probably it was caused by the mixture of scorpion (which is definitely poisonous) and the alcohol that he drank with it. Another friend of mine said that we should remove some parts of them before eating them. The experience was quite scary. He said his brain was still working and he was fully awake, but he just couldn’t move his body for 2 days. But maybe he was just unlucky. Because I’m sure there are lots of people who have tried the fried scorpion without having any scary stories. Or else the scorpions would have been banished from the fried insect street sellers. Hmm…maybe next time I’ll try them.
Balut from the Philippines
Have you heard about Balut? Balut are duck eggs that have been incubated until the fetus is all feathery and beaky, and then boiled alive. The bones give the eggs a uniquely crunchy texture. I would say it’s not as scary as it sounds, just because I’ve tried it. To eat balut, you crack the egg, drink the ‘water’ in it, and then you eat the ‘yolk’. Don’t forget to sprinkle some salt to add flavour! It contains mostly yolk, but some parts of the organs have been formed, so you might feel something crunchy (maybe that’s the beak). You can also see thin lines which actually are the intestines and some feathers. How does it taste? Just like eating ‘ordinary’ eggs 🙂
Another unique delicacy that I’ve tried in the Philippines is tamilok from Puerto Princesa, Palawan. Tamilok is a worm-like mollusk found on rotting mangrove trees. Imagine it as white long and skinny with a slimy texture. You eat them with vinegar and you can either chew them or swallow them whole. A bit like an oyster really. It is not ideal to eat with rice but it’s good with a bottle of beer.
I’m not an ‘extreme food’ lover — I just want to get the experiences of eating those weird kinds of food. I am not a brave person, but on the other hand I’m also a curious person. That combination makes me try unique things while I am travelling. How about you? What’s the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?