You’ve heard all the stories: deep fried insects, grilled amphibians, and so many more enjoyed streetside in Asia’s cities. Now, it’s time to test if your bite is bigger than your bark! Do you have the guts to keep your appetite? The prize: bragging rights! You’ll have a story—and taste—to remember for the rest of your life. With a simple bite, and a swallow, you now belong to a exclusive club that have conquered Asia’s most daring delights. Even some locals, usually the younger generation, hesitate when faced with a plate of these unusual dishes.
In Spider Market, tarantulas and scorpions take their rightful place by the fruit and vegetable stalls. The round metal trays heap with armored beetles, gruesome grubs, and vicious stingers! Halved chilis garnish the top for some extra appeal. Stare your prey down, the scorpion’s stinger is still poised after death, but it can do no more damage in the Spider Market. Crunch through its shell, fried to a crisp, and show that little venomous critter who’s now boss! Some vendors hoist these large bins around the stalls, selling to the locals and tourists who make the special trip to Skuon, Cambodia in between Siem Riep and Phnom Penh.
National Highway 6, Skun, Cambodia
Isan cuisine from the northeastern region of Thailand is known for a very specific salad, Som Tam, but another dish offers a little more bite. Spicy Raw Ant Eggs Salad (“Koi Khai Mot Dang”, ก้อยไข่มดแดง) is a delicacy highly recommended at the Baan E-Sarn Mungyos restaurant. The ant eggs resemble white beans on the plate and actually pack a lot of protein. Red ants have a fiery reputation, but this delicacy is a beloved dish in the homes of northeastern locals. In the mouth, the eggs lightly ooze with fat and fluff; their taste, is delicate and slightly sour from the red ants’ diet of mango leaves.
Soi Sukhumvit 31, Khwaeng Khlong Tan Nuea, Khet Watthana, Bangkok, Thailand
Gwangjang (or Kwangjang) Market is known as a treasure trove of South Korean street delights. Since 1905, throngs of people have flocked the aisles to sample every local flavor. Tteokbokki (rice cakes in spicy sauce), Mayak Gimbap (mini rolls), and Japchae (glass noodles) are obvious favorites, but skip over to the real showstoppers: blood sausage, pig’s head, and the ultimate daring delicacy—”Beondegi” (번데기, meaning “pupa”). The silkworm pupae is plucked from its cocooning stage, not quite larvae and not yet a moth. They are then steamed, or boiled, served in a white paper cup. Pop one in your mouth and the little bean-like bug packs a medley of flavors: earthy from its life within the trees, sweet from the sugar, and salty from the soy sauce.
88 Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
서울특별시 종로구 창경궁로 88
Nothing can put you in the mood quite like grilled salamander, snake liquor, and fish sperm—at least, that’s what the owner of Asadachi believes! In Tokyo, Japan, hidden in the backstreets of Shinjuku, a hole-in-the-wall offers round after round of bizarre aphrodisiacs. They serve a feast of pig testicles, frog, and cow heart as well—totally raw! Asadachi, itself, means “morning wood”. Whether it works, we’ll leave for you to decide, but let’s just say they’ve been in this business for 40 years.
1-2-14 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, Japan
The delicacy of Hotel Nayaab is even harder to find as it isn’t hidden in a backstreet, but the menu item is hidden in plain sight. Under the list of breakfast items, foreigners may be at a loss as to what exactly Bheja Fry is and order the restaurant’s popular Biryani (spicy rice casserole). Those on a mission, though, will know to go straight for a Bheja Fry breakfast. Bheja Fry is far from your ordinary bacon and eggs order, it’s Fried Lamb Brain! The spiced grey matter is a local specialty in Hyderabad, India. It’s fried, with a masala (spice mix), seeping distinct Indian flavors into each bite. Pair with a pile of Khameeri Roti (soft flatbread) and start the day a little more—dare we say—brain-y!
Shop No. 22-8-111 Chatta Bazar, Nayapul Road, Hyderabad, Telangana, India
Follow-up your breakfast brains with a special pancake in Hanoi, Vietnam! The street vendors in Hanoi, Vietnam scoop up live sandworms from a crate and into the batter, in full view of every passer-by. The writhing worms are commonly found at low tide, or in the case of just outside Hanoi, raised in ponds like shrimp. Get them hot off the griddle as the vendors make everything fresh streetside. The pancakes are savory with a crunchy bite due to the worm’s shrimp-like shell. The briny flavor from a life underwater, is infused with herbs and just the right sprinkling of salt.
27 Thanh Ha Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam
In the Philippines, we like our eggs fertilized and mature—not for breakfast, but late at night over drinks. Balut, as its called, is a local delicacy and all-around right of passage for foreigners! Santa Martha’s Balut Industry is the go-to in the Municipality of Pateros a.k.a. the Philippine balut capital. A little birdie may have told you about the duck embryo inside, and the reports are true. Crack open a hole in the shell and peek a seventeen-day old chick coiled within, feathers, beak and all. Slurp the embryonic soup and down that baby birdie!
953 P. Herrera Street, Pateros, Metro Manila, Philippines
Amid the Chinese-Filipino dishes in Binondo or Manila’s Chinatown, a simple soup stands out for its eyebrow-raising ingredient—bull’s penis! This famous dish is so popular it goes by Soup Number 5 around the town. Serry Restaurant’s recipe has a similar aroma and flavor to Bulalo (a beef and bone marrow soup). If chicken soup is for the soul, then Soup Number 5 is for the… cheeky little foodies out there. Soup Number 5 is rumored to be an aphrodisiac, so prepare accordingly! You might just get lucky in Chinatown.
801-803 Sabino B. Padilla Street, Binondo, Manila City, Metro Manila, Philippines
Chinese cuisine has the utmost talent in transforming exotic ingredients into thick soups worthy of a lengthy slurp! At Se Wong Yee, its snake can almost pass for mushrooms, with the same earthy flavors. Chrysanthemum leaves and spices also infuse the broth with a flavors, fragrant and distinctly Chinese. You can say you’ve eaten a snake, and skip the agonizing visual of scales, fangs, and beady eyes.
Ground Floor, 24 Percival Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
The Drunken Shrimp of Yi Sheng Yue Wei still dance with life. The live shellfish are beheaded and doused in Baijiu (Chinese grain wine). They’ve bathed in it for so long that they’ve absorbed its flavor, completely drunk. Homey dishes balance out the menu, so if you end up not liking these drunken shrimp, then there’s always Plan B!
132 Yongkang Lu, Shanghai, China