Any true traveler at heart knows that one of the best ways to experience any foreign culture is to dive right into their street food. Skip going to all those high-end restaurants and those familiar fast food signs; you’re on vacation, and if you want to do it right, head to where all the locals are flocking to, especially during the late afternoon or at night.
One of the best places for any foodie to go is China, because aside from Chinese food being one of the most recognizable cuisines anywhere, you can also get a dining experience that is truly a walk on the wild side. Try walking down any busy district in China at night, and you’ll be deluged with all the sights, smells, and sounds coming from vendors hawking their wares.
Given that most people want to get a quick snack when it comes to their street food, it’s no surprise that most street foods in China are either fried or stewed, ready to be served at a moment’s notice. Here are some crazy foods that you might find:
DEEP-FRIED SPIDERS – entomophagists (people who eat insects) say that cooked spiders have a taste that’s somewhat similar to prawn. That’s not surprising, given that they are in the same class (Class Arthropoda).
FLYING LIZARDS – Since lizards don’t really have much meat on their bones, these little critters are butterflied, stuck on sticks, and fried to a crisp, giving the hungry folks a crunchy treat. For an added bonus, those are seahorses beside them, also deep-fried, for those who are feeling a little peckish.
DUCK HEAD STEW – for those looking for something a little bit more warm and filling for their bellies, there’s always a bowl of duck head stew waiting to be had. The combination of soft meat and cartilage from the head and the spicy broth make for a great, delicious snack. To really get into the spirit of the occasion, you need to suck out all the tasty little bits from inside the head itself.
As with many Asian countries, one of the main ideas in Thai cooking is to never let any part of the animal go to waste, which is why you would commonly see a lot of animal parts being consumed in Asia that most Westerners would just throw out. Plus, the Thai love having strong flavors in their foods, so don’t be surprised if you get a salty, sweet, sour, or hot explosion of flavor when you bite into your Thai snacks.
FRIED BUGS- Known as Malang Tod, these are very common on the streets of Thailand, and you won’t be hard-pressed to spot a vendor selling deep-fried insects. They can either be adults, such as crickets or grasshoppers, or deep-fried pupae (cocoons). They’re usually fried until crunchy, then tossed with some salt and pepper, or some herbs. If you’re not used to them, you should take off the wings and legs before eating, so they don’t get stuck between your teeth, or in your throat.
GRASS JELLY- This has actually become so common that many other Asian countries have these (usually in supermarkets), but in the streets of Thailand, you can get them served in a bowl with some ice and sugar for a sweet treat, or so the locals say.
BAAK BPET- This dish is the epitome of the Asian food view of “Waste not, want not”. Thai vendors who sell duck dishes even throw the beak into a sweet-salty marinade, then deep-fry it to a chewy treat that’s sure to give you a picture to show your friends back home.
In the Philippines, one of the favorite local past times is to grab a bite to eat. Whether it’s taking a break from work, coming home from school, or even just hanging out with your friends, Filipinos love to associate food with having a good time.
ISAW – Perhaps the penultimate Filipino street food, isaw is everywhere in the Philippines. It’s not only found in the streets; some restaurants even offer isaw in their menu! In general, isaw refers to the “undesirable” parts of the animal, such as stomach, intestines, or ears, which are skewered on sticks and grilled. True foodies will say that isaw will only refer to pig or chicken intestines, and that there are specific terms for specific types, such as helmet (chicken head), adidas (chicken feet), and Betamax (coagulated pig’s blood).
DAY-OLD CHICK – Yep, it’s exactly as the name says: a chick that’s been out of the egg for one day, battered, and deep-fried. Some people take out the apdo, which is a small, bitter organ inside the chick’s body cavity. Drown the little morsel in spicy vinegar, and munch away!
BALUT – No list about Philippine street food would be complete without the ubiquitous balut. It’s been featured in a lot of reality shows, and it’s been said that’s the true test of anyone who wants to experience real Filipino street food. Whether you love your duck fetus with a splash of vinegar or a sprinkling of salt, any true balut lover will say that anything goes great with good-quality balut.
The most important thing about trying new foods is to have an open mind and a bit of strong stomach! Who knows, you might find your new favorite food hidden somewhere in the heart of a busy, bustling Asian street lined with food vendors!