More Strange Foods

More Strange Foods

I’ll be honest; we enjoyed eating everything mentioned in this post. The previous strange foods post included foods that were really far our there for us – these were much more palatable. Yet what we found easy to eat and enjoyable, you may find revolting.

Tarantula

Crispy tarantula with pepper and lime sauce.

Crispy tarantula with pepper and lime sauce.

In Phnom Penh we found a restaurant reported to have great food and a good social mission. (They hire and train street youth to work in the hospitality industry.) When we saw that they served tarantula, we knew we had to eat there for our own curiosity and for the sake of you, dear reader. We were expecting it to taste buggy, but to be honest, it was delicious! A nice mild meaty flavor with a pleasant (but not too tough) crunch. The absolutely delicious black pepper and lime sauce might have contributed significantly to our enjoyment.

About to eat the legs that fell off when cutting the tarantula in half.

About to eat the legs that fell off when cutting the tarantula in half.

Vietnamese Snails and Clams

Fresh mollusks ready to be grilled.

Fresh mollusks ready to be grilled.

This was more of an interesting food experience than a challenging one. We had a lot of fun figuring out how to eat the different varieties of mollusk at Ốc Đào restaurant in Sài Gòn. The restaurant is a bunch of tables in a courtyard with a very festive environment. It’s almost a beer garden with various mollusks served as drinking snacks. But there is nothing stopping you from ordering a bunch of dishes for an actual dinner, and that is what we did. Some of the snails looked really disgusting but they all tasted delicious. The incredibly flavorful sauces that came with them helped a lot!

Ốc hương rang muối ớt - fried areola Babylon sea snail with chili and salt

Ốc hương rang muối ớt – fried areola Babylon sea snail with chili and salt.

Sò điệp nướng mỡ hành - scallops grilled with green onion and peanut

Sò điệp nướng mỡ hành – scallops grilled with green onion and peanut.

Ốc len xào dừa - mud creeper sea snail fried in green coconut curry

Ốc len xào dừa – mud creeper sea snail fried in green coconut curry.

The mud creeper sea snails have the apex of the shell cut off so that you can put your mouth on the opening and successfully vacuum the snail body out with your mouth.

Amy displaying the meat of a mud

Amy displaying the meat of a mud creeper sea snail.

Nghêu hấp sả - clams steamed in lemongrass and chili.

Nghêu hấp sả – clams steamed in lemongrass and chili.

Sò huyết xào tỏi - blood cockles fried in garlic.

Sò huyết xào tỏi – blood cockles fried in garlic.

Some sort of crab. We weren't sure what is was.

Some sort of crab. We weren’t sure what is was.

At the end of our meal, we ordered a fresh french bread to use to soak up the last bit of all the sauces. Delicious!

Mollusk skeletons.

Mollusk skeletons.

Fugu

Fugu sashimi.

Fugu sashimi.

Also known as pufferfish, this is the fish whose liver contains an incredibly poisonous substance called tetrodotoxin. The poison causes paralysis and then death. Fortunately, the only significant concentration of the toxin resides in the liver, which is carefully removed before serving the fish. In order to serve it, a chef has to take a rigorous three year long course on the proper preparation of the fish. The final exam involves eating the fish you have just prepared – selecting out those unqualified!

In all honesty, eating fugu at a restaurant in Japan is not remotely dangerous. There are only a handful of deaths each year from pufferfish, and virtually all from unqualified home chefs who tried to prepare the fish.

Ingredients for the fugu hot pot.

Ingredients for the fugu hot pot.

So how does it taste? Mild, but good. The sashimi had a pleasant and mild flavor with a bit of chewiness, but an acceptable amount, not endlessly chewy like octopus sashimi. The fugu hot pot was delicious; in it the fugu had a tender, sweet, and mild flavor. The hot pot was prepared at our table, and when the chef brought out the plate the pieces of fugu were twitching and moving on the plate! It was clear the fish was freshly prepared.

Kawa-sashi (Sashimi of parboiled skin)

Kawa-sashi (Sashimi of parboiled fugu skin)

All in all, the fugu was good but not so good that I would go out of my way to eat it again. You are really paying more for the experience than the flavor but we’re glad we got to experience it once.

Blood Tofu

Amy about to eat a piece of blood tofu.

Amy about to eat a piece of blood tofu.

Blood tofu has one ingredient: pig blood. The preparation is suprisingly simple; let fresh pig blood sit in a clean container for 10 minutes wherein it will congeal. Cut it into bite sized pieces, boil briefly, and then add it to a soup or stew – or cook it shish kabob style and eat by itself. You may actually recall us mentioning this food item before; in the Philippines we had blood tofu grilled over a charcoal fire. We weren’t big fans because the tofu was very tough and chewy. Now that we have had it in Vietnam and Thailand in soups, we’ve found it much more agreeable. When added to soup it is very soft and has a very mild flavor – not at all “bloody” tasting. I find this surprising since when I get a small cut in my mouth I can taste the iron quite strongly – even from a drop or two of blood – but in the blood tofu the metallic iron taste is barely present. It is similar to regular tofu – it has a barely noticeable and agreeable flavor and it takes on the flavor of the dish it is served in. When eaten in a bite with fresh noodles or basil you could easily confuse the blood tofu for a soft and mild soy tofu.

Blood tofu on the right in this 90 cent bowl of soup.

Blood tofu on the right in this 90 cent bowl of soup.

Blood tofu kebabs in the foreground.

Blood tofu kebabs in the foreground.

Dog Meat

We had an opportunity to try this delicacy in Korea, but passed. In Vietnam there were restaurants selling it everywhere and we thought it was worth a try. Eating dog meat is supposed to bring good fortune, so why not? The flavor was actually quite delicious – a nice middle ground between the white meat of chicken and red meat of beef.

A roasted dog head in Sài Gòn.

A roasted dog head on display outside of a restaurant in Sài Gòn.

Okay, so I’m not serious. We didn’t actually try dog meat, and I made up the flavor. I didn’t fake the picture though, dog meat is a real option in Vietnam.

I’ve always found it a bit xenophobic when people make jokes about watching your dog or cat closely if you live near a Chinese / Asian restaurant. But it turns out the large market for dog meat in Vietnam (if you are wondering why the market is large, it’s worth mentioning that dog meat is supposed to increase the male libido) actually drives people to steal dogs to sell to restaurants. Consumption is high enough to actually create a profitable black market where stolen dogs are imported from Thailand. So while you won’t accidentally get served dog meat (it is more expensive than chicken and beef and therefore wouldn’t be served to cut costs), if you do eat it, you might indeed be eating Fido.