2014 has been a fun-filled and food-filled year but not one without it’s share of trials and tribulations (case in point getting locked up abroad for 16 days and eventually deported because of a tweet). But through it all I’ve kept on the hunt for more tasty foods to try, whether strange or taboo or just something new.
This year saw two repeats from years past, but the differences in preparation or countries is enough to justify mentioning these dishes again. So without further ado, here we go!
Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Let’s start with the big one first (no pun intended). This dish is easily the most taboo thing I’ve eaten all year. Thankfully the penis came diced because had it been served whole I am not sure that I would have been able to go through with it.
How did I find it? I heard from a local friend about this neighborhood in Kuala Lumpur known for two things: penis soup and trannies. After tweeting this I learned that my good buddy Graham (the man behind the amazing blog Inside Other Places) was only a few hundred metres away from me. Needless to say we quickly met up and embarked on this culinary endeavor together. Unfortunately it was late on a Sunday night and everywhere was closed. We returned the following night and after asking a few locals where to go, finally managed to find penis alley.
How did it taste? The actual meat was somewhat bland however the soup broth was quite delicious. Some pieces of the penis were were soft and chewy, like cartilage or chunks of fat, but other pieces were surprisingly hard. I tried not to think about which sections of the penis I was eating while chewing.
I apologize for the rough audio, none of my other videos are like this.
For those keeping score at home, yes, dog topped my list of 2013 culinary achievements. But that was in Indonesia and quite frankly, the dog wasn’t that good. However this year saw me consume dog again both in Vietnam and once more in Indonesia — this time at a well-known restaurant which only serves dog. Delicious dog, at that.
How did it taste? In Vietnam it was definitely scrumptious! Say what you will but Vietnamese people can cook a mean dog. Apparently many Vietnamese also consider it good luck to consume dog during the last half of March, which quickly becomes obvious when you see trucks overflowing with canines driving down the street and whole neighborhoods packed full of street vendors selling nothing but thousands of dogs.
It was so good I went back for more the next day and brought a random backpacker with me. His reaction? “This is so delicious! If I didn’t know what it is I would be eating it every day!”
As far as the restaurant in Indonesia where I dined on dog, it was also good. Much better than my first dog experience in 2013 but not near as good as in Vietnam. If you are visiting the city of Solo, located in Java, simply ask a local “Dimana Hugjo’s?” (where is Hugjo’s?)
For more taboo foods check out Graham’s article on the Tomohon meat market in northern Sulawesi, Indonesia.
I’ve traveled to the Philippines repeatedly over the last six years yet never had I been willing to try balut until this last trip back in January. What is balut you ask? It is a fermented duck embryo that is then boiled and served as a popular street food throughout the country. Little five year old girls have repeatedly asked me, “Why you not eat balut, it’s sooooooo good!” My response has always been, “Sorry, I like my ducks full grown and baked.”
To eat it you slam the fat end of the shell against the table to crack it and then proceed to slurp out the innards as you peel back the shell fragments — feathers, partially formed bones, bill, and this unknown liquid that is also contained within the egg shell. Often each bite is dipped in either salt or vinegar, depending on the preference of the person eating it.
How did it taste? Not that good but not near as bad as I was expecting. The salt and vinegar dip (used separately) did make it easier to consume. However I nearly gagged once, as you will notice at the 1:30 mark in the video below. That gag perfectly sums it up.
I also ate balut in Vietnam as part of a hot pot. Thanks to the broth it was a much more enjoyable way to enjoy fermented duck.
Throughout Sri Lanka
Egg hoppers might not be weird but they are amazingly delicious and definitely one of Sri Lanka’s most-loved breakfast foods. Coconut milk mixed with flour is poured into a stove-top pan and swirled up partway along the edges of the pan, to make it bowl-shaped. Then an egg is cracked open, dropped in the center and cooked in place.
The end result is something that looks like a bowl with thin, flaky edges and a thick coconut milk, flour and egg base. Other ingredients such as veggies, curry and even chicken are then added to the hopper on top of the egg. The sides are folded down to form what resembles a burrito and voilà, your egg hopper is ready for consumption!
How did it taste? Marvelous! It was my favorite breakfast food during my month in Sri Lanka. They super filling thanks to the base combination of ingredients yet also incredibly versatile enough thanks to all the possible toppings, allowing each egg hopper to be customized to individual taste and preferred level of spiciness. Highly recommended!
Goat Tongue Soup
Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Another delicacy that Americans might consider taboo but can actually be found in many countries around Asia and yes, even Europe as well, is tongue. After all let there be no part of the animal wasted. However as the place I ate at didn’t have any cow tongue, only goat tongue, any hope of comparing the two side-by-side was lost.
How did it taste? Tender, juicy and delicious. The goat tongue is diced on a chopping block in front of you and then tossed in a bowl of hot, flavorful broth. Because the tongue is a strong muscle it almost tastes like a good steak and not hard or tough, as some cuts of meat. I will definitely be eating this again in every country I find it.
Mysterious Seafood Dish
Ninh Binh, Vietnam
I still have not been able to determine what this dangerous dish was. All I know from the taste is that it was some sort of mixed seafood concoction. It was served cold in a pudding-like substance that was blood red and equally disgusting.
How did it taste? Horrendous! I don’t mind seafood but when it is served cold and in something that resembles coagulated blood yet tastes like refrigerated vomit, well then I have to throw my hands up and admit defeat. This is one dish I could not even come close to finishing. Even just the first few bites made me gag and caused others in the restaurant to start staring at me.
UPDATE According to my Vietnamese friend: “It must be one type of tiết canh – blood soup, i think it’s tiết canh dê – goat blood soup though it needs some basil to complete the dish. It’s a iconic dish of this province but I think this restaurant messed it up. The seafood taste means it wasn’t cooked properly, I hope you were alright cause some people got ill from eating this dish wrong.” Thankfully it did not make me sick, but this is most likely because I did not finish the entire bowl.
I’ve eaten octopus before and always hate it. Even so that didn’t keep me from trying it again when I passed a street vendor in Kuala Lumpur selling some.
How did it taste? Hard as rubber or plastic and equally tasteless. Even with the chili dipping sauce it still made me gag. Unable to bite it into multiple pieces, I had to just settle for swallowing the chunk of tentacle whole. Not recommended.
Coron Island, Palawan, Philippines
I’ve had crocodile in the past but Filipino crocodile sisig is by far the best way to eat this beast of the reptile kingdom. The meat is diced, boiled, broiled and then finally seasoned and grilled alongside other veggies such as onions, peppers and chilies. The resulting dish is served sizzling hot and goes best with an ice cold beer. (I recommend the magnificent Red Horse.)
How did it taste? Absolutely divine! It is chewy, tasty and leaves you wanting more. Luckily there is plenty of meat on crocodiles. However the taste does not really stand apart from other meats. In other words you might not even realize that you are eating crocodile had you not seen it being prepared. Highly recommended!
On The List For 2015
Back in 2013 I tried to procure monkey brains while traveling through Indonesia but failed. I was informed by local friends that it is frowned upon to kill monkeys for food, which needless to say made my task more difficult. Based upon the recommendations of one friend who shall remain nameless, I went out to this particular region and attempted to find a hunter willing to go out in the jungle for a few hours to procure me a monkey. However in the end I failed, probably for the best.
Beyond monkey brain there are other animals whose brains are consumed in various locations around the world, such as lamb brain in Dubai. Although I visited Dubai twice this year, I had no luck in finding any restaurant that still serves this macabre dish. However I will keep checking both fancy restaurants and dark alleys others overlook in my zombie-like quest.
Cow brain is also eaten in parts of Indonesia, most notably the island of Sumatra. However it is apparently very difficult to cook properly. (Of course by ‘properly’ I mean deliciously and not anything regarding the safety of the person eating it.)
Sometimes the places that serve penis also serve testicle but unfortunately this was not the case in Chow Kit. I have since been informed of a place in Jakarta that will proudly dish out all the bull testies you can eat, so it’s safe to say that my long-awaited return to Indonesia will be a ball.
It is also possible to find goat and lamb testicles in other countries, so wherever 2015 takes me I’m quite sure I’ll finally get this one checked off my list.
What Other Strange, Obscure Or Taboo Foods Should I Eat?
Anything else that you have tried or heard of that you would recommend for me? Or maybe something you have been wanting to try but haven’t found…or found the willpower to consume? Share your thoughts below!