When visiting a country as a foreigner, many trip advisory websites, videos and blogs will suggest the best places to get pho in Vietnam (usually in little food stalls found on the streets) or 5 star restaurants that serve Japanese Kobe beef. (Do not eat Kobe beef from street vendors.) Of course, all of this is a part of the experience. When traveling, you want to see the best and most authentic foods a country has to offer. However, many foods are overlooked in these suggestions, simply because….well, they’re kinda unappetizing, whether it be by their looks, smell, taste or even all of them combined. I have made a short list of East and Southeast Asian foods that need a little more love despite their weird complex.
1. Stuffed Bitter melon soup/ Canh Kho Qua
Unsurprisingly, Bitter melon soup is bitter. The bitterness comes from the tropical gourd fruit itself. I find it to be an acquired taste, much like coffee or some types of cheeses. The fruit is usually stuffed with a type of seasoned meat, to make it more bearable I guess. This dish is really common in most Vietnamese households. You either love this soup or hate it, I actually really enjoy this soup. The bitterness isn’t overwhelming for me and the soft texture is not bad. I’ve also seen bitter melon fried with eggs or cut up and put into soup with plain baby shrimps.
Durian is the combination atrocity I hinted at in the intro. Durian is also a tropical fruit and it’s dubbed as the “King of fruits” in many Southeast Asian countries. (Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia to name a few.) Not only does this fruit look unappetizing by it’s spiky exterior and slimy consistency, the pungent smell can be described as a skunky rotten garlic milk and depending on who you ask, it either tastes like a sweet, creamy custard fruit or roadkill on a hot day. I personally agree with the latter description. Growing up in the good ole U.S. of A, I still came across this fruit on a daily basis. I’ve seen it in cake fillings, boba tea and even in innocent ice cream! In all honesty, the taste is OK at best, it’s sweet, creamy and has an original taste. I can see why some people enjoy this fruit. However, the smell really is awful and I find that there is a slight connection between the smell and taste. Overall,I still encourage anyone reading this to try it, Durian really is an original taste you can’t find anywhere else. You can buy this fruit in the States, it’s probably seasonal but you can always check at your local oriental supermarkets.
Balut is basically a boiled duck embryo that is still in the shell. It’s common across many Southeast Asian countries.This delicacy is usually eaten with salt and pepper. A lot of people get queasy thinking about eating a baby duck but it’s no different than eating a hard boiled egg or a grown duck. I’ve had this a lot growing up but I never ate the embryo until a year ago; I always favored the hard yolk. (I hope I used that semicolon correctly.) The taste itself was forgettable, it was raw and a little salty. On the other hand, the texture is EXACTLY how you would imagine it.
4. Pig blood curd
Yum did someone say congealed blood cubes. Pig blood curd can be described as tofu’s blood cousin. (Get it ha.) The texture of blood curd is almost exactly like tofu, it’s super soft and sort of disintegrates in your mouth. The taste isn’t very strong, it’s a very benign blood taste that goes as quickly as it comes. This delicacy can be eaten with a lot of things.In China, it is eaten with congee (rice porridge) and in Vietnam, you can find these cubes in bun bo hue. (pictured above) I have to admit that pig blood isn’t strictly an Asian delicacy. Black sausage is a common breakfast food in England and it’s made from pig’s blood mixed with oatmeal.
5. Duck blood soup
I sense a reoccurring theme. Duck blood soup is fresh duck blood mixed with fish sauce, peanuts and various (cooked) body parts of the duck. Yes, people actually eat this. It’s more of a “party” food than something you eat for dinner. I have a memory of when I was younger where my friend’s dad took us to a live poultry place on Orange Blossom Trail and bought two live ducks. He requested for the duck’s blood to be drained in a Tupperware container and the guys working there did just that. I can still see their reactions when my friend’s dad decided to try the soup for flavor. I haven’t had this dish in years but from what I remember, it was just another barely thick and lightly salted soup.
We’re done here for now, I hope you guys learned something from this post and hopefully are willing to try some of these dishes if you encounter them in the future.
Marilyn Nguyen. 3/30/2016