Your friend’s tales of jaunts abroad can’t ever exclude their adventures trying (or attempting to try) exotic local foods. These aspiring Bourdain-to-be’s are all too ready to dish the details on the delicious, the disgusting, and the downright bizarre to many of us. But the shock value of what we see in a lot of travel shows doesn’t always prepare you to adjust to the cuisine in a given country. In some such episodes you definitely get the feeling producers told their local contact to just take them to the weirdest shit they can find and often what they end up eating (or spitting out) would even make locals squeamish.
So today’s list is to highlight foods you might think are strange, but that locals love and wouldn’t flinch at the chance to indulge in. Check out these five asian foods and a few tips for enjoying them too!
1) India’s Salted Lassi
You might be thinking, hey I’ve had a lassi before! Isn’t that just one of those magic mango smoothies you can get in any Indian restaurant abroad?! Yes, but it’s not the most common lassi in India. So before you accuse the nearby Indian uncle of serving you spoiled milk, be sure you’re familiar with the salted version too! The drink is made from curdled milk, salt, water and sometimes spices. Recipes vary from stall to stall, but if you’re only expecting the sugary sweetness of the ever popular mango lassi, you may be in for a surprise when you taste the salted kind, which depending on the curds (aka homemade and unsweetened yogurt), can be very sour and acrid to the western tongue.
Learning to Love the Salted Lassi:
Indians are a curdling people and that’s a fact that’s present in all their region’s cuisines, from your freshly deep fried cheese pakoras to thick curries full of paneer. You should be just as thankful too for the homemade curds that make up your lassi which, in addition to cooling a spice weary tongue, is a healthy probiotic drink which can aid in digestion (much needed in India). Just think of this salted drink as a friend with benefits!
2) Thailand’s Congealed Blood Cakes
Thai people, who have been influenced by several generations of Chinese migration, absolutely love noodles and it’s one of the cheapest and most readily available street foods found throughout the country. However, many people visiting Thailand for a short time may not realize one of the secrets to a great bowl of noodles is the variety of textures available in each spoonful. This applies to every imaginable texture from the familiar crispy pork skins added to the bowl, or the squishy, gelatinous blood cakes. Believe it or not to Thais these blood bits make every bowl more enjoyable!
How to Conquer Blood Cakes:
You’re your own worst enemy here. Remember staring at them will solve nothing, nor is isolating the blood cakes to your advantage. To win ignore them, chop them up and make them a part of what’s in your chopsticks, instead of the sole item.
3) Malaysia’s Unanimously Loved Durian
You thought you liked fruit before your made friends with a Malaysian. The widened eyes, the foreboding grins, and the unfiltered giddiness overcoming them as your afro is spotted at the local durian stand is unmistakable. However, learning to tap into the appreciation for the fruit they have grown up loving can be elusive. That’s because unlike other fruits, durian has a reputation for being one of the stinkiest fruits and you will find many signs banning it from hotels and many public places.
How to Conquer Durian:
Your friends are your worst enemy, so if it’s your first time to try durian, have it fresh, and be sure to eat the fruit on your own terms. Avoid the heat, frozen or pre-packaged versions, and don’t assume you’ll enjoy the fruit while Team America surrounds you with negativity.
4) Japan’s Affinity for Keeping it Raw
Japan is an amazing place to eat and challenge your palate beyond the deep fried rolls available at your neighborhood’s community mall. But remember nothing will get you so rapidly disowned by family members, as openly sharing about the new raw eating habits you acquired in Tokyo. Japan has strict rules and regulations about the process and preparation of animals used for raw consumption. Raw fish, beef, and even chicken is commonplace in Japan, while nowhere else in the world is it safe and acceptable to eat such a variety of meats uncooked. But while that may put your mind at ease, remember it’s still not likely to stop Aunt Janie from pleading with Jesus to deliver you from evil.
How to Conquer Rawness:
Your upbringing has done you a disservice when it comes experiencing real sushi or other raw meats. You’re a long way from home and there was no room for eating inhibitions in your carry-on. Take a brave friend along, readily avail yourself to the condiments and sauces on the table, and if all else fails, order some liquid courage to chase this common Japanese drinking snack.
5) Singapore’s Poisonous Black Keluak Nuts
Here’s a dish that looks intimidating, but is worth hunting down when you visit the nation state of Singapore. The hearty Peranakan stew is a coveted taste of the South Asian Straits known as ayam buah keluak, after the large black ‘keluak’ nut contained inside. This curious ingredient is poisonous in it’s natural state and has to be buried in ash before it can be eaten. But don’t let the appearance or it’s toxic nature keep you from trying these nuts whose meat is scraped out, and then pounded into a spice rich paste before being refilled in the shells and cooked in the stew.
How to Conquer These Poison Nuts:
Don’t judge this curry by it’s messy appearance! Some of the more modern restaurants have made efforts to improve the way the dish looks, but it’s essentially a homemade stew. Enjoy the broth, stewed chicken, and finally don’t forget to dig out the nuts for the flavorful paste on the inside, leaving only the hard shells and chicken bones on your plate. Enjoy it because it’s not only a pain to make, it can be hard to find too!
Try anything worthy of this list on your travels lately? Be sure to leave a comment below!
A version of this post was originally written for the travel website Black and Abroad.