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Weird food of Southeast Asia

So, weird food of Southeast Asia!? Well, durian, rats, birds’ nests – fair enough, but there are a host of other weird and wonderful food and drink items to be found in Southeast Asia. Some that will have you asking where you can buy a kilo to take home, some that will leave you totally indifferent and others that you wouldn’t feed to your worst enemy.

Fried bamboo worms at a market in Chiang Mai
Fried bamboo worms at a market in Chiang Mai

Sorry – don’t have photos for all these! (sundried squirrels, for example, are not very photogenic!).

#1 – Sundried squirrels. A recipe passed down from someone’s Lao, (partially sundried herself), grannie;

Take one medium-sized squirrel, any species but the less endangered the better, and kill it. (Or for the more squeamish buy a pre-dead one from a reputed dead squirrel dealer near you.)

Split it down the middle and carefully spread-eagle it before squashing it. (You might want to avoid the kids looking too closely at this stage).

Next, lay it on your corrugated iron roof or a sheet of corrugated iron placed on your roof if you happen to live in a house with a non-corrugated iron roof. (This is much easier in Laos.)

Leave to dry for a month or so depending upon the weather. This can be tricky if you live in Manchester or anywhere else where it rains 350 days in the year since you’ll really need to bring the squirrel inside during rainy periods.

Soak in water for another month or so, (or just leave it on the roof if you’re making this in Manchester).

Add to stock with vegetables and flavourings of your choice and boil the s..t out of it for another month or so.!

Accompany with sticky rice and vast quantities of Lao rice whisky because you’re going to need it.

Tip – if you can find some suitable roadkill you can avoid steps 1 to 4!

Common throughout Laos.

#2 – Bamboo worms. Deep-fried then lightly teased with a dribble of soy sauce these are a guaranteed crowd-pleaser! A bit like Wotsits without the ‘cheesy’. Not only can you go home and boast to your mates that you ate worms but you’ll actually enjoy them too! North Thailand – where you find the giant bamboo that the worms live in, is a good place to find these.

#3 – Ants. Surprisingly versatile ingredient and surprisingly tasty if correctly prepared. Thais eat red ants, (the large, winged variety), fried with lemongrass, chilli and shallots as a beer snack and very nice too with a delicate lemony flavour, (that’s the formic acid). The spicy beef in black ant sauce at Phnom Penh’s ’54 Cafe’ also goes down well. Ants eggs are a different matter though – resembling frogspawn they’re made into omelettes, (that’s added to regular omelettes made from chickens eggs not made from the ants’ eggs themselves!?), or in soups but we reckon you’ve got to be from North or Eastern Thailand to really appreciate the tasteless, jelly-ishness of it all.

#4 – Monkey wine. That’s it – don’t want to talk about it or even think about it, let alone go into details, but certainly, the most unpleasant, and unsound thing I’ve even drunk, though fortunately only found in remote areas of northern Vietnam. Wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemies.

#5 – Bear wine – ditto!

#6 – Mongrel fried rice – ditto, ditto!

#7 – Sea cucumbers. Those big black overgrown slug things you find in the shallows off otherwise jolly pretty beaches. Taste as bad as they look – if you find one and have an over-riding desire to collect it then flog it off quickly to the nearest Chinese person, (who apparently thinks it’s delicious and will probably pay you good money for it), before it goes off – see durian!

#8 – Cambodian Merlot. Or was it Cabernet Sauvignon? Who cares – Cambodia’s first winery, outside of Battambang – knocks up what is sadly one of the world’s most really awful wines. We couldn’t give it away – even backpackers turned it down and the waiter didn’t even dare charge us for it. (If he knew then why didn’t he tell us beforehand!?)

#9 – Tibetan Cabernet Sauvignon. Yes – weird but it does exist and a good one can be a highly drinkable tipple. Steep vineyards in narrow valleys, reminiscent of the Hermitage region of the Rhone Valley, are located in northeastern Yunnan on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. The mineral-rich soils, sheltered valley winters and sunny summers combine to make more than half-decent, rich fruity reds.

Banana flowers in Pakse Market, Laos
Banana flowers in Pakse Market, Laos

#10 – Banana flowers. Ok, better finish on a pleasanter note – banana flower salad. Found in Lao, Thailand and Cambodia the flower of the banana plant is grated into strips and made into a crisp, tasty salad with the addition of lime juice, dried shrimp, peanuts, chilli etc. And most people didn’t even realise bananas had flowers! Come on any of our Cambodia tours and we’ll get you a dish of it!

Yummy - a load of tripe in Vietnam's Son La Market.
Yummy – a load of tripe in Vietnam’s Son La Market.

Cheers and bon appetit!