Throbbing cobra hearts and fried tarantulas: Asia's grisliest foods

Throbbing cobra hearts and fried tarantulas: Asia's grisliest foods

A brief look at Asia's peculiar attraction to freaky foodstuffs
Eating tarantulas will make me beautiful? Okay, two please.

cobra heart

Cobra heart, Vietnam

It’s been made into TV shows, reported on, blogged about. The badass rep is hardly surprising: when it comes to freakish experiences in Asia, gulping down a live cobra’s heart in Vietnam is hard to beat.

In Vietnam, so-fresh-they’re-still-beating cobra’s hearts are dished up in a couple of ways: some, like Anthony Bourdain, eat the heart raw, followed by a cobra blood chaser. Others, like the Guardian’s Howard Marks, slurp it down with a glass of rice wine.

Cobra hearts are believed to enhance male virility in Vietnam, gastroenterologist Harry Teicher says. He reckons the taste is "like an interesting oyster."



Balut, Phillippines

Balut, or half-fertilized duck or chicken egg, eaten in Asia with a pinch of salt -- literally. Boiled and lightly seasoned balut can be found all over street food markets in the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, where it's traditionally seen as an aphrodisiac (though whether the sight of a dead, curled bird fetus can really amp up our libidos remains highly debatable).

Balut is prized among the brave-hearted for its balance of texture and flavors: first there's sipping the embryo broth, then there's the shell-peeling, and the chomping down on the young chick. In the Philippines, balut has even entered the realm of French fine dining recently.


fried tarantula

Fried tarantulas, Cambodia

The story goes that Cambodians, starving and desperate under the Khmer Rouge rule in the 1970s, started eating fried tarantulas in to stave off their hunger. The practice stuck, and now the fried tarantula, or a-ping, is seen by locals as a mouth-watering delicacy, with beautifying effects to boot.

The market town of Skuon is Cambodia’s veritable Spiderville, thanks to a network of tarantula burrows nearby. The spiders are usually fried with sugar, salt and garlic, and is a mouthful of complex textures, starting from the 'moreish,' cod-like head and body , to the disturbingly gooey abdomen. Travel website World Hum advises eaters to go for the brittler ones, with less squishy abdomens.


blood clams

Blood Clams, Shanghai

China’s blood clams single-handedly infected some 310,000 people with hepatitis A in Shanghai in 1988, causing the state to ban the crustacean. 

So it may seem like madness that there are still reports of sneaky foodies flouting the ban in the city’s restaurants and black markets. 

Eaten immediately after it’s been dipped in hot water, Shanghai’s blood clams reportedly have a raw, briny taste that stands out in a food culture that is all about freshness and mouth feel.

The fact that it’s barely cooked also means it’s a time-bomb of viruses including hepatitis, typhoid and dysentery, thanks to the polluted waterways near Shanghai that the shellfish live in.



Fugu, Japan

By far the most notorious on Japan's "been there, done that" circuit, fugu, or puffer fish, contain lethal doses of the poison tetrodotoxin in its organs, to which there is no known antidote. If not prepared correctly, the dish is known to kill the unfortunate epicure in a slow and terrifying way: the toxin paralyzes the body's muscles while the victim is fully conscious, and slowly he or she dies from asphyxiation. 

When prepared correctly, however, it's known to leave a thrillingly tingly taste on the tongue. Chefs around Japan have to pass a round of stringent tests to be licensed to serve the fish, but that doesn't wipe out freak accidents of fugu poisoning, like the death of kabuki actor Bando Mitsugoro after an overkill of four fugu livers in 1975.

Those itching to play Japanese roulette may want to head to Shimonoseki, home to Japan's largest fugu wholesale market.