Indochina is a gastronome’s delight. From lovingly prepared pho (the cure for all ills, in my opinion) in Vietnam to creamy amok fish curry and stir fried morning glory flowers (a personal favourite) in Cambodia, you’re bound to have many delicious dishes calling you back for more. There is, however, a flip side to this culinary coin—a number of dishes that the Western palate may not agree with, or consider downright icky. I’ll highlight a few:
Hot Vit Lon (a.k.a. Balut) is the partially developed embryo of a duck, boiled and eaten straight form the shell. It is a common snack in certain regions and is reputed to be best enjoyed with a cold beer. Want to watch Anthony Bourdain eat one? Click here.
Creepy Crawlies. You will no doubt see multiple examples of these on a trip through Indochina, in all shapes and sizes. Fried or grilled grubs, crickets, grasshoppers, silk worms, tarantulas and other multi-legged friends can be found at many a roadside stand or local market. These are particularly common in rural Cambodia, and considered a cheap source of good protein.
Kopi Luwak. What’s that you say? Well, it’s the most expensive coffee in the world, and it happens to be picked out of the droppings of the Indonesian civet cat. Also commonly called weasel coffee, there are various grades ranging rom artificially made (with lab-created enzymes) to collected in the wild, and everything in between. Sounds nasty, right? Well, the coffee is actually delicious, and has hints of chocolate. True story. If buying some in Vietnam, be careful, as people regularly get scammed into buying cheap normal coffee. And no, it will never taste as good as when you had it in Vietnam. Torontonians can buy the closely related Indonesian grown variety at the Green Beanery.
Durian. Probably the most well known and widespread of the bunch. You know when it’s around because you can smell it from a block away. You either love it or you hate it, but no matter what, you don’t want to get stuck on a 12-hour train ride with someone sporting one (trust us).
As much as it pains me to say it, dog and cat can be a regional specialty, particularly in the north of Vietnam. While I don’t personally agree with the practice, it is considered a delicacy. Luckily, you aren’t bound to run into it much (if at all) on your travels.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you shouldn’t try these, and more power to you if you do (except maybe that last one). Please send us pictures. They may not be for everyone, but sampling these local specialties will certainly make your food trip to Indochina memorable, and at the very least you get some serious bragging rights. Also, unless you search these dishes out, or have a guide specifically point them out, you would likely walk right by. So don’t worry, there is plenty of other amazing food waiting for you in Indochina.
Mike loves a good grilled grub, and can get down with some Durian (as long as it’s creamy). Give him a ring to regale him of tales of your own gastric adventures.