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