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"We Eat Weirder Stuff than You!"

By Souksakhone Vaenkeo, a journalist from Laos who is on exchange with the Economic Observer


Coming from a country where some people eat poisonous cobra, centipedes and toads, and having heard that the Chinese eat everything that flies except airplanes, everything with four legs except tables and everything that swims except submarines, I wanted to establish who eats stranger food, the Lao or the Chinese?

Wandering around Wangfujing night market in the center of Beijing, I was amazed by the odd creatures that people were eating. Street sellers were selling things that people would normally never want in their mouths.

They were tempting tourists with barbecued scorpions and centipedes on sticks.

Although we Lao also eat poisonous insects, they’re not that common since it’s only the elderly who know how to prepare them. Even so, there are communities in Laos that add insects to their bottles of rice wine believing, despite the lack of evidence, that the alcohol is good for them.  

They also flavor their rice wine with herbs, wild animals’ bile, or a mix of poisonous animals like cobras, centipedes and scorpions.

Personally, I’ve never tried these strange foods, but my friend Phonsavanh Sangsomboun, who used to eat cobra salad, told me that such concoctions are popular with the elderly people in his central Laos hometown.

The people believed that poisons from different poisonous animals will eliminate poison itself. “But I never drink that kind of alcohol since I am still young. It's a drink for old people, but I did used to eat cobra salad,” my friend said.

He said that cobra, wasn’t as tasty as the non-poisonous snakes.

My uncle even says that he eats cobra salad to relieve pain in his muscles.

It’s a skill to cook these strange foods; in order to cook cobra salad, for example, you need to remove the poison.

Bile-infused spirits and cobra salads aren’t exactly on sale in the shops. The alcohol is more of a welcoming gift that Lao offer to visitors.  

For those unfamiliar with Indochinese cuisine, Wangfujing’s scorpions, centipedes and seahorses on bamboo sticks must seem extraordinary.

“We never eat seahorses. We only put dry ones inside our house because they’re believed to bring us good luck. Some jewelry shop owner put them inside their shops because they’re believed to bring in customers,” said my shocked Filipino colleague Darwin Wally T. Wee. As for the starfish, “in our place, only kids play with them, we’d never eat them.”


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