The Most Controversial Foods in Asia
Activists all over the world fight tooth and nail against the consumption of certain foods, with the Asian continent a particular hotbed of controversy. Here’s a list of choice items that drive the people at PETA and Greenpeace nuts.
Bluefin tuna at Tsukiji Market in Tokyo – Photo credit
In China, some people consume monkey brains as a delicacy and cure for impotence – a somewhat common theme with a lot of forbidden foods in Asia and particularly the People’s Republic. The practice has led to a drop-off in monkey populations in China and other parts of Asia as well. It’s a big issue because the cerebral meat has to be consumed, apparently, straight from a live, shackled primate. Add the potential risk of contracting possibly fatal and transmissible spongiform encephalopathies and there you have it – instant controversy.
If shark’s fin soup is not on the menu at your nuptials – in China or otherwise – your reputation and very social status is on the line and, invariably, family and friends will likely gossip about how stingy you and your parents are behind your back.
There’s a flipside to this once-Imperial dish of course. Poachers trawl for sharks, hack off the fins and toss the fish back in the water, where they promptly sink to the ocean floor and expire. The ultimate bummer? The fins themselves are tasteless but, alas, legendary as a libido lift.
Sannakji is a famous Korean delicacy that consists of live baby octopi cut up and eaten raw, with a little toasted sesame oil and seeds for flavour. The sensation of tentacle suction in the throat provides the kind of adrenaline rush not available in your average kimchi, though experts in the art of sannakji do exhort diners to chew, chew, chew their food. After all, who knows how to say Heimlich in Korean, let alone with a mouth full of wee cephalopod?
Be still my beating heart. Fat chance if you venture into an underground sushi dive in Tokyo or Osaka and boldly demand the Kermit the Frog special. Not your typical omakase menu item, the daredevil allure of frog’s hearts proves, once and for all, that it really isn’t easy being green. Did we mention the heart is extracted table/bar-side and served fresh? Only to be followed, of course, with a nose-to-tail amphibian sashimi feast.
Dogs aren’t man’s best friend in Asia. More often than not, they’re what’s for dinner. The other-other-other white meat fetches quite a price in many regions of the continent – China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, you name it – where die-hard doggie epicures heel at the first whiff of Lassie being stewed. Hawkers at street markets in Vietnam commonly serve puppy protein to salivating locals, who wolf it down, woof and all, in the name of good luck and, you guessed it, sexual virility.
Tuna is still widely taken for granted and scarfed with relative nonchalance. This in the face of international calls to eat low on the fish food chain – sardines, yum! – and pervasive publicity about the rapid depletion of stocks as a result of industrial trawling. Pacific bluefin tuna is still seen as a sexy luxury ingredient, especially in Japan, in spite of the fact that over the last three decades, the fish has been decimated to near extinction.