Is your next meal alive?

With the prevalence of social media and the obsession to explore the weird and wonderful, videos have emerged of food consumption that leaves many revolted and shocked. This led us to discuss what live food ingredients are available and consumed around the world?

As far as seafood is concerned there are a number of ingredients which are popular in Asia. In Korea octopus is cut into pieces, lightly seasoned in sesame oil and served immediately. This dish is known as Sannakji. Similarly, sea urchins are eaten raw; the Japanese prepare a sushi dish ‘uni’. Also in Japan, sashimi is prepared using live fish, octopus, shrimp or lobster from which the inedible innards are removed. The technique is known as ‘ikizukuri’ (‘prepared alive’). In China carp is cooked while the fish head is wrapped in a damp cloth to keep it breathing. The dish is known as Ying Yang Yu fish (‘dead and alive fish’). The Chinese are also fond of a dish known as ‘drunken shrimp’ whereby freshwater shrimps are immersed in ethanol before being eaten. A similar dish can be found in Japan whereby live prawns are beheaded before being consumed. This dish is known as Odori Ebi (‘dancing fish’). Another version, Qiang Xia, entails using clawed river shrimp which are soaked in a spirit, such as baiju followed by marinating in a sauce which can be sweet, sour or salty. Eels doused in vinegar and sake are eaten when alive in Japan.













In the West, oysters, are consumed fresh and until the oyster is removed from its shell it remains alive for a significant time. Similarly ‘live’ blood clams are a delicacy in New England, USA.

Amphibians and reptiles are also consumed alive in countries such as China, India, Japan and Vietnam. Frogs are served as sashimi, beating snake hearts are considered a delicacy and lizards are known to be eaten too.

Japan - Ikizukuri










Insects provide an alternative live food source. In Australia larvae such as the wichetty grub are consumed. Casu Marzu a sheep’s cheese speciality in Sardinia embraces the larvae of the cheese fly, Piophila casei. In Denmark, the two Michelin starred restaurant, Noma, received much attention when offering chilled ants on its menu.

Finally, some mammals are subject to being eaten alive; San Zhi Er (‘three squeaks’) is the practice of eating baby rodents in China and fruit bats have been traditionally eaten in Guam.

Cuisitive wishes to state that eating live food is subject to significant health risks and further, raises an important ethical issue given that there is evidence that animals featured in this article can feel pain and stress.

The World of Soy Sauce

You may be familiar with the sachets of soy (or soya) sauce that come as an accompaniment to take-away food. Beyond this concoction of corn syrup, water, salt, caramel colour, vegetable protein, and sodium benzoate there is an enticing variety of soy sauces made by varied methods and offering a range of interesting and subtly different flavours, aromas and textures.

Asia is the origin of soy sauce and we feature here some of the varieties produced in the far East that we would encourage you to seek out.

Lets start with China

Chinese soy sauce can be broadly split into two methods of production: brewed or blended.

Brewing (or fermentation) using wheat, yellow black soybeans, salt, and water without additional additives is used to create four varieties:-

Shēng chōu (“fresh drawn”) or Jiàng qīng is a light fresh, thin, opaque sauce brewed by first culturing steamed wheat and soybeans with Aspergillus oryzae molds followed by fermenting the mixture in brine. It is primarily used for seasoning.

Tóu chōu is a ‘premium’ light soy sauce made from the first pressing of the soybeans as the flavour of the first pressing is considered superior. Primarily used for seasoning light dishes and for dipping due to its delicate flavour.

Shuāng huáng is a light soy sauce with a more complex flavour as a result of double fermentation using the light soy sauce from another batch to take the place of brine for a second brewing. This adds further complexity to the flavour. Used primarily for dipping.

Yìn yóu is a darker soy sauce produced by steamed soybeans with aspergillus mixed with coarse rock salt before undergoing prolonged dry fermentation. The flavour is complex and rich and is used for dipping or in “red” (hong) cooking. Brewed primarily in Taiwan.

Soy sauce


There are four notable varieties.

Lǎo chōu (“mature drawn”) is a darker and slightly thicker sauce made from light soy sauce as a result of prolonged ageing and may contain added caramel colour and/or molasses to give it its distinctive appearance. Used mainly during cooking, as its slightly sweeter and less salty flavour is enhanced by heating.

Cǎogū lǎochōu known as “mushroom” dark soy. Straw mushroom (Volvariella volvacea) is mixed into dark soy sauce creating a richer flavour.

Jiàng yóu gāo is a dark soy sauce that has been thickened with starch and sugar and occasionally flavoured with spices and MSG. Used as a dipping sauce in red cooking because of its its sweetness and caramelised flavours.

Xiā zǐ jiàngyóu known as “shrimp” soy sauce. It is a fresh soy sauce which has been simmered with fresh shrimp and finished with sugar, baijiu (a type of distilled liquor, 白酒), and spices. A specialty of Suzhou.


Moving on to Japan

Soy sauce (Shōyu) is traditionally divided into five main categories according to their ingredients and method of production. Normally wheat is a primary ingredient, which tends to give Japanese soy sauces a slightly sweeter taste than those associated with China. Also small amounts of alcohol acting as a natural preservative are sometimes added giving an alcoholic sherry-like flavour.
Koikuchi (“thick taste”) is the typical Japanese soy sauce made from roughly equal quantities of soybean and wheat. Used in marinades as well as for dipping and in stir fries. 

Usukuchi (“thin taste”) is both saltier and lighter (arising from the use of amazake, a sweet liquid made from fermented rice). Particularly popular in the Kansai region. Used to season ingredients.
Tamari is darker in appearance and richer in flavour than koikuchi. containing little or no wheat. Also known as miso-damari as this is the liquid that runs off miso as it matures. Made mainly in the Chūbu region. Used as a dipping sauce.

Shiro (“white”) has a light appearance and sweet taste as it is made mostly of wheat and very little soybean. Used in the Kansai region as a dipping sauce for sashimi.
Saishikomi (“twice-brewed”) is much darker and more strongly flavoured as a result of replacing the saltwater brine in the fermentation stage of koikuchi with a previous batch of already brewed soy sauce. Also known as kanro shōyu or ‘sweet soy sauce’.

Newer varieties of Japanese soy sauce include:- Gen’en (‘reduced salt’) which contains 50% less salt than regular soy sauce and Usujio (‘light salt’) containing 20% less salt than regular soy sauce. All Japanese soy sauce varieties are graded according to how they were made:-

Honjōzō (“genuine fermented”) contains 100% genuine fermented product.

Kongō-jōzō (“mixed fermented”) contains genuine fermented shōyu mash mixed with 30–50% chemicals or enzymatic hydrolysate of plant protein.

Kongō (“mixed”) contains Honjōzō or Kongō-jōzō shōyu mixed with 30–50% chemicals or enzymatic hydrolysate of plant protein.

All varieties and grades may be sold according to three official levels of quality dependant on nitrogen content:-

Hyōjun ((Standard grade (more than 1.2% total nitrogen)), Jōkyū ((Upper grade (more than 1.35%)), Tokkyū ((Special grade (more than 1.5%)).


Soy sauce selection












Soy sauce varieties are produced in a number of other Asian countries.

 In Indonesia there are three main varieties of Kecap.

 Kecap manis is a sweetened soy sauce with a thick syrupy consistency and a treacle-like flavour arising from the addition of palm sugar, star anise, galangal and other aromatics. Used as a flavouring.

Kecap manis sedang is a medium sweet soy sauce, less thick in consistency, less sweet and has a saltier taste than kecap manis.

Kecap asin is derived from the Japanese shoyu but is usually more concentrated with a darker colour and stronger flavour.

In addition there is Hakka soy sauce which is made from black beans and is very salty.

In Korea soy sauces or ganjang (“seasoning sauce”) can be divided into two categories: hansik ganjang (Korean-style soy sauce) and gaeryang ganjang (modernized soy sauce).

Hansik ganjang made entirely of fermented soybean (meju) has a distinctive fermented soybean flavour. It is lighter in colour and saltier than other Korean ganjang varieties.

It is categorised by its method of production, as follows:-

Jaerae-hansik-ganjang (“traditional Korean-style soy sauce”) – made with traditional style meju and brine.
Gaeryang-hansik-ganjang (“modern Korean-style soy sauce”) – made with nontraditional meju (which can be made of regular soybean, rice, barley, wheat, or soybean meal, and ripened using traditional method or aspergillus) and brine.

Depending on the period of ageing, hansik ganjang is also divided into three main varieties: clear, middle and dark, as follows:-

Haet-ganjang (“new soy sauce’) – aged for a year. Also called cheongjang (‘clear soy sauce’).

Jung-ganjang (“middle soy sauce”) – aged for three to four years.

Jin-ganjang (“dark soy sauce”) – aged for more than five years. Also called jinjang (‘aged soy sauce’), nongjang (‘thick soy sauce’), or jingamjang (‘aged mature soy sauce’).

Gaeryang-ganjang (“modernised soy sauce”) i.e. sauces not made of meju, is now the most widely used type of soy sauce in modern Korean cuisine. Also known as Jin-ganjang (‘dark soy sauce).

Gaeryang-ganjang is classified into four categories by method of production.

Brewed soy sauce – made by fermenting soybean, soybean meal, or other grains with saline solution.

Acid-hydrolyzed soy sauce – made by hydrolyzing raw materials containing protein with acid.

Enzyme-hydrolyzed soy sauce – made by hydrolyzing raw materials containing protein with enzyme.

Blended soy sauce – made by blending hansik-ganjang (Korean-style soy sauce) or yangjo-ganjang (brewed soy sauce) with acid-hydrolyzed soy sauce or enzyme-hydrolyzed soy sauce.

In the Philippines Toyò sauce is usually a combination of soybeans, wheat, salt, and caramel colour. It is thinner in texture and has a saltier taste than many of its Southeast Asian counterparts.

Varieties of soy sauce can be found also in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Despite this not inconsiderable range of commercially available sauces artisanal soy sauce producers are developing new products including a fifty year old aged sauce but you will need to be patient as this will not be available until 2039!

Dragon Fruit (Pitahaya)


The Pitahaya (Hylocereus genus) is also known as the Dragon fruit due to its extravagant appearance and vibrant colour. Its a vine-like epiphytic cactus that produces edible fruit. Similar to a prickly pear but more exotic looking. Native to Central America it is found throughout the continent stretching all the way to Northern Argentina and is cultivated extensively in Asia.

Several varieties exist including the white fleshed, red fleshed and ‘Megalanthus’, a yellow skinned dragon fruit with white flesh. The Pitaya (Stenocereus) is distinct with a sour flavour profile.


dragon fruit



Very much like the carambola (star fruit) its appearance is more impressive than its flavour profile. It has been described as sorbet like without the sweetness to quite bland. A blend of weak melon, pear and kiwi just about defines it.


The Dragon fruit consists of mostly water and carbohydrates. Its rich in calcium, iron and phosphorus. The red skin varieties are a good source of vitamin C as well as containing significant quantities of phytoalbumin antioxidants. 


Dragon fruit is unmistakable even in Asian markets. Its vibrant odd form attracts everyone at first sight. Even though they are not grown outside hotter climates, the Dragon fruit often appears at markets outside its cultivation range because of its novelty. The reality is that its flavour profile does suffer when transported but its still equally attractive.

dragon fruit field


The flesh of Dragon fruit is eaten raw including the seeds which have a nutty flavour. It is generally combined with other tropical fruits and used as a dessert. The fruit needs to be cut open to expose the inside using a sharp knife that should pass through relatively easily.


Various ingredients combine well with the dragon fruit. Kiwi, lime, strawberry, guava, nectarine, chili peppper, coconut, cardamom, watermelon, pear, rambutan, lychee and star fruit are some key examples.


Fruit must be unblemished and ideally overripe. Best eaten when sour otherwise the flavour profile becomes blander with shipping.

Gac fruit


So what is this bizarre looking fruit? Momordica cochinchinensis is a Southeast Asian fruit found in a wide stretch of Asia from Southern China into northern Australia. The Gac fruit is a spiny gourd that is intensely red in colour with an orange interior. It is easy to grow in tropical zones but with a short harvest season of 2-3 months this luxury fruit is reserved for ceremonial or festive occasions in Vietnam like new year and weddings.

In recent years the fruit has been marketed outside of Asia in health food shops as dietary supplements. Traditionally the Gac fruit has been used as both food and medicine like a multitude of other ingredients in Asia.


Dubbed the Fruit from Heaven, it has an average flavour profile but visually it really stands apart. Its orange pulp symbolises life, vitality and longevity. It is said to taste like cantaloupe and carrot mixed together. To some though the flavour can be quite bland and benefits from being combined with other stronger fruit flavours.


It has a strong connection to the health of your eyes as it is said to improve your vision as well a high phytonutrient content. Probably even more important is the extremely high beta-carotene and lycopene found in the fruit (76 times more lycopene than commercial tomatoes). These important nutrients are antioxidants capable of capturing free radicals and thus protecting the body more.  In addition the seeds contain high levels of Vitamin E.

Gac Fruit, Chiang Mai



When buying Gac in Asian markets look out for fruits that have a strong orange to red colour as this is a good indicator of ripeness.


Basically there are seemingly two ways to use a Gac Fruit. One is as a juice and the other is to add it to rice. This second option is very traditional in Vietnam. In a dish called xôi gấc, the aril and seeds of the fruit are cooked in glutinous rice which gives the rich an attractive colour and distinctive taste.



In Asia it is seemingly combined with either other fruits or rice. It goes very well with passionfruit and orange as well as other sweet fruit juices.


  • To get to try it fresh you have to look in South East Asian markets
  • Make sure you try it with rice when visiting Vietnam

Jicama Root


At first glance you would probably think the Jicama (Pachyrhizus erosus) pronounced [HEE-kah-mah] is a turnip but in fact they are not related. Unlike the starchy flavour profile of other more well known root vegetables, the jicama is famous for being crunchy and watery when consumed raw more than being overwhelmingly starchy. If you cannot find it under jicama it also has others name that include the Mexican Yam or Turnip.

Although native to Mexico it is cultivated in Central America and parts of California because it grows best in warm dry climates that have a lot of sun. Over time it has become very popular in the Philippines. Often with other root vegetables not just the root is edible. Take for instance the shoots of turnip which are eaten as an addition to a salad. In the case of the jicama only the root or tuber is edible.

Two distinct varieties of Jicama exist. One is the water jicama (rounded with transparent juice) and the other milk (elongated root and milky juice).

Chopped Jicama for Salad


Crunchy, watery, juicy and slightly starchy. Thats how to describe the flavour profile of jicama. Inside it has white flesh that resembles a potato or apple. Not matter if its eaten raw or cooked it still retains a certain amount of crisp and sweetness. Its flavour profile is best compared with the water chestnut and its texture to the jerusalem artichoke.


What sets jicama apart and makes it very attractive to the health conscious is its low calorie content and high vitamin C content. It is refreshing, an antioxidant, said to reduce cholesterol and fights constipation. Interestingly the jicama produces a natural insecticide on the vine of the plant that protects it from harmful pests too.



Look for heavy, dense roots that have a relatively smooth skin.


The jicama should be stored in the fridge and will have a shelf life of no more than 2 weeks. Ideally it should be eaten well before that. In Mexico its usually eaten raw, boiled or roasted. If it has any green stem attached still that should be removed as well as the rough outer skin peeled. This should be done just before serving as the flesh darkens when exposed to air. To add a kick to it when eaten raw you just have to add some lemon juice, chili powder and a little salt. It is a good alternative to water chestnuts and thus can be added to stir fries and of course makes a great addition to a salad.



Jicama goes really well with other ingredients that benefit from its texture. Citric flavours like lemon and orange work well along with leaf vegetables. It is an excellent ingredient to add to salads.


  • Make full use of its interesting texture to add variety to a salad.
  • Always peel the skin away totally. Its not going to add much to the flavour profile other than a bad taste.

Should you toast spices?

A search of google will leave you thoroughly confused. Even amongst chefs that are famous for their use of spices, the answer is inconclusive. The aromatic quality of spices really depends on many factors. The freshness, storage and form principally. As a general rule it is not a bad idea to toast whole spices for a short time in a pan as it can release a bit more flavour.

Although slightly controversial, at Cuisitive we prefer to toast spices in a little oil, leading to some of the essential oils getting trapped and thus not losing crucial flavour. By dry roasting a spice, a lot of the essential oil is lost through evaporation.

The key to any toasting is to treat the spices with respect and avoid burning at all costs. A spice can go from aromatic to charred in seconds. Very similar to garlic when it hits the pan. Constantly move the spices around with a wooden spoon until they have darkened slightly and then remove from the heat.

Generally with powdered spices like Garam Masala we do not toast them at all. Because of the fine texture the risk of burning is so great and really there is little flavour benefit to doing it.

Whether you toast or not, really is up to you. Either approach has its benefits and drawbacks. The fact that in India most recipes are split down the middle between those that do and don’t toast says it all.

As long as spices are treated with care and attention you will produce great results.

Amazing Malaysian – Home Cooking

Malaysian cuisine draws up three major influences – Malays, Chinese and Indians. If one ingredient can symbolise Malay food it is the chili pepper. They cannot get enough of it. Add to this a good amount of Belacan (shrimp paste) and some coconut and you are well on the way to mastering the basics of this fantastic culture and cuisine.

Amazing Malaysian: Recipes for Vibrant Home-Cooking
Malaysian food is incredible. Think vibrant, healthy dishes with dazzling flavours and textures. With over 100 recipes - using ingredients that you can find in any supermarket - this is the ultimate guide to cooking the food of Malaysia at home. Try an authentic satay, an aromatic curry, a laksa, or simply the perfect fluffy coconut rice.
Written by: Norman Musa
Published by: Square Peg
Date Published: 02/18/2016
Available in: Hardcover

Norman Musa’s book Amazing Malaysian: Recipes for vibrant Home-Cooking has over 100 recipes to try and will be released this month.


Malaysian food

The Fruit Hunters (2012)

The Fruit Hunters (released in 2012) is a feature documentary film about the incredible world of fruit lovers. It explores the growers, the preservationists and the hobbyists. It draws upon inspiration from Adam Leith Gollner’s 2008 book of the same name.

For us one of the big highlights is the focus on the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden that cultivates over 600 varieties of Mangoes. Not only does the film show the sheer passion and love for fruits it also reflects on the threats to their existence in particular the Cavendish Banana’s vulnerability due to genetic modification.

“THE FRUIT HUNTERS travels across culture, history and geography to show how intertwined we are with the fruits we eat.”

Trái Sầu riêng (Durian fruits) Durio zibethinus L Bombacaceae

Bánh Xèo


The Bánh Xèo is one of Vietnam’s most symbolic dishes. The name derives from the sizzling sound it produces when the batter is dropped into the hot pan.

As with the majority of Vietnamese dishes, variations exist between North, Central and South styles. The Bánh Xèo is no exception. Generally it is a savoury fried pancake made of rice flour, water and turmeric powder. The fillings can include pork belly, shrimp, spring onion, bean sprouts, coconut milk, mustard leaf, lettuce, mint and basil. In the central region it is dipped into rich sauce of fermented soy bean, pork liver, toasted and ground peanuts along with seasonings.


Main Photo Credit: Cuisitive