- Hong Kong
- Cat Ba Island
- Hanoi + The North
- Guangzhou + Southeast China
World's Strangest Aphrodisiacs
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Poisonous snakes, roasted ants…oh, the things we consume for
Some people put on a strong
aftershave. Others cue up a little Barry White. Still others go a different
route when they’re looking to get in the mood: they drink a glass of cobra
Sound strange? It won’t if you
visit China. To some men there—and in other parts of Asia—imbibing the blood of
a venomous snake is as conducive to seduction as the soulful tones of Barry.
The concept of the aphrodisiac—a substance that, when
consumed, enhances sexual performance—exists in almost every culture, and dates
back as far as ancient Egypt (when amorous couples reportedly ate wine-soaked
water lilies to amp up their passion). Martha Hopkins, author of InterCourses:
An Aphrodisiac Cookbook, explains that
“historically, foods that mimicked certain body parts were believed to aid
those same body parts, including sexual organs.” That would explain certain
populations’ affinity for sea cucumber—as well as powdered rhino horn.
Thanks to centuries of traditional Chinese medicine—which
links particular ingredients to an amplified sex drive—most aphrodisiacs can be
found in Asia. In Korea, the hagfish, or slime eel, takes the shape of an
enviably large member and emits a slimy substance when
touched, likely accounting for its status as an elixir of love. And there
is perhaps no more symbolic aphrodisiac than the balut—a duck egg hosting a
partially gestated fetus—hawked in the Philippines as commonly as movie theater
Other purported aphrodisiacs get
their potency from actual toxins, which irritate (some might say “inflame”) the
bodies of those who eat them. Perhaps the best-known example of this sort is
good old Spanish fly—an acidic beetle secretion prized for its ability to cause
swelling on contact; or fugu (blowfish), which can lead to both pleasurable
tingling and much-less-pleasurable death.
Despite these risks—and despite
the fact that there’s little medical evidence to back up most aphrodisiac
claims—many cultures still embrace the belief that certain foods can kick up
one’s sex drive. In the end, an aphrodisiac’s effectiveness likely has the
simplest explanation: the power of suggestion—and some very wishful thinking.
“Aphrodisiacs are all about the
imagination—whether you’re eating cobra or sipping hot chocolate,” says Hopkins. “The mind-set behind it is really what counts.”