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To the Amazing Tamilok Challenge!

The Tamilok Challenge! Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll know that once again Palawan has been decreed the “best island in the world”, although who says this and for what reason is anyone’s guess. But you cannot deny it’s a damned pretty island, and one we visit every year for our Island Hopping Tour, although not much recently what with Covid-19!

To read a list of which countries are open to travel click here

Is Filipino food bad?

Now the Good Lord surely does work in mysterious ways, and it is for this reason I feel that after God gave the Philippines immense natural beauty, he decided to even things up by giving them godawful food. Well; either God or the Americans during their time as colonial overlords. Anyway the net result is bad food; food so bad that the national dish is something called “balut” which is a fertilized duck egg complete with feathers, beak, the whole nine yards. Yum. On my latest visit to Palawan I was to discover another great culinary weirdness: tamilok and the “Tamilok Challenge”

So, what is tamilok?

So, what is culinary delight of tamilok? It’s referred to by the locals as woodworm. Thankfully it is not actually a woodworm, but a mollusc with massive teeth. In fact the teeth are so big and strong that this mollusc/woodworm can actually bite through steel. Feel better now? We thought you would! Don’t worry they remove the steel and the teeth before you eat the woodworm.

Why is it called tamilok?

Apparently 2 GIs were on Palawan during WW2 and saw some people eating woodworm, and it freaked them the hell out. One said “Tommy, look!” which became “tamilok”. That is the urban legend anyway. I like to think the conversation went even further and got even more amusing, Like “Tommy Look….these crazy guys are eating worms WTF”.

Tamilok
What does it look like?

How is it served?

There are two ways to eat it: either as kind of ceviche – known locally as tamilok kinilaw – or you can deep-fry that big bad old woodworm. Salivating yet there?

I’m usually a HUGE fan of Filippino ceviche, known as kinilaw, which you can read about here. Tamilok ceviche is served raw, but without the usual citrus that you would find in a “normal” ceviche. It is then served in a greyish water from where you eat it with chopsticks.

Can you eat tamilok?

Well that is quite the question isn’t it. Can YOU eat it? I can and I did (taste to follow). But whether you can eat it is another question. As I have said before, any food that has a challenge attached to it isn’t for the faint of heart.

tamilok - weird food
This is what you get you when you order the small!

And what does tamilok taste like?

What does tamilok taste like? According to the internet tamilok tastes like oyster. I have my issues with this, to me it does not taste at all like oyster. To deal with how it does actually taste we need to split it into the two categories that it is served, raw, and deep fried.

How does deep-fried tamilok taste?

Of the two options this was by far my least favourite. Having the cooked rather than the raw version might sound easier, BUT it means you have to chew the wretched beast. It is here that I partly get the oyster anology. Where it is psychosomatic, or not I found the taste not very good. Like a cooked chewy oyster, but again with oyster I am very much a purist! It should be downed like a shot. Tamilok deep fried was thus even more wrong in so many ways.

How does raw tamilok taste?

It is the raw version that gave rise to the whole tamilok challenge. It is served in a cloudy water, that is vinegary in nature, hence being ceviche. It is not all that vinegary though coming across more like chalky dish water (salivating yet). It is here again that the comparison with an oyster comes in.

You do not chew it, you swallow it. I’ll add that I love raw oysters. It does not taste like oyster, but like a chalky slimy worm that you have to swallow whole. I’m a foodie, I’m a weird food fanatic, but I think my record is consuming 5 of these slimy worms in one sitting. Never order the big plate, no matter how many people are in your party.

Tamilok

What is the tamilok challenge?

The “challenge” is proof, if ever it was needed, that this dish is just wrong in so many ways. If a food has the word “challenge” after it, it means that merely eating it is a challenge. That is exactly what the tamilok challenge is: can you eat it without vomiting? I managed 5. Point now proven, there is no need to eat it again. Ever. Although with that being said, I will probably have to man up when we do a tour to Palawan again (guests seem to get a kick out of seeing me punish myself). You can see a video of the legendary tamilok challenge bellow.

Trying the real tamilok challenge

Next time I am in Palawan – I will be doing a tamilok challenge video.

Is it the worst food on the planet?

In reality there are many worse foods out there than this. Spend any amount of time eating bugs in say Cambodia and you will attest to that.  And then there is the joy of hakarl in Iceland. Hakarl is literally rotten shark.  Harkarl does though come with liquor to wash it down. With tamilok I strongly suggest a Tanduay – the worlds best rum on ice to chase away the chalky slimy worm you just ate, alternatively there is also Emperador, also the best selling brandy in the world. We truly truly live in strange times.

As things currently stand I’d eat a bowl full just to be able to travel again…..

Written by Gareth

Gareth Johnson is the founder of Young Pioneer Tours, a published writer, and all round entrepreneur. He enjoys street food, and encourage others to get paid to travel the world.

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