THAILAND : Strange Food
Would You Like Fries With That?
Text & Photography by Eric Pasquier
The Inuit people of Canada like their whale blubber; the Chinese are partial to monkey brain; and the Japanese have a thing for fried bees and crickets.
But no one loves a bug more than the people of Thailand.
It’s the top dinner spot for insect gastronomy.
Everyone occasionally finds something on their plate that they probably wished wasn’t there.
But one culinary area divides people more than any other. Those brought up on pre-packaged supermarket foods and meat that no longer resembles its original owner, often cringe at the very idea of Entomophagy: eating insects. For others, however, it’s a way of life.
The Ancient Greeks and Romans were true bug connoisseurs. Locusts, cicadas and stag beetle larvae were all consumed at their banquets.
But while these dining habits died out in Europe, many cultures elsewhere still swear by insects, spiders and grubs. And with good reason.
Not only do they usually taste great, they are also far healthier than processed alternatives: a cricket contains up to 50% protein – far higher than the 20% found in beef.
The origins of many unusual foods may lie in hunger and necessity. The nutrients in termites or crickets can make the difference between life and death in times of famine. But some acquired tastes linger even when food is bountiful.
The people of Skuon in Cambodia took to eating tarantulas during a period of extreme hardship under the Khmer Rouge.
However, they discovered they enjoyed the flavour – similar to crab – and still eat the spiders today.
Edible larvae are popular in several regions. Witchetty grubs are favoured by Aboriginal Australians (traditionally eaten live, they taste nutty).
Large blue-green Mopane worms - Emperor Moth larvae - are an excellent source of protein and minerals in the harsh savannah of southern Africa. Deep-fried bamboo worms are popular in East Asia; as are stir-fried silkworm larvae in Korea. And beekeepers in China have a reputation for virility, which is attributed to the honeybee larvae they consume.
Around the globe you’ll find countless incidences of people munching on cicadas, crickets, ants, dragonflies, and bees. Ants are good for the joints, although serving suggestions vary.
To enjoy Ugandan flying ants, pull off the wings and let them scurry across your tongue for an extra tingle. Huge Colombian ants are best roasted, while Australian green ants should be held by the head to prevent them biting as you chew off the juicy abdomen.
But if you really like legs on your food, look no further than North East Thailand. Rice-eating beetles are 10 cm long and look like giant cockroaches. You pull off their heads and suck out the chewed rice inside.
They are prized as a pre-dinner nibble to accompany beer.
Other treats found in the same area include water bugs, crickets, and scorpions. These are all usually deep-fried and sold as snacks, while bees are tastier cooked in coconut cream.
It’s odd why some people gag at the thought of crickets, but rave about shrimps, which look and taste fairly similar.
The fact is: food is only strange if you’re not used to it.
Give it a try and you may find you enjoy the experience – there could be a whole new culinary world out there just waiting to be discovered.