Insects For Lunch?

February 11, 2002

They can be grilled, fried, eaten with chili dip or plain. They can be eaten as a full meal or a quick snack. There are piles of them all over Thailand just waiting to be served and truth said, they are quite a popular dish. Anyone care for some bugs? Water beetles, grasshoppers, locusts, silkworm pupae and ant eggs are not only high in protein but also cheap as can be. You can grab a bag of them and be off in a jiffy; definitely a unique fast food experience that McDonalds could never compete with.

Bug vending stalls are very popular photo opportunities for tourists but not many people I know have actually grazed at them. An insect venue has just opened up in my neighbourhood. I have walked by it several times but not gathered enough courage to sample anything yet.

Insect consumption originated from northeastern Thailand. Mass migration into Bangkok from this region brought insect eating right along with it. Creepy-crawly vendors have increased greatly in number110202k1.jpg over the last twenty years. Insects are now also being canned and sold in supermarkets. Just in case you are craving for some bugs in the middle of the night and your local vendor has closed up shop, you can pop the lid and snack away.

I am used to strange eating habits from northeastern Thailand, as that is where the Thai family that lives with me is from. Pity the frog that hops into my yard. It finds itself on the grill just a few minutes later. For the record, all of it is consumed and not just the legs. Bird hunting and eating was another popular backyard sport for a while but yours truly politely requested that it be put to an end. A compromise of sorts, it is always open season on the frogs but the birds are now to be left in peace. Different croaks for different folks?

I have failed most experimental eating attempts in Thailand. A few years back I was in a dimly lit restaurant with a friend who declared, “You just have to try this! You will love it!” She110202k2.jpg sounded so convincing. I grabbed a chunk of who-knew-what off the plate and popped it in my mouth. Ugh! It was fried chicken feet. To the western eye Thailand can offer up some rather bizarre food and in general no part of a chicken, fish or cow is put to waste. It is common when you are out to dinner with some Thai friends that someone will ask for your shrimp heads. They may find it strange that you aren’t eating them yourself as they are widely considered to be the best part.

For the purpose of accurate journalism my plan today is to head out and sample a few bugs. This calls for bravery on my part and will shock anyone reading this who knows me and my very finicky eating habits. This plan also makes me realize that having a few beers before hand or dragging a few friends along for the experience might make the critters go down a bit easier. Oh, I am dragging my feet. I don’t want to leave this computer, but alas it is bug time. Off I go to catch a motorcycle taxi to110202k3.jpg critter cuisine.

My trusty street vendor was surprised that I actually wanted to buy some insects from her and not just take photographs of her strange wares. I asked for a 20-baht mixed bag and was handed a nice assortment of grasshoppers and crickets. I took my little plastic bag of bug protein back home with me and dumped it out on a plate. My maid screamed in delight, “Oh! You are going to eat them! Isaan food! I like them very much! You should try this one,” she said as she pointed at the fattest grasshopper of all. “Gulp!” was my answer. I reminded myself that all germs were killed in the deep-frying process.

After five minutes of staring and contemplation, I popped some small crickets into my mouth. “Crunch!” was the sound. Chew, chew, chew, and swallow. They reminded me of a potato chip of sorts. Not bad. Truth said all that I really tasted was the oil they were fried in. They look much worse than they taste but leave a crunchy residue kind of like roasted peanut shells in your mouth.

It is only 1:45 in the afternoon and here I sit with crickets in my stomach. Mission accomplished, I have now eaten bugs and have no legs stuck in my teeth. A well-spent 44 cents and a good story but I am not planning on having them for dinner (yet). High in protein, cheap and readily available, insects (yum, yum) are an interesting culinary experience indeed.

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