Word of caution: This is not for the faint hearted. You are highly advised not to eat while reading this. Vegetarians are not encouraged to read any further.
Thailand offers many exotic attractions – from beaches, to women, and dishes. Here’s a look at the myriad of exotic eats you could try while in Thailand:
Leaping from the rice paddies to your rice plates
In Bangkok‘s red-light district, peddlers fill small plastic bags with the crispy critters of your craving.
While you can spot these exotic foods in many areas in Bangkok, another popular location is Khao San Road or the backpacker’s barrio due to the influx of foreigners.
Crickets, black scorpion, grasshopper, water bug, and maggots are among the varieties of insects fried and seasoned with salt, pepper or chilli and sold in bug carts.
In the northeastern Ubon province of Thailand, near the Cambodian border, the New York Times once wrote that the impoverished locals will fry up anything on six legs in pursuit of inexpensive sources of dietary protein. That includes ants, scorpions, silkworms, crickets and their larvae.
The crickets that are yet to be grilled or deep-fried lie in semiconscious states on banana leaves or bowls. The wriggling of the creatures is a good sign suggesting it’s fresh from last night’s catch and that no pesticides were used in the capture.
1. Once You Pop These Hoppers, You Can’t Stop
Closely related to crickets are the grasshoppers. Much like their kin, grasshoppers are typically deep fried in oil and then seasoned in chili powder. Fried to a crisp, the grasshopper’s crunchy skin cracks and pops in your teeth (hmmm, popcorn, is it?).
The Thais also have a version of sautéed grasshoppers. One suggested that you don’t eat the legs (Why? Why not?).
2. Care for a Cup of McBugs?
Tired of Fried? Allow me to mention the other ways a bug is cooked – raw (chopped and added to chili-based sauces and salads) and steamed (in a banana leaf with curry sauce).
In Isan, Thailand, villagers harvest many varieties of bugs. Big, black water beetles are regarded as a special delicacy. The legs get stuck between your teeth, though (Toothpick, anyone?).
3. Crawling into Your Cuisine…. the Arachnids
In Ubon, Thailand, there’s a scorpion-based Viagra substitute for men.
Tarantula tasters say it tastes like scrawny chicken wings coated in especially sweet plum sauce - with hairs on.
They also say that pulling the legs off without squeezing the pus out of the abdomen can be tricky (Should I be worried with the pus or the hair?).
Some gourmets say the abdomen is the sweetest part, with the texture of a soft goat’s eyeball and tasting just like cold duck.
4. Bats Fly from Trees to Tables
In Baan Toom, bats are roasted over charcoal fires or minced into a traditional Thai dish. With a big grin on their faces, the elderly farmers here claim that the bat’s meat does wonders on their libido and stamina (To the men out there, Batman to the rescue!).
Locals can bag as many as 200 squealing and struggling bats in a single day.
Bats are first soaked in boiling water. Then, their furs are plucked, after which they are roasted on charcoal – wings, guts and all. The chopped-up meat is mixed with fresh herbs, a little sugar and spicy paste before fried.
5. Ants in the Pants and the Pans
Ant eggs are a delicacy in Thailand, especially in the northern and eastern parts of the country. These are the big ants that grow on trees. Ants are an alternative protein source. They can be prepared in many ways – in soups and stir-fries. They contribute more of a tangy flavor than any real nutritional value.
Kai Mot Daeng or red ant eggs may appear like white beans but look closely, taste it and you’ll know the difference. Ant eggs are served in salads, soups or fried with eggs.
Jeffrey Steingarten, author of “The Man Who Ate Everything,” lived by the saying “Try everything once because if you don’t try it, you won’t know if you like it.”
Let’s face it though, not everyone has an appetite for it. It takes a wild adventurous streak, not to mention cultural, religious and economic considerations, to turn those tree, garden, sink, and rice paddy creatures into a stomach-churning buffet.
But for those who seek gastronomic adventure, skip the steak and head on to Thailand and see how locals spice up their life with variety.
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Photo of food stall in Bangkok, Thailand, by Killerturnip