There’s a lot of weird stuff to eat in Asia: dogs, snakes, sketchy-looking eggs. And bugs.
I like food. I’ll taste almost anything. But I refuse to play the macho “what’s the weirdest thing you ever ate” game, and if I’m just not hungry, well…I’m just not hungry.
That’s what happened to Peter and me the day we finally saw bugs for sale. We had just spent several hours grazing heavily at Chatuchak and Or Tor Kor markets. First, we had some strawberries:
Then we had some fried chicken:
Then we went to Or Tor Kor and ate all kinds of beautiful fruit. We didn’t have any durian, though, partially because they looked so menacing:
Straight out of a sci-fi film. Imagine the stinky but strangely custardy aliens that would burst forth!
Anyway, we were finally trudging back to the SkyTrain when we passed the cart selling bugs. They were all deep-fried and covered in salt, and you could mix and match about five different varieties. Peter stopped. “Bugs?” he asked, halfheartedly. “Enh,” I answered, weakly. It was 3pm–naptime–and 95 degrees. We kept walking.
“I thought you’d be the one to talk me into it!” Peter said, with a shade of disappointment in his voice.
“Sorry–I’m stuffed,” I sighed. I did feel a little regretful.
Not long after we got home to New York, we invited a few people over for a bonanza Thai dinner. Peter pedaled off to the Thai grocery in the next neighborhood over. He came back with durian chips, dried shrimp, lemongrass, perky little ‘mouse-shit’ chilis…and frozen bugs.
They were labeled “crickets,” but lord help me if I ever see a live cricket that big. These crickets had full-on biceps and quadriceps. Even through the plastic wrap, I could see the texture in their wings.
To make them extra unappealing, they were labeled “fish bait”–to convince the FDA that no nutritional labeling was required. I gulped.
“How do we cook them?” Peter asked.
I told Peter that was his department, and tried to put the whole thing out of my head.
Fast-forward to dinnertime. A crowd of hungry friends is in the living room, eating crispy spring rolls. The fat is still hot in the wok.
“I’m gonna go ahead and cook these,” Peter said to me, “but I honestly don’t think I’ll be able to eat them.”
They sizzled and popped in the frying oil, and came out looking even more creepy and glossy. Peter sprinkled them with salt and sugar and whisked the plate out to the coffee table.
“Huh, they’re good,” she said, shrugging again.
Well played, Ms. Trainor. Well played. Now of course we all felt like idiots and had to dig in. I eyeballed mine. His glossy head and torso looked like they would explode with goo when I bit in. I closed my eyes and chomped off the back half of the cricket.
In a single instant, the cricket transformed from horrifying over-large bug to…tasty bar snack. It was crispy and salty and would go great with a beer. And it was nearly hollow–any inner goo had been cooked away in the deep fryer.
As I marveled at the capacity of the human brain to transform everything into food, I chewed. And chewed. And chewed. I started to gag–I could feel the cricket’s hairy little legs scraping around in my mouth. They refused to succumb to my teeth, the bastards. I finally had to spit a nasty wad of gray, gritty stuff out into the trash. I was glad I wasn’t doing this on a Bangkok street.
About this time, I heard Katie–who is known for her ability to eat a chicken leg clean down to the bone–say from the other room, “Oh, yeah–they’re a little better if you pull the legs off first.”
I didn’t try another. But a couple people, including Peter, ate two or three. They were a hit. And now I know: next time I’ll rip the legs off. Because I’m an omnivore with an incredible capacity for rationalizing what I’m eating…but my teeth are not that powerful.