Thailand, Digested: Bonus Bug Round

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:

Strawberries

Then we had some fried chicken:

Chatuchak 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:

Sneaky Durians

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.


There was a short pause, a collective moment of anxiety, and then our friend Katie shrugged and popped one in her mouth.

“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.

10 comments

  1. Sarah says:

    I never had crickets but my husband who visited Taiwan was taken to “a very special restaurant” by one of his colleagues. This adventure featured a beautiful cricket stuffed with a single French fry- talk about east/west fusion. (and yes, he ate it)

  2. Mark says:

    My knees actually got weak when I saw the plate. I mean the picture of the plate. I’m trying to imagine the amount of beer that would be required for these guys to become a “snack”…you win.

  3. Christina says:

    Those are damn huge crickets. Those are bigger than the Killer Morman Crickets (I’m NOT making that name up) I saw in Utah. Man. Huge. I was still with you about trying them until the chewing and chewing and chewing and needing to remove the legs. I’m a thigh woman. If you can’t eat a thigh, the animal is not worth eating (unless, of course, it is a thighless creature, like a scallop).

  4. Jarrett says:

    I admire your dedication to the cause, Peter. Some of the bugs sold here are better than others, and crickets are best, I think. A few weeks ago while researching a story up in Isaan I ate nam prik nahm nua (I think that’s what it’s called). It’s a chili and shrimp paste dip you eat with raw vegetables and sticky rice, but the primary ingredient in this ‘special’ one were huge, grilled water bugs that look like steriodal cockroaches. The dip tasted strangely, and profoundly, of banana-flavored Runts candy. Shiver.

  5. Peter says:

    I have a thing about water-bug cockroaches. I just really don’t like them. I don’t like seeing them. I don’t like killing them (not because I have anything against killing them… I just don’t like how tough they are to smash and how much bodily fluid they have). I don’t like picking them up after I kill them. They’re the only creature that does this to me.

    But then sometimes I see a kitten–a cute and fluffy kitten–playing not-so-gently with some large and unfortunate roach before eating it (I see this more in my travels than in my home), and I think: “Is that kitten more of a man than me?!”

    I cannot fathom eating a roach (of course I couldn’t fathom eating a cricket). But I wonder, if ate a roach for breakfast, would I finally be more of a man than a kitten?

  6. Daphne says:

    So, I never was ballsy enough to eat the bugs myself. But I was once on a long-distance bus in Laos when the street vendor came around with bug-kabob sticks, and rapidly sold out her supply to everyone on the bus, and I noticed a total gender divide in bug-eating technique. The ladies all delicately peeled off legs (and maybe shells?). The guys all ate them whole. These were bugs of a similar size but more cockroachy. I have a picture somewhere.

  7. Zora says:

    Sarah, hilarious about the french fry-stuffed bug. Maybe that was from the kiddie menu? Was there another one with a piece of pepperoni in it?

    Mark, _my_ knees went weak! Truly, shudder. And it was partially because their wings were soooo much like those big waterbugs. These things looked way too much like something that occasionally wanders into our basement. Which makes me wonder–would it be easier to eat a less-familiar-looking bug? Um, nah.

    Christina–I like your rule. Do frogs count? In other gross-0ut eating news, my stepdad was a monk in Thailand for a little while, and he said the begging didn’t work out so well, and they were always hungry, and so resorted to eating the frogs that lived around the toilets. He said they were awfully tiny. I think I might rule them out even if they did have meaty thighs.

    Jarrett, I don’t know which scares me more–the waterbug part or the banana Runts part. Truly a nightmarish combination.

    And Daphne, your anthropological insight is fascinating. I wonder if in Laos, they say, “He eats bugs like a girl.”

    Oh, and wine blog: the giant lichis are durians. And they’re not just scary-looking, they’re scary smelling. Kinda like a dead body. But actually weirdly delicious–we ate them later in the trip, and the first bite did give me all-over-body shivers. Also, they make you burp in truly vile ways. Makes me appreciate how benign lichis are–slimy eyeballs, no prob!

  8. Foggin says:

    Welcome home. And great posts! What Thai market did you guys go to “in the next neighborhood over”? I think crickets may be in my future. (Deep breath.)

  9. zora says:

    Thanks, Foggin! The Thai grocery we go to is on the same block as Sripraphai, opposite side of the street and closer to the west end. Relatively new–opened maybe six months ago? They don’t always have fresh herbs, etc., but they seem to be good on everything else we’ve ever looked for.

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