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Culinary Curiosities: Thailand

zackw 2 years ago

I freaking love food. But I especially love food that I have never seen before. Trying new or unusual foods is kind of like a hobby of mine. It gives me a rush knowing that I’ll be able to give my taste buds a fresh and exciting experience that they have not had before. So, I made it my mission to try every unusual food I could find while traveling throughout Thailand. The street markets made it impossible for someone like me to just skim through the selections. No, I had to go and examine every last vendor, eyeballing something to satisfy my craving of a previously undiscovered flavor. There aren’t many things I won’t try, but some interesting-looking choices definitely tested my confidence.

Starting off in Chiang Mai, I hunted through a variety of vendors. With my iPhone in hand, I started taking pictures. I didn’t see anything crazy at first and decided to indulge in some roasted pork ribs. They were pretty damn good. But I’ve had pork before. I was really on the lookout for any insects I could get my hands on.

Boring, but delicious pork ribs

That’s when I came across a booth offering up a smorgasbord of  critters. My face lit up as I asked for a variety cup filled to the brim with my little buddies. The cup contained crickets, grasshoppers, cicadas, silkworm pupae, and miniature frogs. I tried the grasshopper first. I ripped off its hind legs because apparently they have little barbs that can scratch your throat while you swallow them. The grasshoppers were alright. Nothing special, so I moved on. Next, I tried the cicada. It was okay as well. I couldn’t see myself eating it for a snack but if I had to, I would eat them. After, I tried the cricket. I was expecting it to taste the same as the grasshopper but it was actually much tastier. I enjoyed eating it and it had a nice flavoring. The silkworm pupae were awful. They had this weird taste that I can only equate to a “bug” taste. It was mushy and tasted exactly how you would think a worm would taste like. Lastly, I tried the frog. It just tasted like a salty crunch. There wasn’t much to it because they were so small and had virtually no meat. After my first insect experience, I was fairly disappointed. I was hoping to find an insect I could see myself eating while watching a movie, snacking on it like popcorn.

Fried grasshoppers

Insect and frog sampler

I still had time to find my golden ticket of an insect. I continued searching and managed to try a handful of interesting fruits not readily available to me in the United States. I tried mangosteen and rambutan, which are now my two new favorite fruits. Mangosteen is incredibly juicy and has a flavor that cannot be compared to any other fruit I have had. Rambutan looks like an alien life form and is fun to open, which reveals a lychee-esque fleshy fruit. I also really enjoyed sapodilla, which was like eating caramel. It was extremely sweet and if I hadn’t known better, I would’ve thought it was made in a candy store. I’m wasn’t a big fan of snake fruit or durian. Snake fruit was blandish with a texture that made it seem unripe. And durian… well, you know about durian. Durian not only smells like shit, but it tastes like it too. It also has a meaty consistency, which makes eating it all the more scary. I would skip trying it even if you are curious. Rose apple was fine and longans are good. The young thai coconut was unlike any coconut I had ever had. Usually not a fan of coconut milk, I slurped every last drop out of this one. It was unusually sweet as if they had added sugar to it. The same went for the tiny pineapples. They were super sugary. The fruit in Thailand is just amazing, which explains why Thai orange juice is some of the best in the world.

Snake fruit, sapodilla, rose fruit, and mangosteen

Rambutan (top) and durian (bottom)

We made our way over to Phuket where I continued my search for unique delicacies. After weaving in and out of vendors selling meats and seafood, I made my way over to a booth with sunny side up quail eggs. They didn’t look like much but when I popped one in my mouth, I was met with an amazing flavor combination. Whatever seasoning had been sprinkled on the egg really took the food to a new level.

Quail egg vendor

Sunny side up quail eggs

I walked around more and found some chicken feet to munch on and some freshly squeezed sugar cane juice to sip while continuing my quest. Every turn I made I was forced with a decision to purchase more food. It is too easy to impulsively buy when you’re in a setting such as a Thai market. I passed mantis shrimp and horseshoe crabs, rotisserie quails spinning round and round, making me salivate. I made the conscious decision to keep on moving. That’s when I spotted sand crabs, otherwise known as sand fleas. I used to catch these at the beach. Who knew they were edible? I had to try so I ordered a serving that they threw in the fryer and packed up for me. I popped one in my mouth. It was like eating an off-putting crab flavored popcorn shrimp. I was not a fan and neither were my friends, so we trashed the rest.

Chicken feet

Sugar cane juice

Mantis shrimp

Blue swimmer crab and horseshoe crab

Finally, I spotted a vendor with loads of insects piled high. Unfortunately I tried most of them already and they were out of scorpion. However, I did get to try Palm Weevil larvae, which wound up being my favorite thing I tried that day. It was cooked with the perfect amount of soy sauce and lime juice and was fried to perfection. It wasn’t mushy like the other larvae I had tried. Instead, it was crispy and lacked that “bug” flavor I had previously described. This was it. I could’ve eaten it as a snack for real. I even went back to the booth and got myself a second helping. They were that good. This leads me to a question: Could insects be the future of food?

Palm Weevil larvae (bottom), crickets (middle), and silkworm pupae (top)

With the uncertainty of sustainability always looming over our heads, could insects be the answer? They’re packed with protein, and are abundant everywhere. If we could find a way to introduce them to other countries in an approachable way, I think some very serious issues could be resolved. It’s just a matter of making them look presentable and having people get over their fear of eating insects. We all know that person who wouldn’t touch a food if he or she knew it was an insect. So, how can we make eating insects more inviting?




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