Nutritious Snacks

With the beginning of the rain season I am now fully aware of the nutritious variety of insects available to my staff as snacks. I usually ignore this reality. This morning however, I found two large dung beetles in the fryer-basket  and after a little inquiry found out that some of my staff is regularly preparing bugs they catch for their own consumption in the main kitchen. When bewildered I asked how many times insects had been deep-fried in “my” fry-oil bin, they shrugged their shoulders and seemed strangely amused about my disgust. Side note:
No worries, I changed the oil and the rules of cooking in the same liquid as I bake desserts and French fries…
My culinary curiosity finaly helped overcome the fear of crawling insects and I ate a cricket. Let me explain:
In the South here I’m offered everyday snacks from my staff and feel really bad when rejecting the generously offered Grasshoppers, Crickets’ and Locusts. As much as I would be insulted if anyone in America brings me a Water-beetle to show appreciation, here it is a sign of their respect for me. After I requested myThai chef to prepare for me his favorite dish, I received fried silk worm pupae with red ant eggs. Tom Yam style. (Green papaya, roasted peanuts, chili, spring-onion and the larva of butterflies – I guess wishfully… which they collected for me around the pawn behind the kitchen, mixed with large ants living in bamboo…)
When with Goosebumps and wide open eyes I carry the plate away from the stove, afraid the smashed and roasted insects could still crawl from the hot plate over my hand and up my sleeves, my staff looked after me concerned, realizing I forgot to ‘kon kun krab’ (say ‘thank you’) and it dawned on some of them that I probably couldn’t eat it. “Arroy, arroy” they encouraged me, but it looked not edible to me. The idea of biting through a whole body and the innerts would burst onto my tongue while the crunching sounds of chitin echoed through my skull gags me. I’d rather lick the bottom of my shoes before scooping a spoon of roasted meaty maggots in my mouth. Down at the “local beach restaurant” one can order ‘tod malaeng da na’ (water bugs roasted with chili and straw mushroom) a delicacy for most Thai’s. I can’t even sit on the same table when anyone eats their ‘delicacy’. Disturbed I’m thinking about awkward things, like; are they kissing anyone tonight or “am I not drinking from the same cup in the kitchen…”?
I actually know that the protein contend of bugs and larva is double that of any good meat. Even the vitamin and nutrition value is unmatchable compared to eating cattle. For instance, 110 gram of dried insects contains 40g to 80g of protein, and 10g to 40g of fat. This is exactly the same amount of protein and fat found in 220g (about ½ lbs of beef). Besides, insects contain high amounts of calcium and phosphorus. You can produce more insects with the same energy  and money invested on a fraction of land needed to raise cows (and help the inviroment about global warming). Thai people eat insects everywhere. Even in Bangkok on the streets you find vendors praising these snacks in little paper bags while explaining that the locusts and walnut sized maggots had been grown in jars filled with honey and hence taste very sweet. Yuk! Two nights ago a little girl sitting on the beach front  “snacked” away on mang kudgi (wait for the explonation of this one). Happyly distructed by her crunchy lunch of the day – when I ask; Arroy? She responded: arroy mak mak! (very, very delicious) sliding a huge noth with wings and all in her little mouth…
Today I helped collecting malaeng grachon (mole crickets). We deep-fried them quickly -(before I change the oil). Yes, I ate a few… They were crispy and had a nice “earthy” taste. I expected it to be sweeter and hoped they’d be ‘Chocolate’ flavored, since I once heard that description; but no – it was like eating unwashed potato skin. Nothing gross or awful. I now know I could survive eating hoppers… They hide in damp soil.  To catch them we made a hole in the ground and by pouring water in it chased the snack onto the surface. When the crickets come to the above ground to avoid drowning, we caught them.
Which brings us back to the little girl eating dung-beetles, locally known as mang kudgi. Before you think about who she kisses; keep in mind these beetles feed on cattle waste as well as other wild animal excrement such as elephants and chicken shit, and wild monkey poop… Not sure that is the right ‘treat’ for little girls… but heck, I ain’t gonna try it! ‘Man pen rai’ – (all is okay) they say here in Thailand.

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