21 March 2015

Pattaya - Extreme Street Food : Insects and Scorpions

Date of Feast : 11 Mar 2015

I pride myself in having an adventurous palate and Thailand is the best place to constantly push the limits of my appetite further. So while many tourists hunt for the best Tom Yum Goong, Pad Thai or seafood in whichever Thai destination they end up at, I keep my nose out for... insects.

Top Left : Taking a bite into a Balut (18-day-old duck embryo) at Cebu, Philippines. Top Right : Having a go at Sannakji, wriggling raw octopus tentacles, in Seoul, Korea. Bottom Left : Getting a grasshopper into my mouth at Bangkok, Thailand. Bottom Right : Conquering arachnophobia with my first taste of tarantula at Siem Reap, Cambodia. I've put a lot of weird things in my mouth. 

I love the insect snacks and no matter where I am in the kingdom, whether it is Bangkok, Chaing Mai, Phuket, Hua Hin or Krabi, one mission of mine is to seek out fried insect hawkers. And with some luck, I sometimes encounter them. They are most of the time just a single hawker with his or her pushcart by the side of a road. But in Pattaya, I found not one but three different insect snack sellers!

I met one at the Walking Steet, another one along the main road running the length of Pattaya known as Second Road, and a third one at the Jomtien area. I was happy as a clam and not one night went without snacking on what many would consider pests. So if you enjoy contributing to pest control like I do or just want to try chowing down on some bugs, Pattaya is the mother nest.

A lady bug seller I came across while strolling along Pattaya Walking Street. Located in South Pattaya, the Walking Street is closed to traffic from 6pm onwards and turns into a nightlife district with go-go bars, restaurants and clubs. She had the usual silk worm larvae (pictured here), grasshoppers, fried geckos, crickets, and these...

... giant crickets! They look plump and delicious but I went with my usual order of larvae and grasshoppers as they are my favourites. It costs 20bht a packet for each type of insect.

Do they make your stomach crawl? These are fried juvenile crickets and they are tasty plus high in calcium but grasshoppers are crispier.
The human consumption of insects is known as "Entomophagy". It's a mouthful so I prefer to term anyone who eats insects as "Human Baygon". LOL

While we don't have the habit of eating insects in Singapore, some poorer Asian nations look to insects as a nutrition source. In Cambodia, some communities are so poor that they hunt and eat tarantulas with rice as their sole intake of protein. Talk about fear factor food!

My favourites... fried grasshoppers and silk worm larvae. Sellers often spray a coat of soy sauce and dust the bugs with pepper to impart taste. Texture-wise, the larvae has a meaty, slightly chewy feel while the grasshoppers are crispy and has a grassy aftertaste.

If you get the really big grasshoppers, the abdomen is like biting into a flaky meatball and the femur is really tasty, but I would remove the thorny hind legs as they can scratch the mouth and throat.

Deep-fried geckos. Haven't tried these before because they look rather boney but ingesting them could be a good source of calcium. Perhaps on my next trip.
Insects are actually extremely nutritious as they are very high in protein but low in calories and some of them such as tarantulas pack 10 times the amount of iron compared to beef. Considering that insects reproduce quickly, need relatively small spaces to farm and eat very little to generate a high volume of protein, they are actually a much more sustainable source of protein than meat farming. 

From larvae, grasshoppers, crickets, mealworms, tarantulas, some unidentifiable beetles and the yucky giant water beetle (my least favourite), I've tried them all. But there's one bug that I've heard of but never seen sold. That is until I came to Pattaya and saw what I thought was a streetfood legend...

... fried scorpions! My eyes literally popped out of their sockets when I encountered them unexpectedly. I've been searching for them for so long. However, they do look rather revolting and I have second thoughts about putting one in my mouth.

The scorpion snack doesn't come cheap though. The seller charged me 160bht for this handful of bugs (60bht for the grasshoppers and 100bht for the small scorpion). I immediately knew he was trying to cheat me because a bag of grasshoppers costs only 20bht with all the sellers I've ever bought from, not 60bht.

And to charge me 100bht (approx. S$4.20) for a small scorpion is a rip-off. I thought the scorpion would at most cost 20 - 40bht per bug. So I argued with him and refused to take the scorpion. He finally relented and charged me 100bht for everything. I still feel cheated to pay 80bht for the scorpion but as I found out later, a scorpion does command a high price as they are harder to come by. I checked 2 differents sources (online and at the Pattaya Floating Market where a shop was also selling scorpions) and they do go for 100 - 120bht, but they were much bigger than the one I got.

The best way to face your fear is to swallow it. The pincers were very crunchy and the abdomen was fleshy. According to the seller, scorpions make you strong and are nature's Viagra especially the stinger part! Looking for a health tonic? While not down a scorpion?

No cocktail nuts or chicken wings, just chunky bugs to accompany a bottle of Mangosteen Wine (have you even heard of that?) after a full day of sightseeing in Pattaya. What a perfect way to chill! :o)
I remember the first time I ever tried bug eating in Bangkok. It was a grasshopper a seller offered me and I ate it more out of a curiosity and a dare to try something disgustingly exotic. But since that first bite, I've grown a penchant for these creepy crawlie snacks and a staple feed whenever I visit.
The only setback is, when you poop the next day, you will find bits and pieces of wing parts, legs or exoskeleton floating on the surface of the waste water. They are very buoyant and take a few flush to get rid of but it's a small bother for a bite of these delicious nightmares.

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