Samui Wining & Dining
If It Moves

You might find it easier to swallow your pride than some of Samui’s more ‘interesting’ market foods.


6Visiting local markets is always a must-do when on holiday. And at some of the stalls on Samui you’ll come across foods you probably don’t consume at home. Unless you swallow a fly by accident, bugs aren’t usually on the menu in the Western world. However, over here, they’re a bit of a delicacy.


There’re a whole variety of insects eaten here including crickets, bamboo worms, grasshoppers, cockroaches, water beetles, silk worms, ant eggs, bees and wasps. Plus a few other amphibians and reptiles, although they aren’t usually seen at the market stalls, they’re more likely to be eaten privately.


In many northern villages in Thailand, it’s common for some people to supplement their income by catching their own insects to sell locally. Using a UV light, they often catch bugs at night, some of which they eat themselves and others they sell. Every country has its own ‘weird foods’ that are sometimes perplexing for visitors. Why would you eat bugs when the supermarket is open? And the answers are quite simple. Many Thai people either say that it reminds them of their home/childhood, that it’s traditional food at markets, or that they like the taste. When they have haggis described to them and then be informed that in Scotland it’s a delicacy they are equally repulsed. Such is life.


So what can you expect from Thailand’s weird ‘bug’ cuisine? Some insects are cooked quickly, often in oil with shallots and chilies and that gives them a familiar flavour if not texture. Others aren’t cooked at all but you can find that out for yourselves. Grasshoppers are probably the easiest for most foreigners to try first. There’s a large and a small type and they’re quite crunchy, remove the legs first though as you can choke a bit on them. Ask about rod fai duan (it means ‘express train’ but is actually a worm that eats bamboo and it’s said to be dry, nutty and crunchy and not squishy as you might imagine). Silk worms are quite similar and even nuttier in taste.


Water bugs are popular and the male is smaller than the female and has a rather pungent aroma. Males are normally pounded in a mortar and pestle together with chilies and other ingredients to make a tasty dish known as nam prik mengdah, which is eaten with sticky-rice. The larger female is less pungent and is normally eaten fried in oil until crispy. To enjoy them, first pull off the tough wings before savouring the luscious bits inside.


On occasion you might find scorpions on offer, although they’re rather prized. And they need to have the stinger removed as it can still carry the toxin in it after death. There’s little ‘meat’ on them and they’re crunchy rather than anything else but it can make for an interesting photograph to have one dangling between your teeth. Cockroaches are also up there as things you wouldn’t usually consume. And over here they can grow to a considerable size. Think 1950s B-movies and something like ‘Attack of the Killer Cockroaches’. There’s a knack to eating these; first the legs are removed and the roach is grabbed by its head before you insert the thorax into your mouth. You then bite down whilst pulling the thorax away from the head and, by all accounts, it’s a tasty snack. That’s if you can overcome your gag reflex.


Another treat you might come across are Kai mot daeng (red ant eggs), a particular favourite in North and North-eastern Thailand. They are available in some markets but many Thais will collect them by themselves. This can be a hazardous exercise as the ants don’t take too kindly to having their nest interfered with. And you’ll definitely know if you’ve been bitten by one! These ant eggs can be prepared in a number of ways. They can be eaten raw in a salad, yam kai mot daeng, which is sometimes served along with the ants as well. They can be made into a soup known as kaeng kai mot daeng, added to an omelette kai jiow kai mot, and can even be lightly salted, wrapped in banana leaves and roasted for a tasty snack, kai mot daeng op. Red ant eggs when eaten raw are soft and juicy with a slightly sour lemony taste.


Thailand is also home to over 300 species of reptiles. And you’ll no doubt see a few lizards whilst you’re here. The most common are the little geckos that are a few centimetres long but they’re not eaten. On the other hand, the tokay gecko (the second largest gecko species) is. These are highly prized and are considered to have medicinal properties. They’re never seen in the markets but local Thai people do sometimes catch and eat them.


On a similar note, Samui has about 40 species of snakes, most of which are harmless. There’re a few venomous ones but they’re rarely seen. And it’s not unknown for snakes to be killed and put on a barbecue but many are endangered and you’d be wise to avoid them, dead or alive.


Samui’s food markets will have some surprises in store for you and the bugs won’t do you any harm. They aren’t something you’re likely to try at home so why not give them a go here. Millions have before you and they’ve survived.


Johnny Paterson


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