As the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” but applying that to Thailand seems a harder task to swallow, especially when you know it’s part of their local cuisine to munch on creepy insects.
Our good friend, Claire Stewart, recently traveled to Thailand. Good thing she was up for an interview to talk about her adventure in the country. We wanted to learn something about Thailand’s rich culture, their beautiful landmarks, and their mouth-watering cuisine. But the really intriguing question we wanted to be answered is, “What is it like to eat bugs?” Let’s find out!
Good day! First off, can you briefly tell us something about yourself?
I consider food and trying out new cuisines to be something of a personal addiction. Like all genuine addicts, I am always hungry for more, always on the lookout for a new and unexpected taste sensations. As you can imagine, the occasional strangeness of this hankering has sent my fiance running for the exit a few times!
Recently you were in Thailand on holiday. Of all the places in Southeast Asia, what drew you to Thailand?
I was first introduced to Thailand, and more importantly a stemming bowl of Pad Thai noodles, at the tender age of 13 on a family holiday. I have never forgotten the experience, especially that crucial sprinkle of crushed roasted peanuts on top of my noodles. Heavenly! Despite Thailand (in particular Bangkok) having a reputation for its tourism and notorious nightlife, it is a magical concoction of fascinating history, tropical climate, vibrant culture, wonderful markets and food that can curl your nose hairs while breakdancing across your taste buds! There is something for everyone’s interest.
Where in Thailand did you stay? What makes it stand out from the rest of the country?
Pran Buri is a quiet, up and coming coast town situated along the gulf of Thailand, near the Sam Roi Yod National Park. It is ideal for those who are looking for beautiful, unspoilt beaches.
This area, being one of the most frequented destinations for seafood, is renowned for its squid fishing, which strikingly takes place at night. Come dinner time, this makes for the unique opportunity to dine on the beach whilst watching the green, twinkling lights of the squid boats bob up and down at sea – creating a perfect visual and culinary sensation.
Of course, traveling to a foreign country, their cuisine is something we always look forward to trying. Can you give us your top 5 favorite Thai food? How did each one taste like?
Thai food has a reputation for being spicy and easy to make, but in actual fact there is a lot of effort and fresh ingredients that goes into preparing classic Thai dishes. It all starts with contrast and flavour; Thai flavours are between the balance of sweet, sour, bitter, salty and spicy. Thai cuisine is also well known for its big regional differences, and as well as being influenced by it’s historical background, the culinary style is affected by it’s neighboring countries such as Laos or Vietnam.
Here are my top five must-try dishes in Thailand:
1) Noodles (Pad Thai)
The chances are you have tried these world famous noodles at your own local restaurant, but trust me they taste totally different in Thailand and are a food revelation in itself. These must-try noodles are usually served fresh and steaming hot, and can be served on the side of the road or market as a street food – though you can also get them at most restaurants.
2) Coconut soup (Tom Kha Kai)
This creamy, fragrant concoction is usually eaten with a bowl of rice and can be eaten with fish or chicken. This seductively hot dish is made with fresh chopped chillies (so be warned!), shallots and stalks of lemon grass, then drowned in coconut milk – the latter adding a perfect cooling combo to this delicious soup.
3) Papaya Salad (Som Tam)
This wonderful salad is not for the faint-hearted and is known-well for it’s spicy character. Som Tam consists primarily of shredded papaya, fish sauce, chilli, and quite often grilled chicken will be served with this dish.
4) Massaman Curry
Interestingly, this Thai dish is Muslim in origin and is famous for being rich and flavourful. It is spiced with cinnamon, tamarind, chilli and topped with creamy coconut. It is slowly cooked with a tender melt-in-the-mouth beef to produce a curry you won’t forget.
These crunchy creatures need to be given a chance. You will find them pretty much in any Thai market, and if you look hard enough there are specialty buffets dedicated to bringing you the best insects from all over Thailand. Go for it!
Where’s the top best place/s to get a taste of those food? What made each place unique from each other?
These classic dishes are renowned in Thailand, and are eaten as a basic staple varying from region to region. Pad Thai is part of a vibrant culture of fabulous street food, and can be typically picked up at any street market without too much worry. As for insects, this can largely be found in most food markets or even specialty buffets around the area.
1) Choa Lay (Hua Hin)
A visit to Thailand is incomplete without tasting the local seafood. The usual approach is to pick the type of seafood – whether that be crab, tiger prawns or fish – then decide how you would like it cooked. The usual choice is stemming, deep frying, or as part of other well known dish combinations, particularly coconut soup. Choa Lay is a popular seafood restaurant in Hua Hin, situated on a pier next to a seafood stall where you can pick a variety of fresh fish caught that very day. A wonderful seafood experience that you won’t forget, and a well known favourite amongst Thais.
2) Amphawa (Floating Market)
This floating market is another favourite amongst local Thais. Amphawa is an entire neighboured community that turns into a raging, karaoke-type floating market at the weekends. An impressive experience is sitting on the side of the river whilst skilled chefs prepare the most delicious assortments direct from their boats – including the best Papaya salad I have ever tasted.
3) Issaya Siamese Club Restaurant (Bangkok)
This sophisticated restaurant is well-hidden in the centre of Bangkok – on a small street near Rama IV Road – and is set within a beautiful heritage house.This charming experience is well worth the trouble to book in advance. It combines mouth watering classic Thai dishes with a modern twist, and carries with it a impressive international wine list. As well as exceptional service, I was also tickled pink to find out I could adore coconut juice in its shell at such a high class venue. A real treat.
How much did the food cost?
For a tuppence, in Thailand, you can have the most incredible food adventure and dine like a king for every meal. A basic main meal would cost you five dollars, and if you wanted a starter, main meal and dessert it might cost you seven dollars. If you decide to stay in Bangkok, the prices do go up, but the more you travel out and explore the less touristic areas, the fresher the food becomes and the less expensive it is.
Thailand is popular for their exotic fare. Were you able to try some? Was it planned or something you did spontaneously?
Eating fried insects is a popular thing to do among locals in Thailand and people eat them as a convenient snack or, indeed, as a meal in itself. In fact, I tried my first creepy crawly whilst standing on the side of a street market in Bangkok.
At the time, my Thai companion casually popped a crunchy deep fried silk worm in my mouth, as if it was the normal thing to do – which it was for her. Quite frankly, the element of surprise worked well in my favour, as there was no dramatic gathering of nerves: in essence, the plunge was taken for me!
As I crunched through my very first insect my eyes surveyed an entire market serving an assortment of fried goodies, including baby frogs; ants; maggots; beetles; and silk worms of all sizes and varieties. To put it mildly, I felt I had been dropped into some wacky wildlife show!
Not everyone has the guts to try eating bugs. How would you describe what the insects tasted like to a person who hasn’t tried them yet?
Before the insects are consumed they are deep-fried in oil for a second to cook them. This also contributes to the unique taste, which revolves around the texture of the insect. Therefore the sensation that fills your mouth when eating a bug is not so much the taste, but is about the crunch and texture that each insect contains.
Tell us, is it something you’d eat again?
As a snack, sure, it is something that I would try again. The nature of the crunch goes extremely well and in great combination with a crisp cold beer. I am told fried crickets with a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of paprika are similarly consumed in parts of Mexico this way. I would imagine a great and exciting alternative to our time-tested salted peanuts, or quite frankly tiresome potato chips.
What are your thoughts on insects replacing animal meat as source of protein? Yay or Nay?
Entomophagy is the consumption of insects as a major food group, and it is estimated over two billion people worldwide partake in this culinary custom, obviously including Thailand. And while this concept is in no way foreign to many countries,it is still something at which westerners turn up our noses in disgust.
However this squeamish attitude may have to change with it widely being speculated that the lack of world resources will not be able to cope with the ever-growing worldwide population. Perhaps this will mean more and more people will turn to eco-friendly arthropods as the answer to a juicy and more sustainable steak. I hear you scream in dismay, however thirty years ago westerners thought raw fish was not something for top of the food chain, although now it is considered a luxury item. You would be surprised how tasty different insects can be, so perhaps before saying nay you should give it a try!
A friend of yours plans to travel to Southeast Asia, how would you convince them to prefer flying to Thailand than anywhere else?
That’s an easy answer, for one Thailand is smack in the middle of everything, which makes it a really convenient destination when travelling around. It’s three hours to fly to Hong Kong, 2 hours to Singapore and only 90 minutes to Vietnam. Thailand is also great value for money, and because of it’s increasing popularity with tourists from all over the world, it has become easy and accessible for all types of traveler, attracting a vibrant and international mixture of people.
Thais are amongst the most welcoming people you’ll find – its called the ‘Land of Smiles’, in fact – which surely one of the many reasons Thailand contains such large expat communities. However, for those who want a more authentic experience you can also find this as well. Because of Thailand’s varied land, you can find a mixture of different experiences, from the dense tropical rainforest in the south to some beautiful beaches on both coasts. Like it’s varied landscape you can also get a mixture of unique and scrumptious food adventures.
A Thank you from FriendsEAT
We would like extend our gratitude to Claire Stewart for giving her time and effort in participating in this interview. You have opened our eyes to Thailand’s real beauty, and we are quite sure this will help a lot of people in deciding where to fly off next time they travel abroad! Thank you so much!