I was watching a lady from northeastern part of Thailand standing by the fence at the crowded Chatujak weekend market offering different fried creatures: water bugs, worms, grasshoppers and birds from a push cart.
I understand why many people shriek when it comes to eating bugs, even though I have no problem with water bugs. In Thai cuisine, water bugs are commonly part of certain chili sauces, and are not looked upon as a pest or bug. Besides, they are ground up and unrecognizable; just part of a dish I have eaten them all my life.
The worms and grasshoppers are different! I have seen people eat them on TV, but my mother never cooked them for us. Here was a chance to see if they taste like chicken. I realized that if I could eat water bugs, other insects are not too far from it. How arbitrary is it to discriminate against other types of insects!
As I was reasoning, a guy came by and bought some bugs. She sprayed a thin brown sauce on top and handed the bag to him. I thought, 'hey, people are really buying and eating this stuff.' So I approached her cart and asked her what she had. She explained: Water bugs, I already knew that one. It was deep fried and sprayed with some sauce. It was probably crunchy and creamy with a distinct scent of water bug. I didn't mind this one and thought that I would certainly get some.
Next was called rod fai duan or express train. Hmm…doesn't sound bad. The express train is a worm that eats bamboo. OK. The worm sounded clean, only ate bamboo. OK, I'd try this.
This fat oval bug with visible sections looked too much like a bad bug, something out of a horror movie. What is it? She said that it was cocoon of a silkworm after they unraveled the silk. All right. Silk worms eat mulberry leaves. That's not too gross, just a silk worm. I can handle that.
The grasshopper looked like a brown grasshopper with all parts intact.
While I was explaining to my husband and deciding what we would get to experiment and broaden our knowledge of bugs, a guy came by and snatched all the water bugs that she had. Geez, my safety bugs were gone. What to do? So I quickly told the lady I wanted a little bit of every thing. She said 10 baht (~US$0.25) a ladle. OK, a ladle full of everything except the birds. Years ago, my brother ended up in a doctor's office after the birds because the bones were stuck in his throat. I decided that just bugs would be enough to fill my day.
She was so generous with her scoop that I had to tell her that we're new to the bugs and please go easy on us. She sprayed our bugs with the sauce. I asked her what is the sauce. She smiled and simply replied, 'secret sauce'.
Now it was time. My husband and I were arguing who should go first. We decided we should both munch at the same time. I chose the bamboo worm first because it was the least threatening. To my surprise, it tasted great. It was nutty and crunchy. There were no icky taste or unpleasant smell or feeling in your mouth. I had been afraid that it would be creamy (like I'd always imagined bugs in the past), but it was dry. Well, if the bamboo worm wasn't so bad, let's try another worm, the silk worm. It was crunchy and nuttier than the 'express train'. We saved the best for last, the grasshopper. I closed my eyes and dropped one in my mouth. If I didn't know what it was, it would have to say it was the fried tiny little fish that you get in Korean restaurants. It tasted like fish, not chicken!