The variety of "wild game" sampled -- pre-cooking. Photo by Paul Ross.
By Judie Fein, 9/20/2002
Judie: Anthony, so what do we have on our late-night menu tonight?That's Anthony Tuttle, the executive chef of the resort. It's late at night, the restaurants are closed, and the chef is giving my husband and me a private tasting. I'd heard that Thai people snack on bugs, and I asked -- OK, let's be frank -- I dared Anthony to cook some for me and my husband. Worse than that, I also dared him to eat them.
Judie: Tonight's the night!Anthony is American, and although he's a great sport about doing this, it's obvious he's weirded-out by the bodies of dead insects that are lying in beautiful ceramic bowls in the impeccable, stainless-steel kitchen. Antony's gathered four sous chefs to teach him how to cook the bugs.
Anthony begins by putting oil in a pan and then he lifts up a gross black thing with legs.
Judie: Can you describe what the bugs look like?
When I ask Anthony how he got the bugs, his answer is rather surprising.
Anthony: Last night, we had a songkran festival out along our pool. My sons and my wife actually came and I asked them to collect the bugs for tonight. I gave them a small cup and had them hunt for the bugs.
One of Anthony's sous chefs, Koon Jam Pon, is a real aficionado of edible Thai insects. He tells us his very scientific method for gathering them.
Koon: We catch it, put it in a plastic bag, take it home -- very good, good taste for the snack, like a canapé.
Koon Jam Pon tells us that real bug gourmets don't eat just any old mon dong bugs. There's a big difference in taste between male and female beetles.
Koon: The female bug is nice, tasty because it has the eggs inside. It tastes like cheese. The men are only the shell with nothing inside.
There's nothing fancy about the way Anthony fries these horrors. He picks up a fistful and drops them into a basket in a deep fryer.
Anthony: You fry them until they float and are crunchy on the outside, and warm and juicy on the inside.
Judie: You wait for it all year?
Although we have agreed to wait until everything is cooked before the tasting begins, I catch Koon Jam Pon surreptitiously popping a worm into his mouth. I ask him why he jumped the gun.
Koon: I really excited. I hungry -- my stomach is all dancing now.
When all the "creepy crawlies" are fried, Koon Jam Pon does the initial tasting of a large mon dong, pretty much the way a wine expert would savor the first sip.
Koon: Mmmmmm. Nice taste. You forget spaghetti and you forget steak if you try this one. Excellent.
Then Anthony, who must be the best-humored chef in the world, makes good on his dare. He is also going to taste a beetle.
Anthony: Should I eat it tail first or head first?
Now, Anthony tries a grasshopper.
Anthony: Uh, uh -- I can't do this one.
OK, he can't croak down a grasshopper. Maybe he'll do better with a silk worm.
Just as I'm making fun of Anthony and Koon Jam Pon, they turn on me. Now, it's my turn to take the dare.
Judie: Which one would you suggest I eat?
My husband Paul has an even wilder idea.
Paul: Think of it as a cashew with legs and an antenna.
It seems that this is true. It is a guy thing. Koon Jam Pon tells us his wife would never eat a bug, and neither would most of the Thai women he knows. Now, there is only one guy left in our group who hasn't tried an insect: my husband Paul. The dare is thrown to him. And, he goes for a really gross mon dong bug.
Paul: The other night I was trying to eat dinner and these things were flying at me, eating me. So, now, I'm gonna eat one of them. This is revenge.
In Phuket, this is Judie Fein for The Savvy Traveler.
Search Savvy Traveler