The smell of morning glory and fried pork sift through the air. The food in this village is always guaranteed fresh and delicious. The feasts are the highlight of our stay.
We wander into the kitchen, asking, “What’s for dinner?”
Morning glory, larb moo (spicy pork), cabbage soup, and — a plate of deep fried bamboo worms!
The thought of eating insects might make one squirm but in Thailand insects are considered a tasty and nutritious snack.
Thais eat over 150 types of insects these include crickets, water beetles, and bamboo worms. Throughout the world, nearly 1,400 species of insects are considered edible.
Our host, one of the head men of the village, explains how villagers must trek for three days to find the worms during rainy season. Then, they camp out, searching bamboo shoots for signs of worm colonies. Once they find an abundant colony, they chop them down and collect hundreds of the insect. The worms are caught, and cooked alive, sizzling each time they hit the oil. Fried worms can be preserved up to three months.
The distance and effort that it takes to find the worms make for a luxurious treat. In the mountain village we stay at near Chiang Rai, the Bamboo worms sell for 120 baht ($3 USD) a kilo. For every 100 kilometers outside the village, the price goes up about 50 baht ($1.20 USD) by the time the worms reach Chiang Mai, they are nearly 500 baht (15 USD) a kilo.
Eating insects in Northern Thailand is an exotic, snack for foreigners and a common practice for Thais, but it is also considered a vital source of protein for villagers. Bamboo worms contain about 9.6 grams of protein per serving which is an excellent source of nutrition in a rice based diet. The most protein packed insect is the giant water beetle, which contains 19.8 grams of protein per serving, followed by the red ant which contains 13.9 grams.
In 2008, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization hosted a conference in Chiang Mai to discuss the benefits of eating insects, especially during humanitarian crises. They concluded that insects are easily accessible, can be seasoned to taste, and are so full of nutrition they could serve as a vital food source to combat hunger in drought prone regions.
Back at the village, we looked at our plates, and the crunchy, lifeless bulbs before us. In Thailand, it is not uncommon to find yourself eating such delicacies as shrimp brain, raw beef, and fish cheek. All treats which we have tried, to appease our hosts, and found ourself thoroughly enjoying.
Staring at the worms, we shrug our shoulders, say “M’pen Rai” (no worries, whatever), and dig our chopsticks into the crispy pile. As it turns out, the small airy creatures were delicious, tasting like Lays potato chips rather than a grub that once inched its way around bamboo. Our host was thrilled to see us enjoy this meal, and in traditional Thai fashion we ate, drank and conversed .
Somewhere in the middle of our drinks, our host brought out a plate of buffalo skin, a jerky like leather gel. Gnawing through it with a fervor, our culinary adventures continued well into the night.