Just call it a 'cultural divide' but strange as it may seem, a favourite snack in Thailand, originally from the northeast of the country but now found everywhere, is a yummy plate of fried insects.
The theory is that the northeast is the poorest part of Thailand and that for some time now crops have been hard to grow there. Raising cattle was out of the question so some locals had to be creative when it came to food. So, easy-to-catch insects and bugs became one of their favorite snacks and protein supplements.
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Later on, when they were forced to go looking for jobs in big cities like Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket, they brought with them their very own special cuisine; deep-fried insects.
Khun Beum from Phuket, by day a construction contractor, has a profitable part-time sideline selling deep-fried insects from his regular pitch in Sapan Hin park, on the southern edge of Phuket City. He takes his sideline seriously. The first thing he told us was, “I have a reputation to maintain. The secret is in the fresh oil. I never use old oil to fry the insects.”
The insects he sells include silk worms, grasshoppers, bamboo worms, water beetles, and crickets. But the potential range of the insect menu is huge. If you explore a bit, don’t be surprised if you come across cockroaches, spiders or scorpions being sold by other vendors.
Some insects, such as crickets, are caught in the wild while others, including silk worms and grasshoppers, are raised on insect farms in the north and northeast of Thailand. When the insects are fried to perfection Khun Beum scoops them out with a draining scoop. One scoopful – between five and ten insects depending on their size – sells for 20 baht.
He used to sell scorpions, too, but, he explains, “It has been harder to sell them lately, so I stopped. If you want fried scorpions, I can get them, but you’ll need to order them specially. It’ll take a week or two.” The taste of these deep-fried snacks can be expressed in a few words; crispy and crunchy for most of the insects but milky and creamy for worms such as the silk worm and bamboo worm.
A bug eater commented to Phuket.com that the best way to eat them is to put some white pepper and soy sauce on them – it makes them that much tastier! Beside the ‘interesting’ taste and textures, many people claim that insects are full of calcium and protein. Eaten with vegetables, it is said, they make the perfectly balanced meal.
Khun Beum is also quick to debunk the image that some people may have of insect snacks being typically low-class. “Some people may mistakenly think that insects are a snack for poor, uneducated people, but I have many hi-so [high-society] customers,” he says, busily serving customers. He’s right. Things have changed so much.
A bag of deep-fried insects used to be known as a popular snack among bar girls and lower-paid workers such as factory workers, but it is not the case any more. During our conversation, I noticed plenty of people parking fancy cars nearby and buying his product. There were also many students and office workers arriving, mostly on motorbikes. The popularity of insects, it seems, is universal and classless.
Khun Beum serves insects every evening until about 10pm, except when it’s raining heavily. His stand is in Sapan Hin Park, right near the main circle. You will also find fried insects and worms at most night and weekend markets around the island.
What Can You Eat and Where
- Silk Worms
- Bamboo Worms
- Water Bugs (Meang Da) see photo on the right
Fried Insects Vendor
- Location: At Sapan Hin Circle in Phuket Town