August 29, 2012

Story to Share: Bugs Bite, Eat them!

Thinking about my trip to Laos years ago, I have to admit I have quite a few memories that involve insects and bugs.  With its largely untouched natural beauty, I suppose it's only natural that Laos would have such an abundance of bugs.  So here are my funny and weird memories involving insects in Laos, including eating, getting stung by and hit in the face by one of them.

Random insect memories from Laos, in brief.

  •  First day in Laos and I wore shorts.  I was sitting outside with friends and family that evening and the mosquitoes ate me up!  I had been bitten 16x on my legs.  They swelled up so much that I couldn't see my ankles for a few days.  And the little red bite marks made me look diseased! lol  How embarrassing.
  • Driving my motorcycle and being hit in the face with what I initially thought was a cigarette butt from a passing vehicle.  But as I wiped my face, I looked at my hand and saw pigment.  It was a butterfly that hit my face.  Oddly enough I was told that the Lao lottery the next day, the numbers that represent the butterfly turned up.  What are the odds of that?  Too bad I didn't buy a ticket!
  • Waking up in the middle of the night, in my bed with a bug net around me feeling something was brushing against my back.  Out of laziness I tried to keep sleeping only to have the feeling of something walking on my back.  Jumping out of bed and rushing to turn the lights on, I then turned towards my bug net.  I searched through it.  What did I find?  A huge cockroach the size of my palm!  I caught it with glass cup and kept it trapped in there until morning.  I went back to sleep.  Thinking about it the next day, it disgusted me.  I never knew cockroaches could get that big.
  • Seeing a giant moth with the wing size of an open hand, hanging on my friend's door (it was dead).  Still not sure if it was real or not.  But they told me it was real.
  • Seeing a group of black and bright blue and purple butterflies flying all around me as I sat under a lychee fruit tree.  They were eating up all the sap and nectar from the fruit tree.  It was like being in a fairy tale story.
  • I identified at least 3 species of ants in varying sizes from large (size of your thumbnail) to super minute.  I'm sure Laos has many more species though.  Surprisingly it's the super small (almost microscopic) red ants that leave the most annoying sting!
  • Seeing a young child covered in huge black ants.  Apparently he had been playing in the backyard forest and had disturbed the nest.  As he came running and crying from the forest, my aunt's quick thinking was to use a water hose and spray him down while using her other hand to try to wipe away the ants.  She saved him.  She later described to me that the ants were biting the child so hard that even as she tried to wipe or pull the ants off him, their pincers were clamped so well on his skin she could see them pulling up his skin a bit.

Eating Insects
When I was in Laos I tried some of the insects that the locals ate for food.  I ate ant eggs, crickets, and bee larvae.

The one I found difficult to eat were the crickets.  They're in the full body form and you essentially eat it on its own so there was no hiding what you were eating.  I recall hesitating to put it in the mouth.  But once I got it in, I then found myself hesitating to chew it.  I kept thinking of its body guts exploding in my mouth.  Eventually I did chew on it and quickly swallowed it.  Not much flavor really.  I thought to myself I could probably eat smaller insects and I would need it to be deep fried, salted and crispy!  That'll be on my food to do list next time.

My favorite were the ant eggs.  They were prepared in two ways.  One was that they were added to a soup.  The other was mixed in with an egg omellette.  I enjoyed both.  In particular it's fun to chomp down on them in your mouth - they seem to explode with these little pockets of liquid and flavor.

I always say I'll anything once.  So I have to admit, I would be very open to trying more of these different gourmet insect foods that are offered in Laos. 

The other one next on my list?  Silkworms.  The silk industry produces silkworms that are boiled when the cocoons are being harvested and the threads extracted.  People eat these.  And why not?  It'd be a waste if they didn't!  They resemble grubs or chubby caterpillars and are white.  Admittedly, it's always a bit of a mind hurdle to get you into the mind set to eat such things.

Also may be I'll add some beetles to my list.  I recall eating that once when I was kid.  I remember it tasted good, nutty and creamy even.  Haven't had it since though.

Why eat insects?
Cheap, readily available, great source of protein, insects themselves take up very little land resources, easy to harvest, nearly 100% of the insect body is edible so very little waste, etc. - the list goes on.  The only challenge is to get your mind over the gross factor.  And that can be a challenge for some.

Final Note
There are 4 things that come to mind that would impress locals (and I don't mean money).
  1. Being able to eat spicy hot chili peppers without hyperventilating or running for a jug of water
  2. Being able to speak Lao (or at least be trying to speak it)
  3. Being as friendly and open as the locals are
  4. And of course, being able to eat bugs without hesitation
You'll see their faces light up with a mix of surprise, amusement and delight, if you can do any of that when you visit Laos.

- VM


  1. Don't try silkworms! They're disgusting... I tried them in China and it was horrible. I love g daw that is some good shit..I don't know what you would call them in English since they live underground so they can't be grasshoppers. Crickets aren't too gotta pull off the wings before consuming but you don't have to if you're lazy. Locals aren't too friendly to foreigners. I dunno how many times I said sa bai dee and the person who I said it to never said it back. But most definitely you will impress them if you can eat what they eat.