Today I'm recapping on something I ate in Chiang Rai province, North Thailand that deeply impressed me.
I've been getting into a lot of local regional North Thai food, and that includes most things that swim, run, sit, crawl or fly. And often their babies too.
I spent someon documenting the more unusual and exotic foods such as the insects simply because it's outside the usual tourist or street vendor context, and placed in the realm of a daily staple food.
It's really changed my way of looking at it.
Swaggering bravado on YouTube is one thing, but sitting down with the family to a substantial meal of fried cicadas with sticky rice is something different altogether.
Here upcountry they're not beer snacks – they're actually used as a substantial protein source.
Insect cuisine is intriguing in many senses.
First is the way in which you overcome preconceptions and cultural conditioning about 'proper' food.
In fact you really have to do that in order to actually try it in the first place. Most of us in the West tend to have a lot of ideas as to what constitutes "food".
Many of these notions prove to be erroneous when we get outside our own culture and open our minds and eyes a bit.
Second is the challenge in disassociating the actual flavour and texture from the concept and mental image of what you were eating.
A lot of the dishes stand out on their own in terms of flavour, like the Maeng Da water bug 'nam prik' dip with it's pronounced flavour and the giant killer wasp larvae dip which was really creamy and delicious with a strangely familiar flavour.
Was it delicious because I wasn't gobbling a whole grub and struggling with the concept of what I was eating?
Or was it because the texture was attractive and the taste enhanced by the pounding and mixing with smoky chilli?
Maybe both, but I felt the texture and taste was definitely improved by the process, just as I prefer hommus to plain boiled chickpeas.
I got used to trying pretty much everything, some of which I liked and some of which I didn't.
I tend not to blog about stuff that I don't really like because it would have me bogged down doing posts about how shit the burgers are at McDonalds and how you cant get a decent pasta at a fast food chain – and I think enough people are covering that already.
I wasn't really shocked enough by anything I tried up North strangely enough but the South of Thailand had some pretty challenging smelly fish things going on.
One day however, Khun Boonchuay came home with a deep yellow honeycomb – a very small one from what looked like baby bees.
I knew he wasn't about to get the toaster out and start breakfast Western style, but I was a bit surprised when he headed out to the small brick barbecue burner and started grilling it over charcoal.
I thought it was comb honey – which I love.
I always used to enjoy it as a kid back in New Zealand, especially chowing down on the wax which turned from honey to chewing gum as you gnawed it dry.
But this honeycomb had a couple of wee bees still on it and it had a somewhat drier and more closed texture than what I was used to.
It all became clear when the honeycomb was broken apart after a gentle smoking on the barbecue.
The drawn out combs were still filled with minute miniature bee larvae, and the idea was that you ate the larvae smoked and cooked through – with the honey and the smoky honeycomb
This was really delicious but I suppose it comes down to that thing in your head again.
"OMG they're alive!" or "I can't believe they're not maggots" are probably the first things that spring to mind for Westerners with little exposure to such cuisine.
After a couple of months trying all manner of unusual food I was way past thinking too much about the fact that it wasn't a steak, salad, sandwich or pasta, and really into assessing it on its taste and texture.
Texture is a big thing for me, and some things just don't float my boat. Fully cooked liver is one of them.
This was incredible.
It's hard to avoid sounding like a wine wanker when I describe it as having an intense smoky appeal with caramel, wood and butterscotch. Full of rich flavoursome honey with floral notes and dual textures of chewy honeycomb and puffed rice which melt in the mouth and leave you wanting more.
I requested this again but it is hardly a supermarket item, so one has to wait until it appears in the market or until somebody finds a beehive.
This photo looks a bit like a dentists nightmare but it was one of the most memorable things that I ate and I'll be looking for some more when I head back in February.
There was no taste or sense of larvae – just a rich smoky honey which gave way to an incredible texture which haunted the mouth for half a minute or so.
if you see this anywhere, throw caution to the wind and try it. It rocks.
Think of it as smoked honey chewing gum – with meat.