Visitors to Thailand may occasionally come across hawker stalls or roadside vendors selling insects as snacks. It’s often a source of curiosity and amusement for many Westerners when they first see fried grasshoppers or roasted crickets being sold on the street. Although the thought of eating insects doesn’t appeal to everybody, they are known to be an excellent source of protein and calcium and are a valuable supplement to the diet of many rural Thais.
The insects are caught using ultraviolet lights and are then washed and drained before being roasted, grilled, steamed or fried. The heat from the cooking process kills any bacteria or parasites. Insects have always provided a dietary supplement for Thai people living in rural areas, but some have even set up their own businesses farming the bugs. The start-up costs are small and when ready, the insects are sold to local markets. Vendors buy the insects from the local market and then prepare and cook them before selling the bugs to customers via a hawker stall which is pushed through the streets. There are a large number of bugs that can be eaten and common varieties include, cicadas, crickets, cockroaches, beetles, bamboo worms, silk worms and ant eggs. Once prepared, all of the insect is edible but some hawkers may remove wings which can stick in the mouth or legs which can stick in the teeth. More exotic creatures like scorpions can also be found and these are popular with Thai-Chinese who believe eating the tail (where the sting is) will make them strong.
The insects may be eaten as they are for a plain snack or they may be prepared with items such as chilli and lemongrass and eaten with rice. Some Thai people like their bugs with a touch of salt which goes well with a glass or two of beer. The insect hawkers can be found all over Thailand, but have a particular affinity with the rural north-east region of Isaan. Many of the hawkers to be found in places such as Bangkok and Pattaya originate from Isaan. Similarly, many of their customers are migrant workers who have moved south from the rural areas where jobs are scarce outside of the rice season.
Despite what some tourists think, not all Thai people eat insects. Some will turn their nose up just as some Westerners do. There is also a lot of snobbery in Thailand and some middle class and ‘hi-so’ Thais, especially women, would never be seen eating insects because of the thought of them being a poor person’s food and the association with the Isaan region. However, there are plenty more who enjoy the insects for what they are; a good value and nutritious snack. Available for around 20 Baht a bag from a hawker near you.