Kamis, 15 Maret 2012

Insects Yum Yum

Most tourists to Thailand are fascinated by the food cart selling with fried insects ie crickets, grubs, cockroaches, scorpions, and several unidentified members of the insect species. Photos cost 10 baht. Thais revel in daring farangs to cross that culinary line in hopes of witnessing the European upchuck the crawly creature,s as if they were rehearsing for a musical version of THE EXORCIST III.Back in 1991 I caught a songthaew truck from Fang. It was headed for Doi Mai Salong, the old opium HQ of the exiled Chinese Armies. The dirt road passed through forlorn villages into the mountains. Halfway to our destination the driver stopped for an old lady and her granddaughter. The latter was a goddess blessed with long black hair the color of the night between curtains of the aurora borealis. The old woman carried a buzzing bag and she answered my inquisitive gaze by revealing a weaved basket filled with hundreds of live crickets. My smile flattened to a frown and the grandmother laughed at the awkwardness and opened another basket to scoop out a handful of cooked grubs onto a banana leaf.I ate one tentatively, expecting its crunchy contents to transform me into Jeff Goldblum’s stand-in for THE FLY. Instead I was pleasantly surprised by the salty nutty taste. My grandmother and goddess got off before Doi Mai Salong. The naive teenager blew a kiss good-bye. I savored the innocence glance over her shoulder, almost like I was supposed to follow her down the footpath to a hidden valley, where we’d eat insects and smoke opium for the rest of our lives.She’d be about 35 now, which is old for a Thai woman.Since then whenever Thais offer me grubs or crickets, I make a big show about how disgusting insects are, then eat them like pop corn, thus depriving the audience of their sadistic delight.555 in your face, however if I attempted a large cockroach, my stomach would revolt in revulsion. That insect ruled the East Village. They trekked far and wide for crud. I hated them crawling across my face, while I was lying in bed.My efforts to eliminate the pests were futile. Sprays, traps, and poisons had no effect. They infested the third-floor flat like Israelis taking over Palestine. They were the plague designed to outlast man and the summer breed their hordes by the billions. By the dog days of August the walls vibrated with scratch of their little feet on rotting plaster.I escaped their tyranny to the Hamptons. A welcome guest to a palatial seaside cottage until vagrant cockroaches piggybacked my bag and infested paradise. My invitation was revoked by the curse of cockroaches.Persona non grata.The reign seemed eternal until October 1997. My married mistress from Carolina remarked that she hadn’t seen a cockroach during her weeklong stay.“What do you know about cockroaches?” I suspected that they were gathering forces. I had been cooking for guests every night. Their objective had to be my stove. The surface wore a semi-thick patina was splattered olive oil and butter.“I’m from the South, precious.” Ms. Carolina was a hunter. Her shooting was a point of pride. She had good eyes. “Your cockroaches are pets in comparison to the swamp critters crawling around my home.”“And?”“And your place is cockroach-free.”Ms Carolina was correct. I checked under the sink and in the refrigerator for a dead carcass. There were none. At first I was happy, then remembered that cockroaches were supposed to outlive the human race.If they were gone, why were we still here?“Be grateful and don’t ask so many questions.”My friends hadn’t seen any cockroaches either. It was a Pied Piper of Hamblin type of miracle and they never came back.Not while I was a New Yorker, but the big water bugs made nightly appearance at my house on Moo X in Pattaya. A motorcycle cart cruised the neighborhoods with offerings of bugs. The specialty was cockroches two inches long. Thai women loved them and my greatest fear in Pattaya was having a motorcycle accident with a scooter sidecar selling insects. The collision would send me flying into the slop of fried fly grubs, cockroaches, scorpions, and crickets. Thais would laugh at the manner of my demise. They had a morbid sense of humor.After much prodding I tried crickets. They were tasty, but I had to ask myself, “How do these guys kill the insects?”Have little SS gangs of insects murdering for them?No.Spray them with DDT?The bugs did leave a funny taste in the mouth.The mystery was solved during my last visit to Ban Nok.During a rain storm Mam’s aunt filled a bucket with water and illuminated a neon light. The bugs gathered around the light and fell into the water. An old lady scooped the drowned insects out of the water to fry in boiling oil. No DDT or mini-gallows or small electric chairs.A light, a tub of water, and a wok filled with oil did the trick for the Thais awaiting this feast.Fresh bugs like in STARSHIP TROOPERS, only those bugs fought back.Thank the stars they have not traveled here yet.

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