On season one of Tan Your Mind, one of the co-stars ate a cockroach. Despite her immediate sickness afterward, I wanted to eat something equally crazy on season two—I promised myself that I would try anything that came my way. Whether it was raw or wiggling, it was going in my belly.
Why, you might ask? Better question: Why not?!
As it happened, I enjoyed a lot of culinary “first times” in Thailand. At home, I am mostly a vegan because of my fear of cholesterol and unnecessarily added hormones, however, for a once-in-a-lifetime trip, I decided to take a break from my plan-based ways and try everything I possibly could.
My first “first” was street food—“mystery meat on a stick,” as travellers believe—and even though I’d heard horror stories of gastrointestinal parasites and never-ending diarrhea, I was determined to try this famous night-market snack.
Laid out neatly before us were all different types of meat carefully skewered onto bamboo spears. Some recognizable, some not so much. A few had tentacles and a few were perfectly shaped balls of who knows what. I chose a small, burgundy-coloured chunk of flesh, not knowing its origin and not wanting to until I had eaten it. The vendor barbecued our delicious selections as we put on our brave faces. My mystery choice was rich, soft and actually quite good. Turns out it was nothing crazy—just a simple chicken liver. But it was my first liver ever.
My next firsts were Thai classics: panang curry (a thick, sweet, nutty curry), khao soi (egg noodles with curry sauce), banana leaf, bitter melon and tamarind sauce. All delicious, all new, but none the shocking new experience I was searching for.
If you know Thailand’s markets, you know everything and anything is available—so where were the crunchy bugs I always see on travel shows? On the night of the Phimai Festival, we found them: worms, centipedes, beetles and roaches of all species were deep-fried and seasoned to perfection. Game on!
A smorgasbord of creepy, crawly delicacies. Ants, silkworms, water beetles, cockroaches, crickets and grasshoppers were piled before me like bulk bins in a grocery store. Craving something crunchy and spicy, I chose a grasshopper and a cricket. I’d been waiting for this moment for a while, so with excitement and gusto, I opened wide and popped the winged creatures into my trap and crunched down.
Even I was surprised at how good they were. They tasted like corn nuts or the barbecue-chip crumbs at the bottom of the bag. One for win! Onto the next.
At the Mulberry Farm in Den Chai, we had the opportunity to try silkworms. Woah! That was something I’d never considered. Our host’s mother heated the silkworms over an open flame; they looked like a tiny, squishy larvae—because, in fact, that’s exactly what they were. When I examined one up close, I saw its black head and wrinkled, tan body that resembled a miniature dryer hose half the size of my pinkie finger.
I’ll be honest, I hesitated before I popped the squishy creature into my mouth and chomping down. It burst in my mouth with a creamy, chalkiness that tasted like fake mashed potatoes from a box. Not my favourite, but our host, Alec, said they’re better crunchy and fried—which meant we had to try them again.
The second time around Alec cooked them in the wok (an essential tool for Thai cooking) with oil and salt. While they were cooking, the heat and oil made them snap and pop before finishing with a dark bronze colour. Choosing my snack carefully (I wanted to get the crunchiest one), I popped it into my mouth once again. Then I ate another one, and another, popping them back like peanuts. A silkworm success!
For me, my last “first time” was the most epic. We were strolling down the streets of Bangkok on a tour with Chili Paste Tours when we came across a stand with burnt, leathery looking, barbecued reptiles. There, on display, was a char-grilled frog cooked into an extremely uncomfortable position. His rear end was stuck out in a crazy yoga pose that looked as though he was trying to bend in half and touch his toes at the very moment he met his maker.
“Do you want to eat a frog, Abra?” our producer asked.
“Yes,” I replied, not knowing if I was telling the truth.
People eat frogs all the time, but this held special meaning to me, as my mom is extremely afraid of frogs. I wasn’t sure if she would be disgusted, freaked out or proud of me. Hoping she would be proud, I went for the flashiest part of the little guy. I bit into his butt cheek and pulled as hard as I could to rip a piece off. It was the toughest meat I’d ever eaten—I imagined it to be like a chicken wing that had been left in a takeout box for days. The frog’s rump was the chewy texture of beef jerky and had the flavour of rubber and smoke. One bite was enough. That was my first and last frog.
Ate. Conquered. Mission complete.