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Insects in the Salad


Eretes sticticus larvae, sometimes served with laphet thote

Let’s return for a moment to laphet thote. Long before I researched this article, I’d eaten a lot of Burmese pickled tea leaves. The salad has all the salty-spicy-bitter-yumminess I love on a tropical plate. But I didn’t know about the beetles.

That is, not until I started digging into the details of all the ingredients that could possibly find their way into a batch of laphet thote. Someone somewhere along the line mentioned spirulina. I’d seen it everywhere in Burma. In the West, this cyanobacteria (a.k.a. blue-green algae) is sold as a dietary supplement, high in complete protein and full of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. In Asia, spirulina pops up in flavored chips as well as Mandalay beer, which is advertised as a proper way to keep a person young. (The addition of spirulina tastes, ummm, a bit green. And it effectively serves as a colonic scouring pad.) Spirulina proliferates in volcanic craters and natural lakes with high pH levels, particularly in the Twintaung area. And where you find spirulina, you find Eretes sticticus, an edible aquatic beetle. In some parts of Burma, this species is dried and eaten along with the nuts, beans and seeds that give laphet thote its distinctive crunchiness.

One day, I was chatting with the interpreter for one of my writing classes, and his eyes brightened as we discussed the critters sometimes found in laphet thote. The next morning, he came to class with a neatly typed information sheet on the beetle larva known as Twin-poe in Burmese. And here, you will find a description of the way in which these insects are captured using a plastic cup and two sticks of jaggery, beneath a full moon’s light.

For the record, I found nothing outlandish about the taste of these insects. Dry and crunchy, I barely noticed them among all the other goodies in my salad.

6 replies on “Insects in the Salad”

In Phnom Penh I’ve had flying ants and bee larvae – both are good. The deep-fried spiders I can pass on, and snakes-in-the-egg are as disgusting as you can imagine – the texture of plastic, and the taste of, well, snake-embryo. How about a post on Eating the Inedible?

I once had ants in a Khmer soup that made me itchy. Not sure why. I had a spider once, and that was enough for me. But I really enjoyed the jungle rat with Naga chile. That was tasty.

My son and I are both allergic to ant bites. I get itchy but he ends up in the hospital as a bite will cause him to swell up and not breathe. Maybe you are like me only slightly allergic to them too. New list of possibly allergy foods, shellfish, eggs, gluten, and ants! LOL. You are such an adventurous eater. What is a jungle rat? Is it like an agouti?

Wizzythestick, hmmm, maybe so. The rat was a type of bamboo rat, which thrives in the — you guessed it — bamboo forests of the area. It had very small, crunchy bones and not a lot of meat, but it tasted rich without being overpoweringly gamey. A bit like elk on a much, much smaller scale. And super spicy because it was stewed with Naga chiles, hottest in the world.

Newport, as for cockroaches: I prefer to keep them out of the kitchen and out of the house entirely. Personal preference. I know many who disagree.

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