It was dinnertime, and we were at a night market.
Wandering through night markets you can often find some pretty amazing food. You can also find some pretty unnerving surprises. Whatever you are looking for, the trick is to look for crowds. If a lot of people are eating from any given place, it is not only social approval that the food is good, but also a sign that if they have that much turnover, the food is more likely to be fresh.
Before the night was through, we had eaten chicken on a skewer. We ate some deep fried tilapia where the old woman gave us a small bag of a sweet and spicy red sauce that we dipped into until it was gone. (The tilapia cost about 35 cents per fillet.) We enjoyed our favorite orange juice made from the little green oranges they have here. We had fried dough that was aiming to resemble donuts and got close enough to be delicious. But before all that, we saw her.
Her booth was crowded, a good sign from afar. People pointing, and giggling, and taking pictures. As we got closer we saw why – her cart was full of bugs. Piles of them. Crickets. Grasshoppers. Grubs. It was horrifyingly amazing. We certainly didn’t see anything we wanted to eat, I mean, are you crazy? But also, we did.
We saw an Australian guy eating bugs while his friend stared, aghast and laughing. We saw a proper English woman eating bugs while her friend totally and completely ignored her. In doing so we stood around long enough that the woman selling the bugs started goading us. “Come on, don’t be scared. Have some!”
We giggled. We equivocated. We may have cried. But in the end, the lady was $1.50 richer and we were walking away with a little plastic bag full of various bugs of shapes and sizes. She had asked us which kind we wanted, but we froze, unable to choose our poison fast enough, so she just started grabbing a little of everything. She put it all into a scoop, dropped in the deep frier for a few moments, and then sprayed the black pile of deep fried bugs with a salty soy sauce before dumping it into a plastic bag. She then handed us the bag, along with two wooden skewers. And she did it with a smile.
I don’t know what I expected, but I remember thinking it was funny that the garnish of choice for eating bugs was soy sauce.
We stalled by looking for a place to sit down which, unfortunately, we found. We slowly looked at our options. Right away we knew there was no way that the giant cockroach was going to get eaten. We both knew that for this venture to be successful, we had to pop the whole thing in our mouths. No biting off dainty pieces to savor. No discussions about texture were going to be had. And certainly no amount of squishiness was going to be tolerated.
At first I thought David was being brave by going first, but then I realized he was just wanted to make sure he got first dibs at picking the smallest bug he could find in the bag, a cricket. We used the skewers because the idea of handling the bugs with our fingers was just too creepy. He stabbed the cricket, and ate it.
He didn’t immediately die, so I dug through, found a grasshopper and popped it in my mouth. It was pretty casual, you know, just a couple of bros sitting around sharing a bag of deep fried insects. A couple walked by and saw what we were doing. The girl gasped and giggled nervously. The guy gagged and ran away.
To be honest, eating a grasshopper wasn’t that bad. Besides the fact that it was deep fried and just crispy, the extra salty soy sauce she had put on them covered up whatever taste the grasshopper itself might have had. I mean, the experience itself was unpleasant and cringe-worthy, but it wasn’t any worse than, say, eating cheese from a can, or boiled hotdogs, or even, shudder, canned vegetables.
But it gave me false confidence. Also in the bag were some grubs. David had immediately set his boundaries the second he saw them. “I am not eating a grub. No matter what.” Then he almost threw up just thinking about it.
I was right there with him. My biggest fear of eating a bug wasn’t so much the crunchy exoskeleton. It was the guts. I did not want anything slimy and squishy and made of bug organs on my tongue.
But the grasshopper had gone down so well, I got cocky. I picked up a grub. David almost threw up again. But I went for it, like an idiot. As soon as I bit down the juicy guts exploded into my mouth, and I’m fairly certain that I had a near-death experience. It was not cool.
Go ahead, watch the video. You know you want to.
I don’t travel the world just so that I can be eating bugs. But I guess I am eating bugs because I am traveling the world. It might be kinda gross, but it sure beats boring.
Would you eat a deep fried bug? Have you? Tell us in the comments below!
All photos by Robb Hillman and David McMullin