Nondu, Thailand. February, 2003
Other than one little trip to the Nong Khai for the National Cultural Festival, I've spent the most of the last three weeks around the house. A few days ago, a type of insect larvae, cicada I think, that the locals like to eat was discovered in a Eucalyptus grove only a couple kilometers from the house. These little bugs live in holes in the ground about 10 to 20 cm deep around Eucalyptus trees.
Apparently the larvae forage on the surface then retreat to the holes, because the holes, which are sometimes about 1 cm in diameter are clear all the way down to the bug, as if they are used constantly. When its time, the bugs crawl en mass up the Eucalyptus trunks and sprout wings and fly off, probably to make more little bugs. I've seen them in the process of sprouting wings, but never before as just immature larvae. A day or two after the discovery we went up to the hills to dig up some bugs (You may recall that I am vegetarian but I am the only vegetarian in Nondu as far as I know) and was we drove into the Eucalyptus grove what I saw reminded me a little of a scene in a movie depicting 49'ers during the California Gold Rush. People were all over the gently sloping hillside with small shovels and plastic buckets, digging through the sandy soil that covered the shaded floor of the grove.
I watched for a few minutes then picked up one of the small shovels. Should be an easy thing: find a hole, then dig down until you see the bug, then pick up the bug and carry it to a bucket. Well, I was pretty good at finding the holes, but not much good at finding the bugs, though it seemed pretty obvious to me that they were supposed to be at the bottom of the holes. After a lot of digging and only a few bugs, I realized I wasn't' cut out for that kind of work. Luckily for me, I brought along a clipboard and calculator so I could work on my current electronics project while the others worked up a lather gathering a couple hundred grams of little bugs.
I would like to say that the bug digging adventure ended happily for all involved, and it did, except for the bugs, who became a feature of many family's dinners that night.
Many of the people of Isan (North-Eastern Thailand) are subsistence farmers and they must take advantage of the sources of protein that nature provides. Among those sources I've seen taken in Nondu that seem the most interesting, given my California upbringing, are frogs, rats, insect larvae, snails, flying ants, beetles and, predominantly fish. Don't turn up your nose -you can think of analogous foods in Western diets if you try.
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