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Excerpts from Four Weddings and a Coup

The evenings in Sakon Nakohn were quiet times, but not entirely without incident. One time, I was reading a book in the living room and enjoying some time alone. Everyone had wandered off somewhere. Suddenly, the tranquillity was shattered. Penh’s youngest sister, Aeyen, came running in excitedly shouting, “Paul, Paul. Come.” I was firstly surprised to hear her call me by my name as I was used to just being called farang. I was also interested to see what was causing such excitement, so I followed her outside, where I saw a bright light in the field behind the house with several people gathered round. Could it be a UFO landing? Would this be aliens’ first impression of human life?

As we walked towards the light, I noticed that there was a long extension lead running from the house to a fluorescent strip light, which was attached to a pole. The pole was stuck in the ground at a 45 degree angle with a corrugated tin sheet draped over it. Under the light was a large bowl of water. Crickets were being attracted to the light and jumping into the bowl, where they would drown. The congregation was aiding this process by picking up more crickets and throwing them in to the bowl. I joined in, thinking to myself, “What a great idea. What an ingenious way of getting rid of so many insects and stopping them from hopping into the house.” The ingenuity didn’t end there. Guess what we had for breakfast the next day!!! Actually, deep fried crickets were quite tasty. They were much more palatable than the fried cockroach I once tried with Penh on a night out in Bangkok. The trick is to pull off the legs first so that they don’t get stuck in your teeth.

I had other experiences with insects there, too. On one trip, I was wandering around the market in Pankorn, looking for dogs, when I saw something that I couldn’t quite figure out. It looked like a kind of white honeycomb. I thought it may be honey, but I wasn’t sure. The stallholder saw me looking and invited me to try some. The taste was kind of sweet and actually nice. This was when Penh came over and told me that I was eating raw, red ant’s eggs. That turned out to be one of the better epicurean adventures I had in Isaan.

The worst culinary incident I had during my trips to Sakhon Nakhon didn’t involve dogs, but giant snails. These were just cooked in the shells and almost inedible. I have eaten escargots in France. They were soaked in garlic sauce and not particularly to my taste but edible, after a jaw-aching period of rumination. It was like eating garlic chewing gum. The Isaan version was like chewing on wet rubber.

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