Unconventional Food Sources, Part 2
April Haze and Ant Daze
Written & Photographed
by Alberto C. de la Paz
Curator of the Hilltribe Museum and
Education Center at Chiang Rai
The month of April may not be the prettiest months of the year. Most of the leaves of Thailand's deciduous forests have been shed and the trees look dead or scraggly. The sky is often hazy but the sunsets are absolutely gorgeous. The April haze is probably caused by villagers burning trash or farmers clearing their rice fields of organic debris in preparation for the year's rice planting season.
Some people however, claim that uncaring villagers collecting red-ant nests cause the haze. As the ant nests laden with eggs fall to the ground, the nest hunters singe mature red ants that emerge from the nest. These small fires if uncontrolled could turn out to be major forest fires.
So what's so special about these ant nests? Ant Eggs of course, which in this part of the country as well as in the Northeast is a delicacy.
Red ants build nests high up on trees. Superb team players that they are, red ants are able to pull together tender leaves hundreds of times their size and weight to form a ball-like structure. Ants glue these leaves in place using silk-like membranes. Inside these structures are deposited the red ant eggs and eventually the ant larvae.
Khai Mod Daeng or red-ant eggs is indeed quite a culinary peculiarity. While it is an unusual source of protein, it serves as an excellent substitute for meat! For the squeamish diner, masking the ant eggs (and actually ant larvae) with chicken or duck eggs could make it a bit more palatable, if not delicious. In Northeastern Thailand, I have tasted red-ant egg salad but was a bit turned off by the aftertaste of formic acid.
Walk on the wild side. Try some of Thailand's exotic food. If you have the courage to try some extreme cuisine, you might want to start with a red-ant egg omelet.