Ants for Dinner

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We have no way of fact checking, but are 95% sure that we just ate ant eggs, or possibly larvae… Maybe both. Don’t cringe. It was so good that even after we figured out what it was, we couldn’t stop ourselves from finishing the meal. Dare I say we will likely eat this again before we leave. The meal itself was a complete accident, or a stroke of luck.

I felt like a papaya salad for lunch, and there was a cart across the street that was set up in a very papaya salad-esque kind of way: a few mixing bowls, some piles of shredded vegetables, a stack of limes, fish sauce, a bag of chilies and peanuts… I told Dave i’d grab the salad to go and meet him back at the room to have lunch on the balcony.

The chef spoke no English, and my two phrases in Lao were no help in ordering. Her eyes widened a bit when I pointed at the mixing bowl and indicated that i’d like one order. She showed me a calculator to show the cost: 20,000 Kip (about $2.50). This was twice the price of most papaya salads I’ve had, but it was the heat of the day and I’d no wish to spend anymore time than necessary standing in direct sunlight. I nodded in agreement. She hesitated for a second, met my gaze, shrugged, and proceeded.

She juiced 2 limes and added fish sauce to a bowl, and then it got interesting. From the display case, she took two perfectly formed balls about 2 inches in diameter. They looked a bit dry on the exterior and contained white flecks the size of dried rice. They were dropped into the bowl and with little effort, crumbled into tiny pieces. This is when I realized that I wasn’t getting a papaya salad.

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Shallots, green onion, and chopped rice noodles were added. A handful of peanuts and roasted dried chilies were then thrown into a bag, and the mixture of noodles and mystery ingredients were piled in on top. It was fastened with a rubber band. From under the work top, she produced a grocery bag that was far too large to hold the package of noodles. I became more confused than I was before. Into the grocery bag went a gigantic bag of mixed greens and fresh herbs (an amount that would easily be six servings of greens back home). Then she turned to a chopping block and quartered lengthwise what appeared to be a giant lotus flower bud (I later learned by google search that it was actually a banana flower- we had to google it as we didn’t know what to do with the thing).

And so it was meal time. I brought my grocery bag home and laid the spread out on the table. ‘I think we’re eating larvae’. Dave gave me a puzzled look. We studied the contents: the little rice-like particles had a certain plump figure to them. ‘Definitely not rice.’ There were tiny dark orange dots crushed into the salad that crunched with a salty richness. All signs pointed to yes. We took spoonfuls and wrapped them neatly in the leaves and greenery provided. Salty, sweet, sour… better than any lettuce wraps we’ve ever had. It was delicious. We couldn’t stop eating. Do not let the strangeness of this dish prevent you from trying it when you visit Laos. It is delicious.

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