Thai food has taken the world by storm, regularly voted the favorite ethnic food in prestigious Zagat surveys around the world.
Today most metropolitan foreigners are ardently familiar with Pad Thai, Tom Yum Goong and Green Curry. Yet there is a dark side to Thai cuisine that remains intentionally hidden from these unsuspecting palates – an often horrifying underworld of macabre cuisine that would make even the hardiest, battle-tested “Iron Chef” cringe like a little girl. It is in Thailand's national interest that these secret recipes never fall into foreign hands, so this article will self-destruct in sixty seconds. Read quickly...
Warning: Don't read this if you've recently eaten or are planning to eat anything ever again.
1) Deep-Fried Bugs (left)
One of Isaan province's many unexportable contributions to Thai cuisine. As any fan of reality game shows will tell you, eating bugs is something you only do in order to win a lot of money.
Not so for the supernaturally gourmet Isaanese, who regularly scarf down swarms of deep fried and spiced waterbeetles, grasshoppers, grubs, worms and crickets. Not only a good source of protein, but also a cheap form of pest control.
2) Blood Jelly (right)
Looks like tofu, feels like tofu, tastes like old socks. Lovely purple color brings to mind animal parts you're not supposed to eat. Authorities say that blood is one of world's healthiest foods, but that's only because they're all vampires.
3) Chicken or Duck Embryo (on the half-shell)
This also falls into the egg category, but just barely. The eggs are fertilized and cooked just before the chick is ready to be born, then you unpeel and eat the entire thing. Environmentally friendly as it saves on packaging – poultry with its own take-away box. Gives new meaning to the term “peckish.” Bill, please!
4) Thousand-Year Old Eggs (left)
Everyone knows that, like a fine wine, eggs just get better with age. Clever Chinese cooks just figured out a way to speed up the process.
These black eggs are rumoured to taste a bit like cheese, though no one has ever been brave enough to find out. (Presumably they mean “thousand-year old cheese.”).
Actually called “Horse-Piss Eggs” by the Thai, as they are sometimes cured in horse urine. Now you want one.
5) Dancing Shrimp
Possibly even crueler than number 4, these shrimp are positively alive with flavour, but that's only because they're still alive. You put them in your mouth and chew them to death. What's that dance they're doing? Feels like the belly dance.
6) Fluffy Pork
During the great candyfloss shortage of 1898, resourceful Thais substituted the next closest thing, pork, and an industry was born. Dried pork is magically turned into a sweet fibrous fluff that goes with simply everything from sandwiches to ice cream to foie gras. In a pinch it will also make a fine toupee.
7) Ice Cream Sandwich (left)
Either an error of translation or a practical joke gone horribly wrong, vendors commonly sell ice cream sandwiched between two pieces of white bread. Strawberry “ketchup” and banana “mustard” complete the package. What, no veg? Okay, fluffy pork then.
8) Pig Udder
Another Isaan speciality. If you like to chew on saucy teats, this one's for you. Make sure to fondle them first, for freshness.
9) Kee Plea
Almost surely the single-most disgusting dish comes from the trailblazing kitchens of Isaan province. Taking Nietzsche's dictum “whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger” to ludicrous extremes, some local supermen eat a variety of stuffed cow intestine. Only, they allow the cow to provide her own natural stuffing.
Cringing? Don't be ashamed. Just go back to your safe little world of Kwai Thiao and Pad See Eew and pretend you never heard of any of these things. Only, the next time you order Cow Pat (Fried Rice), make absolutely sure they know you're trying to order in Thai.
10) Pig's Ear (left)
There's an old saying: “You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.” Nor, evidently, can you make an agreeable snack.
Deep-fried pig skin is popular all over the world; this is boiled and slimy, however, and will conjure up the distinct sensation of being French-kissed. By your dog.
11) Durian (top)
The fruit from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve ate it they knew then that evil existed in the world. Don't worry about accidentally ingesting this biohazard: even in a plastic bag you can smell it from miles away. And don't trust people who tell you it's an acquired taste. They are the minions of Lucifer.