Bangkok, March 25 (IANS) These appetizers are also crispy and crunchy although the extra pairs of legs and tentacles do not make them look so yummy like your regular chicken wings. Yet, they are nutritious, cheap and would fully complement a mug of beer.
Insect food -- that is what it is popularly called in the Thai capital-- is a delicacy among the locals as well as the tourists. And your visit to the land of smiles is not over, it is said, till you savour the snacks.
Ausanat, who roams around the busy streets of Bangkok every evening with his push-cart, sells a range of insects that include ants, bamboo worms, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, locusts, water bugs and scorpions.
And she is not alone. There are hundreds of such vendors selling insect food that one can buy in Khao San Road, Pat Pong and Banglamphu.
The menu also changes depending upon the season and availability. While grasshoppers and crickets are available throughout the year, scorpions are difficult to be found and therefore are more expensive.
However safe, eating a scorpion is least appealing to some tourists.
"I don't mind trying the crickets, but eating a scorpion more sounds like a dare from Fear Factor," Rohit Katyal, who is a frequent visitor to the city, told a visiting IANS correspondent.
Insects are said to be high in protein and low in carbohydrates. For example, 100 grams of cricket would contain 12.9 grams of protein, 5.1 grams of carbohydrate, 5.5 grams of fat, 75.8 milligrams of calcium and 9.5 milligrams of iron.
Likewise, 100 grams of grasshopper would contain 20.6 grams of protein, 3.9 grams of carbohydrate, 6.1 grams of fat, 35.2 milligrams of calcium and 5.0 milligrams of iron.
Studies have indicated that proteins from insects form an environment-friendly alternative to proteins from conventional livestock.
Insects produce much lesser amount of greenhouse gas per kilogram of meat as compared to cattle and pigs.
Entomologists say people who turn up their noses at six-legged food may soon have to change their minds as conventional meat becomes more expensive and scarce.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation says that insects are vital to meeting the nutritional needs of the world's growing population.
Indian tourists mostly freak out on grasshoppers and bugs, said Tulaya, another vendor, while sprinkling some special spices, green chopped vegetables and herbs into a transparent plastic bag carrying fried water beetles and grasshoppers for a customer.
"Many tourists as well as local customers come to my stall daily to buy snacks. While some come just to taste what it is like eating an insect, others are regular customers who would take a packet of mixed insects as their evening snack, sit on the pavement and have them with a bottle of beer," said Tulaya.
And these cost just 20 to 50 baht (around Rs.30-80).
Vendors like Ausanat and Tulaya have also started breeding insects at home to improve their profit margins and ease supply hassles. At night they put up an ultra violet light in the varandah to catch insects.
"We also farm insects. We feed them with special protein diets and it takes almost one and a half months for an insect to become ready to sell in the market from the day it was born," Ausanat told IANS.
"It costs us very less money and we end up saving most of it that we get from selling them," she added.
(Priyanka Sahay can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)