Munching on Insects at ChangChui Market in Bangkok
My one desire for a recent trip to Bangkok was to find the strangest stuff on offer to dedicate my time to. I’d like to think that in this endeavour, I largely succeeded.
Nothing was more fun than visiting Insects in the Backyard – a newish restaurant located in the city’s north western district of Bang Phlat. An epic journey from where I was staying in Sukhumvit, I was sure it would be worth the time and effort. And so it was.
Insects in the Backyard describes itself as “Thailand’s first edible insect fine dining experience”. It’s been said that bugs will firmly cement themselves as a food of the future and the restaurant aims to make them more accessible to sceptical diners.
Insects in the Backyard is located in a market called ChangChui, which can be quite difficult to find if you’re on the lookout for a shopfront. There was a fair bit of confusion between my taxi driver and I over where exactly he should drop me off, with me eventually climbing out of the car and hoping for the best.
I eventually located the restaurant in the market (more on it later) – it was just after 2pm, the opening time and the venue was empty. I took a seat and began to flip through the menu. A member of staff came over to suss out exactly what my end game was.
“You’re here to eat insects?” He asked.
“I sure am,” I replied, maybe a bit too eagerly.
He then pointed me in the direction of their set menu, explaining that it was the surest way to sample their finest, current offerings. The pricing was around $40 AUD, so whilst expensive for Bangkok, the meal wasn’t exactly going to break the bank.
I eagerly accepted and ordered a “drunken iced tea” off the drinks menu, feeling extremely sad upon finding out it wasn’t available and having to do with a measly Long Island Iced Tea instead.
The first course brought out was nachos with cricket cherry tomato salsa and sour cream. Yes, the crickets were there on the plate and I was highly aware of what I was eating. Yet, there was no denying that it was delicious. As someone who utterly hates tomato, I was more put off by the fact that I’d eaten the fruit willingly with this particular meal, rather than the very tasty crickets (which just tasted like a crunchy, meatier version of the chips on the plate).
Next up was scallops, Jerusalem artichoke and paprika bamboo caterpillar, which was probably my favourite of all the dishes as I’m a sucker for both scallops and artichoke (and as it would turn out, caterpillar). The caterpillar was dry and crunchy and the seasoning made them taste extra good.
This was followed by crab and giant water beetle ravioli (no pictures as the crab and beetle were stuffed within the ravioli) and grilled seabass with ant “cavier” and mother of ant. I didn’t get a photo of this, as much as I wanted to, but the story behind it is amusing.
By this point, there were five more people in the restaurant – three of whom belonged to a television crew. The journo had been told I’d ordered the set menu and had asked me if I’d minded being interviewed. I said hey, why not – as a video editor, it would be interesting to see what it’s like to be in front of the camera, for once.
I think I came up with some pretty good answers, if I don’t say so myself. (Such as “Why are you wanting to eat these insects?” – “Being from Australia, I thought it might be nice to consume them voluntarily for a change” although that may be slightly lost on a foreign audience).
Unfortunately, after the interview they needed footage of me actually eating the bugs, so the cameraman shot overlay right when I wanted to be fiddling around with my camera. And now, I guess I’m on Thai TV or some website somewhere and I have no desire to see it ever.
The meal was finished up with wingless long-horned grasshopper risotto and silkworm ice cream. Everything was utterly delicious, the service was great and the venue quite fun and funky. I highly recommend making a visit if you’re ever in Bangkok. It’s also worth mentioning – not every meal has insects in it, so if you’re travelling with a friend who is squeamish at the thought of consuming bugs (or you yourself feel this way), there are plenty of “normal” dishes that you can order off the main menu.
In fact, it’s worth making a trip to ChangChui alone. The market is a creative environmentalist’s dream – a space made out of repurposed materials that is intended to house art.[bctt tweet=”Explore #Bangkok’s coolest market – #ChangChui.”]
Even some of the items on sale are made of re-purposed materials – like a clock constructed of elephant dung. I wanted it so very much, but would never, ever get it through Australian customs.
There are galleries, a theatre, cinema, stacks of shops, cafes, food stalls and bars. I accidentally wandered into a couple of the stores and was relieved with a portion of my money. In return I bought a nice journal and some jewellery for myself and friends, so I don’t have many regrets.
I imagine the place really goes off at night and would love to make a return visit one day (even just to eat the custard toast, which I was unable to do, due to being stuffed with insects). As it was, I couldn’t believe how few people were out and about. I live in Melbourne, Australia and a place like this would be packed out day and night in that city.
However, the good thing about heading there before sunset (apart from the lack of crowds), is that I could see exactly what the market had on offer. Hence this virtual tour of the place, through the medium of photography!
Bangkok had previously been described to me as “boring” or “just another big city”. Yet, every city has its hidden gems, its kooky corners and quite frankly, a helluva lotta weird shit going on below surface level. You just have to open your mind and let the magic happen.
Would you dine at Insects in the Backyard, or at the very least visit ChangChui market?
If you like it, you should stick a pin in it.