Eating Live Shrimp in Thailand
I love fresh seafood – the fresher, the better. I have had more than my fair share of sweet Maine lobster straight from the sea to the pot or spicy Louisiana crawfish fresh from the boil. I love a nice piece of fresh sashimi with a touch of wasabi and soy sauce or clams in garlic butter that have been baked in the sand right on the beach.
I have homemade ceviche prepared from octopus that I caught myself in Mexico and rich Bouillabaisse made from fish straight off the boats and put into pots in harbor restaurants in France. I never thought that I could get anything fresher than plump oysters on the half shell – with loads of lemon, horseradish, and Louisiana hot sauce – freshly shucked at the Acme Oyster House in New Orleans. But never have I had seafood fresher than “Goong Ten” or Dancing Shrimp in Thailand.
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A mixture of finely minced garlic, lemongrass, peppermint, onion and red chillies are added to fish sauce, then lemon juice and placed in a small bowl. Then a mound of tiny live shrimp is placed on top and covered with a lid so they can’t escape and brought straight to the table.
To eat dancing shrimp, you shake the bowl to mix the shrimp with the sauce and supposedly stun them. You then eat the live shrimp straight from the bowl, still wiggling, I assume, from the ecstasy of the delicious sauce. If you don’t eat goong ten fast, the dancing shrimp will flit off of the spoon and into your lap. You can feel them dancing in your mouth as you close your mouth around them.
What Does Dancing Shrimp Taste Like?
The first thing you taste is a briny burst of flavour and a bit of crunch as you bite down, followed by flavours of lemon, onion, fish sauce, and finally, hot chillies. They really are surprisingly good! To some, eating live shrimp may seem cruel, and admittedly I did write this in a light-hearted way.
But, unless you are a strict vegan, all of our diets contain animal protein that somehow met its demise – either through our own deeds or hired agents. Just cutting the lawn around the house devastates hordes of little critters in garden-dwelling communities. To me, it is best to a least occasionally get to know our food and have an intimate awareness of what it really is.
My favourite place for Dancing Shrimp is a little restaurant at the entrance to Huay Tung Tao near Chiang Mai. Although Goong Ten is primarily a northern Thai or Issan dish, I understand that they can be found as street food in Bangkok, and the next time I go, I plan to seek them out. The first time I tried them, it was just for a little adventure, but I have come to really like them. Do you think you could try them?
I think I would try them, perhaps not an entire bowl, but a spoonful… if I could get on the spoon.
At first it was kind of a dare but as it turned out I really liked them. Admittedly, like in many things, the sauce is key.