We arrived in Nakhorn Sri Thammarat, Thailand, to meet an old friend with whom we would stay with a few days. When she came to pick us up and we drove for an hour out of the city through smaller and smaller villages we started to realise just how remote the area she lived in was. Down a dirt track into a village, home to around 100 people, we were greeted by two of her friends who instantly labelled me and my boyfriend Barbie and Ken. You know, because we’re foreign… and tall, I guess.
Immediately they are motioning to us to get back in the truck, speaking in a dialect of which we understand not a word. This is one of the many times we wish we had a translation agency on speed dial.
“They want to take you to burn the bee. It’s something you will not see again in Thailand. You should go!” my friend translates, enthusiastically pushing us towards the truck.
“Uh, I don’t think we really want to see bee burning” is our reply. We cannot possibly fathom why they would want to do this. Is it a sport? A hobby? Are they just showing off because we are the first foreigners they have met?
“Just go!” We are pushed into the truck.
We drive deep into the jungle, on roads that are not roads, where our screams of fear are drowned out by K-Pop on full volume. Our driver drinks enthusiastically from an almost empty bottle of local beer. From his driving, we guess it’s not his first of the day.
We arrive at a durian farm, deep in the jungle. We watch the fruit bats fly home at dawn, swooping low over our heads. It is dark now, and the time has apparently come for the bee burning.
The boys climb the tree with a burning rag tied to a stick. Burning bees fall everywhere. I am allergic to bee stings, so hide in the truck. After 15 minutes of watching the fire burning in the tree, the burning bees falling to the ground, they finally climb back down the tree, triumphantly clutching a bee hive the size of a football. Nothing could wipe the smile off their faces.
“Ahhh! I get it!” I exclaim, feeling I have finally understood what is going on. “You are collecting the honey!”
“No honey!” My friend explains. “This is special Thai food. Very expensive!”
They crack open the hive and then begin to eat the bee larvae. Small white and yellow squidgy forms, buried deep in the hive. You can see they are restraining themselves. It’s obviously a treat.
We get back in the truck as our driver opens another bottle of beer. As we drive home we avoid looking at the road, and the bee hive in the front seat. When we get back to my friends, they all sit on the floor in a circle and break out hundreds of larvae from the hive. Together we fry them up with MSG, salt and garlic. The aroma is… meaty.
The larvae are now dripping in oil and hot from the pan. They explode in your mouth, the younger ones being softer and the older ones having a crunch to them. The flavour is… MSG and garlic. We can’t eat enough to be full.