Captain Ahab: The Man Who Brought Us Lizard Salad

Yesterday provided a chance encounter with a local character which has forever changed our culinary lives. WE HAVE EATEN LIZARD, SOME KIND OF IGUANA. Specifically, this kind of iguana, although it might have been a blue-colored one since those are apparently bigger and tastier. There are so many things I want to say about this experience, it’s all just a jumble in my mind right now… I think I’ll tackle the explanation chronologically.
So yesterday, Nam and I were in front of our house taking photos. I set up a tripod in front of the pond and we started taking a long series of shots in the hot sun. Along came Captain Ahab, carrying his mini-harpoon gun:
“Do you want to try it out?” OH HELL YES PLEASE!
I tested out his fine contraption on a bunch of reeds floating in the pond, and maimed them quite handily. The trigger pull was about 20 lbs. and activated the release of the thick rubber bands (not tubes) attached to either sides of the receiver, acting much like a Hawaiian sling.
He assured us this longarm was also effective for home defense. I belive his actual words were, “you can also use this to shoot burglars!” Check out the awesomely hand-ground and nastily-barbed mini-harpoon:
You could probably do a lot more than shoot your eye out with this gun; the Captain said he’d bought it off a student 30 years ago and had speared too many fish with it to count over the years. (note: The reason I deemed this fine fellow Ahab is that he claimed to have brought in a 300 kilogram fish with this rig once. I called bullshit, first off because the harpoon was only attached with what looked like around 20 lb. test. Also,
I firmly believe anyone harpooning a 300 kg. fish with this rig would end up just like the original Captain Ahab – it’s just not possible to land. Later, I found out this may have been a misunderstanding – he may have meant 300 kgs. of fish, not a 300 kg. fish. Since the time period wasn’t specified, this sounds totally feasible. Sorry for doubting you, Captain, and sorry for the undeserved moniker) Unfortunately, he did not know where I could find one for myself. Here’s a shot of the loaded projectile (gun uncocked).
And here is where we come to lizard salad (iguana salad?). (Well not really salad. It’s about as salad-ish as a fruit salad, in that it’s not, really… ah screw it, you’ll see.) A few weeks ago some friends told me that it’s prime iguana hunting season right now and I was really jazzed about rounding up some friends and going… They hypnotize the hapless beasts with special whistling sounds, then shoot them out of the trees with slingshots made from inner tubes. Nam also wanted me to go, but was worried about karmic implications during this period just before the baby is born, so I refrained from going. For some reason, Nam thought I merely wanted to eat the iguanas (where as for me, the hunt is the only reason I would even consider eating a lizard to begin with), so she asked Captain Ahab, who certainly appeared to be able to live off the land, if he could round up some for me.
This is how we started the lizard negotiations. He asked how many she wanted, she said one or two. He said that wasn’t enough and said, “how about ten?” Nam countered with five, and we were all set. He promised to catch some later that night and asked if we knew how to prepare them. He was worried that we didn’t know how to slowly roast and skin them, and then mix various herbs and fruits together to make it all very tasty, and rightly so – we were totally like lizard virgins, man. So it ended up that he had his wife cook up the lizards he caught for us and brought us a bag of LIZARD SALAD for lunch today. Behold:
THE VERDICT: The lizard meat was smoky from being slowly grilled, presumably over charcoal. Just looking at the photo, it looks like many other variations of Thai country “salad,” most of which are based on local veggies or fruits such as eggplant, bamboo shoots, tamarind, papaya or mango, or are fish-based. This one was definitely lizard though, because I picked a spiny part out of my mouth. The closest flavor I can compare iguana flesh to is canned tuna – it had the same kind of consistency when mashed up, and didn’t taste too strongly of anything, perhaps just hinting at fish.
An added bonus was the ant queen salad Ahab’s wife also prepared for us:
Today was a good day. I learned things about this culture that even Thai people don’t know about. I KNOW WHAT IGUANA TASTES LIKE, BITCHES!
That is all.

Last night a chili pepper saved my life

Me, the wife, the baby – we’ve all been extremely busy the whole time I haven’t been blogging. As I mentioned in a previous post, I had a gadzillion papers and tests to mark and final grades to issue, AND NOW IT’S ALL DONE!! In front of my office door, the tortured souls of those not determined enough to earn a passing grade moan and roil with much indignity. Oh wait, that’s not the sound of tortured souls, it’s just my fever hallucinations again!
Yes, I have been sleeping a lot (when not busy) trying to recover from this nasty congestive head cold thing that I even got prescribed industrial-strength pills for last week. However, the only thing that really helped was a couple nights ago when a coworker and her husband came over for a visit and she cooked up a big pot of sticky fat noodles with nuclear orange chili peppers from a market in Kalasin (a neighboring province).
I should explain here that I’ve always had a high tolerance for spicy food and enjoy feeling the heat after popping an errant chili or two… This was beyond that. After slowly chewing one, sweat was pouring from my brow and my sinuses were clear for the first time in a week… So I popped four more at once (hey, I wasn’t thinking clearly). DANGER WILL ROBINSON DANGER! It blew my head off andtears were pouring down my face for a few minutes…. But my sinuses were clear for a full 24 hours!
I woke up this morning again a little congested, but I don’t know if I can face those fiery orange hell peppers again… I can honestly say that eating them is a life-changing experience. Anyone wanna try?

2nd Anniversary Dinner (at home)

From 12 o’ clock, clockwise:

  • Samoo – A special delicacy of ground pork and a whole bunch of special herbs, from the Ubon area. Nam’s mom made a pot of it for us a few days ago, and she’s the only person we know who can make it.
  • Sukiyaki-sliced beef we found at the local Tesco. I fried it in butter/sesame oil with garlic and sprinkled with coarse ground salt, pepper, and kaffir lime.
  • Deep fried tabtim (hybrid tilapia, pink/orange in color). They fry these (and any other fish) up for you at Tesco.
  • Tom Ka Gai, spicy/sour chicken soup with coconut milk
  • Thai version of a mixed salad with local tubers, pumpkin, and fresh tomatoes

(Thanks to everyone who wrote congratulations – we miss you all!)

Upside down in the Third World…

…or is it the First World that’s fucked?
First check out this article:
The Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dog: So Good It’s Illegal
Now, which of the following do you think is harder for me to explain to a classroom full of average Thai kids?

  1. Why it’s illegal (and a jailable offense) to sell grilled hot dogs where I’m from
  2. Why street vendors where I’m from have to watch out for cops, health and safety officials and extortionate gangs
  3. Why any of the above parties can’t be universally placated with a free meal now and then

If they outlawed (and enforced) hot dog grilling in Bangkok alone, 20,000 people would have to change careers. Luckily, most of the changing would be done by just selling different stuff on the cart the next day, but still…

katsu kare night

I totally made a huge pot of Japanese curry and deep fried some fresh tonkatsu as well. The occasion? Today is the midpoint between Nam’s birthday (Nov. 9) and her little sister Noon’s (Nov. 6), so we celebrated them together as they have done since they were little. The food was so good, none of the nine people at the table spoke much until the meal was done. I was very proud of stuffing everyone full of so much garlic and curry goodness, and forgot to take photos.
For some reason, I never actually made tonkatsu myself before tonight, but it was easy and turned out very well.

Nam Nuong

Nam Nuong are the little grilled sausages on sticks shown below, but it’s also the name of this dish. It’s Vietnamese in origin, but I don’t know what it’s called there.

All of the ingredients are laid out on a rice wrapper and rolled up before eating, like a fajita.

The sauce is sweet and spicy, and full of roasted peanuts – the combination of all the fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs (including lettuce, cukes, green bananas, starfruit, mint, kaffir lime leaves, green chilies, and everything else in the photo that I don’t know the names for yet) is something that cannot be described, but must be experienced.

fruit sacrilege

Thai farmers dumped a ton of mangosteens on the street in front of city hall to protest the low selling price. I’m pretty sure all the government workers rushed out to scoop up their share.
3 baht per kilo does sound pretty low, though. They retail for 18-20 baht/kilo up here in the northeast; the best quality ones at their peak went as high as 25 baht/kilo a couple months ago.
I do have to say that if you’ve never had a fresh mangosteen, you are missing out on one of life’s real pleasures.

On the Road 2007 (Part 6) – The Animatronic Chicken Roasters of Rayong, Thailand

On a previous trip to Thailand, I wrote about the most delicious roast chicken I have ever eaten. I have many special memories of Rayong, and the awesome roast chicken stands by the roadside are certainly counted among them. I had been looking forward to reevaluating the chicken itself since the last time I visited, to be sure it hadn’t been a fluke, or just how hungry I had been at the time.
The chicken stands to which I refer are concentrated along a half-kilometer stretch of a long road into town, from the east end of Mae Ramphueng beach. We scoped out the whole stretch a couple times and stopped at the one that caught my eye.

This stand had the best chicken illustration on their sign (important!), as well as the freshest-looking birds.

Aloha shirt, ski goggles and mask, and a straw hat! What’s not to like?

Grinding away in the heat – this guy’s job really sucks

The entire setup is powered by an electric motor drawing power from the lines directly above the stand.

If shirts could talk…

My man here is styling, too.
As it turns out, this wasn’t the only stand with animatrons, but it was the only one with multiple animatrons. I saw other stands that already were, or were in the process of being semi-automated with motorized spits, and most had the automatrons as well, so I figure the same man or crew may be creating them for everybody on that strip – whoever he is, the guy’s a genius.
The non-automated spits actually require a person to turn them, which is just torture in the midday heat amplifying the heat of the coals. The stands still of course require humans for all the other tasks, and this one was manned by a mother/daughter team:

I came for chicken and by god, I got chicken (and sticky rice, biooootches!):

The sauce from this stand was good, but not great. The funny thing is, this chicken is so good, it doesn’t need sauce.
Mandatory “glistening fat” closeup:

That bottom right part is the neck – mmm, mmm good.
All links for the On the Road 2007 series:
On the Road 2007 (Part 1)
On the Road 2007 (Part 2)
On the Road 2007 (Part 3) – Koh Chang
On the Road 2007 (Part 4) – Overloaded
On the Road 2007 (Part 5) – Tamnanpar
On the Road 2007 (Part 6) – The Animatronic Chicken Roasters of Rayong, Thailand