Monday, January 12, 2009

Yum Kai Mangda

An American friend once described a horseshoe crab as culinarily useless. Not true, as you can see. Those orange globules are the eggs of one of the critters, served up with onions, chilis, mangos, and the other sorts of ingredients you typically find in Thai "yum".

The experience is something akin to eating little nuggets of candle wax. That's not a complaint, actually, as the resulting texture is unique. As with any number of other Thai dishes, there's an element of "sanook" (fun) involved in the gustatory process. It begins when the appalling form of the "mangda" is presented on the table, continues as you endure the spices, and nears completion with those little spheres rolling about in your palate.

Now, don't start combing the nearest beach for these buggers. For one thing, there are some conservation issues. More immediate, however, is the fact that the eggs of certain species are loaded with tetrodotoxin, the same poison found in fugu, the famous Japanese pufferfish. A Mahidol University paper counts 280 cases of poisoning, including 5 deaths, between 1994 and 2006. In Thailand, the culprit is the species C. Rotundicauda, as opposed to the edible Tachypleus Gigas. The appearance of the two is quite similar.

It's a tad difficult to hunt down this dish. A couple of the aforementioned deaths were fairly recent and well-publicized, so restaurants and customers are a bit wary. You could start by avoiding the sorts of joints that have large numbers of tourists. Also, smallish eateries probably won't have the kind of customer volume that justifies purchasing fresh horseshoe crabs on a daily basis.

Did you know the mouth of a horseshoe crab lies between its legs? Another interesting factoid: the beasty is more closely related to spiders than crabs, shrimps, or lobsters.

No comments: