26 April 2009

Ant Egg Soup

I'm not a chef and I'm not a journalist, I'm just a greedy romantic
who was transported by an idea and went to discover more.
Natacha Du Pont De Bie

I share a passion with the writer, Larry McMurtry -- reading accounts of women travelers. The Victorians are my favorites. I love Karen Blixen, Mary Shelley and Freya Stark who are high on the list My favorite is Isabelle Eberhardt. I have a friend who believes the world is divided into truly cool people and everyone else. Her dividing line is Isabelle Eberhardt, who the truly cool have read. Eberhardt rebelled against her European/Russian upbringing and struck out on her own for North Africa, following her fascination with Islamic culture. Eberhardt died in a flash flood before she turned 30. Fortunately her writing has remained.
While the stories may not seem as exotic, there are still women travelers out there writing wonderful accounts of their adventures.

One of those writers is Natacha Du Pont De Bie whose book, Ant Egg Soup: The Adventures Of A Food Tourist In Laos, is a wonderful travelogue written by a true gastronaut! De Bie's adventure in Laos began in a book about Vietnam. While dreaming of a trip to Southeast Asia, she ran across a sentence stating there was only one Lao cookbook in English. In true romantic fashion she had to find it. Being in England she went to the one place she knew would have such a book, Books For Cooks. Indeed, Books For Cooks had a copy of Traditional Recipes of Laos and De Bie was on her way.

Her book is a delightful adventure through the back roads and largely unknown cuisine of Laos, including the speciality of the title. If you don't have fresh ant eggs, I have heard they can be found frozen or canned in some of the larger markets or, of course, on-line. The distributor listed in the book is, alas, gone. Perhaps they sold so many cans of ant eggs they were able to retire.

Ant Egg Soup

2 snakehead fish, cut into 2.5 cm (1inch) pieces (or use monkfish tail)
2 cups ant eggs
1 liter(1 3/4 pints) fish stock
8 small or 4 large cloves garlic, peeled and cracked with the back of a machete
5 cm (2 inch) piece galangal, peeled
2 stalks of lemon grass, finely chopped
1 sour tamarind bean, peeled and seeds removed, or 1 tablespoon bought paste
1-2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 bunch pak waan or the juice of one lime
4 handfuls sweet basil leaves
4 plum tomatoes, chopped in eighths
1 handful coriander

Scale and gut the fish, cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) piece and wash under tap. Reserve to one side.
Now prepare and defrost ant eggs by putting them in a bowl of water. The earth and sand they accumulate will drop to the bottom of the bowl. Scoop out any other floating detritus such as leaves and stick, and sieve eggs to shake off any excess water.
Bring the fish stock to the boil in a large pan. Add the garlic, galangal and lemon grass and let boil for 5 minutes. Now add the fish sauce and salt.
Next add the pak waan or lime juice. Add the sweet basil leaves and tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the ant eggs and simmer another 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, throw in the coriander leaves and serve with sticky rice.


If you are interested in merely reading about great women adventurers try Dea Birkett's, Spinsters Abroad.
And if you want to hang out with the truly cool kids, read The Nomad: The Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt.

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