The Epicenter of Culinary Nightmares?
I love Thailand, from the stunning beaches of the South, to the hustle and bustle of Bangkok to the tranquil mountains around Chang Mai, but the premiere episode of Bizarre Foods kicking off the new Spring 2010 season took me to a corner of the country that is perhaps the global epicenter of all culinary nightmares. There is no good reason for anyone to ever go to Udon Thani. Located just a few miles from the Laos, it’s a factory feeder town, with labor and parts flowing freely back and forth across the Thai-Laos border. There are no redeeming features about this town save a few historical sites and archeological digs that fell easily into the “seen it” category for even the most cursory enthusiast. What Udon Thani and environs has plenty of are Bizarre Foods! What fascinated me about going there was the desire to see a corner of the country that everyone ignores, where the Issan culture still thrives and where anything imaginable is available for dinner.
Here’s is just one quick snapshot to give you an idea … we stop at a teeny little farm market for a snack and notice a few interesting items being sold in good quantity to eager patrons: rats, moles, squirrels, weevils, placenta (cooked and raw), wild birds (little sparrows etc), pig-cow offal of all varieties and plenty of lizards and snakes. Get the drift. From rotted and salted lake bass to the world’s worst pizza Udon Thani has it all. How bad was all the other stuff you didn’t see?
Well, the hotel we stayed in was the 'best in town’. We should have stayed in Bangkok and flew up each day. The hotel was on the main street in town, and right across from the central market which sold used clothes, rewired and repaired secondhand and black market electronics, furniture and cheap household goods. All day long from 9 am to midnight the hawkers would blast their sing-song messaging via a system of loudspeakers on large poles situated around the city block sized park. Annoying. But what was unbearable was the fact that the local radio station took over broadcasting through the same system from 1am to 4am. Sleep, was not possible. Food for staff and crew was mostly inedible and once we found the only place in town that seemed capable of grilling a simple piece of meat, we went there 3 times in a row. We lived for days on power bars and cheap canned black coffee. Truly an adventure.
Now, while all this seems quite uncomfortable, we also were thrilled to know we were making a killer show, we knew it from day one, and despite the hardship, this episode easily ranks as one of our all time best. Wait 'til you see me follow a water buffalo around until it takes a huge crap. Then, before it cools, dung beetles burrow into the steamer and start eating. Then we poke through the turd-pile and fish out the beetles, wok tossing them with ginger and chilies and voila! Dinner. I am serious as a heart attack.
So be sure to tune in tonight to check it out and go on line to my live chat right after the show, links are right here on this page at www.travelchannel.com