If the words "wasp larvae" don't have you salivating, you're probably not Lao. That was evidently the thoughts of the two women behind the wasp nest stall at Mak Kai market upon seeing Xairang and I peering at the nests. Our expressions of fascination mixed with squeamishness was worth a good laugh.
Personally, I don't like grubs, or caterpillars for that matter. For some people, it's spiders or snails or duck fetuses, for me it's grubs. Dead or alive. Much less eaten.
Luckily, this blog isn't about me eating weird and wonderful things, it's about discovering food in Laos and the people who produce it. Because in Laos, edible insects aren't a gimmick; they're a food source and a livelihood.
The FAO produced a wonderful report called "Edible Insects in Lao PDR" from which I've gleaned some great facts. For example, that edible insects are quite expensive for the average poor Lao family, and the wasp larvae are considered quite valuable.
The two edible types of wasps in Laos are only available August through October, so we may have just caught the end of the season. The nests are harvested at night, using smoke to sedate the adult wasps, before they are removed and killed (and presumably eaten).
Wasp nests fetch about 50,000 kip per kilo (roughly A$8).
As you can see from this picture, the larvae are only just hatching so the nest must be quite fresh. Most aren't hatched. A couple of stray adult wasps were still crawling around the nest.
Wasp nests and larvae are eaten as a savoury dish. To prepare, simply immerse the entire nest in water and steam it for about 40 minutes. You can then eat it with some jeow (a dip, often with chillis or eggplant).