I love fresh seafood – the fresher the better. I have had more than my fair share of sweet Maine lobster straight from the sea to the pot or spicy Louisiana crawfish fresh from the boil. I love a nice piece of fresh sashimi with a touch of wasabi and soy sauce or clams in garlic butter that have been baked in the sand right on the beach. I have homemade ceviche prepared from octopus that I caught myself in Mexico and rich Bouillabaisse made from fish straight off the boats and put into pots in harbor restaurants in France. I never thought that I could get anything fresher than plump oysters on the half shell – with loads of lemon, horseradish, and Louisiana hot sauce – freshly shucked at the Acme Oyster House in New Orleans. But never have I had seafood fresher than “Goong Ten” or Dancing Shrimp in Thailand.
A mixture of finely minced garlic, lemongrass, peppermint, onion and red chilies are added to fish sauce, lemon juice and placed in a small bowl. A mound of tin, jumping shrimp – still alive – are placed on top and covered with a lid so they can’t escape, and brought straight to the table. The diner shakes the bowl to mix the shrimp with the sauce and supposedly stun them. They are then consumed straight from the bowl, still wiggling – I assume from the ecstasy of the delicious sauce.
You have to eat fast or the little critters will flit off of the spoon and into your lap. You can feel them dancing in your mouth as you close your mouth around them. The first thing you taste is a briny burst of flavor a bit of crunch as you bite down, followed by flavors of lemon, onion fish sauce, and finally hot chilies. They really are surprisingly good! To some, this dish may seem cruel and admittedly I did write this in a light-hearted way. But, unless you are a strict vegan all of our diets contain animal protein that somehow met its demise – either through our own deeds or hired agents. Just cutting the lawn around the house devastates hordes of little critters in garden dwelling communities. To me, it is best to a least occasionally get to know our food and have an intimate awareness of what it really is.
My favorite place for Dancing Shrimp is a little restaurant at the entrance to Huay Tung Tao near Chiang Mai. Although Goong Ten is primarily a northern Thai or Issan dish I understand that they can be found as street food in Bangkok and next time I go I plan to seek them out. The first time I tried them it was just for a little adventure but I have come to really like them. Do you think you could try them?