China, December 19, 1999
You better eat that entire shrimp or I'm gonna steal the tail tip!
Okay, Laos is not on the sea, but it is where I first encountered what I
consider 'seafood' in Southeast Asia. I was fresh of my flight
from Bangkok, where I'd only been for a few hours, and I was hungry.
Walking over to a riverside cafe along the Mekong, I pointed at the fried
rice and random weeds everyone else was eating, and gestured that I wanted
a bowl too.
A few minutes later, I had my meal. I was in the middle of stuffing my face when I noticed there was a small river crab, cooked whole, in my bowl. Picking it up with the chopsticks, the cook laughed as I studied this odd addition to my meal. The staff motioned that I should eat it whole, and after some consideration, that's exactly what I did.
Yes, it was crunchy, but not more than your average thick & crispy potato chip. From then on, I was happy to munch on the random crustaceans that found their way into my bowl. I ate a few crawfish and more tiny crabs before I left the inland country for coastal Thailand.
It's there that I noticed the locals eating shrimp whole. Okay, the main shell covering the head is removed, but the rest, legs, tail shell, and flippers at the end, are consumed whole. After trying it once, I'm hooked. Now I do as the locals, bemoaning all those tasty shrimp tail tips I left on my plate over the years and stealing any tips my hapless friends happen to leave on their plates.