For three days running, the fire ants were interrupting my breakfast. Crawling around the rim of my coffee cup, and making their way across the screen of my laptop.
I was certain these were the forward scouts of a far larger force. Something had to be done.
Looking around the vines growing on the eve of the restaurant, I spied the nest. Only one this time, unlike last year when a veritable army of fire ants set forth each day from their numerous military bases in an attempt to conquer the hotel.
Since that time however my culinary spectrum had broadened, and I knew no fear. This time I knew what action to take. My course was set. Violence inevitable. Fire and hot oil would follow.
Fried Beef and Ant Eggs was on the menu again.
We hit hard, and we struck first. The nest was cut from the vine and dropped into a bucket of salted water to neutralize the bulk of the army, followed immediately by the frantic dancing and slapping that always follows a foray into ant held territory as fire ant soldiers leap from the vines to attack the hungry intruders. (No photo available due to photographer also being attacked.)
Beating a retreat with the contents of the nest, we were able to examine our spoils of war. Plenty of eggs, soldiers, and a few winged queens were ready for the frying pan.
While the chef rinsed the eggs and ants, the rest of us prepared the aromatic vegetables and beef that would accompany the fried delicacy.
Beef fillet, lemongrass, galangal, shallots, garlic, sweet red pepper and kaffir lime leaf were swiftly sliced into an unknown quantity measured by sight alone.
A frying pan was heated, a splash of oil, and we were ready for the shallots, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf and garlic, which were sautéed for a minute until a pleasant and aromatic smell wafted through the air.
The beef was added, and quickly sautéed until rare, then a pinch of salt and chicken stock, a sprinkling of sugar, a dash of oyster sauce, soy sauce, and fish sauce, and a splash of water were thrown into the mix, and sautéed briefly before the ants and sweet red peppers were added and cooked for a further minute or so.
The finished result, garnished with some lemongrass, was ready to eat. Victory in the war against bugs never tasted so sweet.
Recipe courtesy of Chef Navuth, Sambor Village Hotel, Kampong Thom, Cambodia. Photos and story by Richard McDonald.