Mok Huak – Eating Tadpole Casserole (หมกฮวก) in Isaan

By Mark Wiens 17 Comments
Isan province (ภาคอีสาน)
Exotic eating in Isan province (ภาคอีสาน)

One of my favorite things to do is eat things I’ve never tasted before.

I love both foods that look familiar and that include familiar ingredients, and I also love to eat things that might be a little exotic, or perhaps bizarre.

One of the episodes for the Thai food TV show I’m filming, is about exotic Thai dishes… that’s why we ate pig’s blood soup and pig brains when we were in Chiang Rai.

In the Isan province (ภาคอีสาน) of Thailand, we had another day of exotic dining and food exploration…

ฮวก
Something called huak (ฮวก)

What is huak (ฮวก)

In Isan they are called huak (ฮวก), in Thai they’re known as luk awd (ลูกอ๊อด ), and in English, they are tadpoles.

Frogs (กบ known in Thai as “gob”) are a significant part of the diet in many parts of Thailand.

Throughout Thailand you can order frog as a pretty standard protein in many different dishes, ranging from curried with chili, to deep fried, to stewed in jungle curry.

Frog
Frog is a common food in Thailand

But in Thailand so far, I had only eaten full grown frogs, which as I mentioned are widely available throughout Thailand.

Consumed mostly in Isan, tadpoles are also popular, and are only available in the rainy season months (so they are seasonal and rare to find at times).

But first, let’s start at the beginning of the day…

tom sen (ต้มเส้น)
tom sen (ต้มเส้น) – mung bean noodle soup

Breakfast in Ubol Rat (อุบลรัตน์ pronounced Ubon Rat)

We first started the day with breakfast in Ubol Rat, and I had a bowl of tom sen (ต้มเส้น), basically mung bean glass noodles cooked in a chicken braised soup.

Thai noodles soup
It was alright, but not fantastic

It was alright, but a little on the sweet side for me.

Nevertheless, I was pretty hungry in the morning, so it did hit the spot.

Ban Kham Pla Lai Village (บ้านคำปลาหลาย)
The beauty of Ban Kham Pla Lai Village (บ้านคำปลาหลาย)

Ban Kham Pla Lai Village (บ้านคำปลาหลาย)

Just a few kilometers from Ubol Rat (อุบลรัตน์), we headed to a small village known as Ban Kham Pla Lai (บ้านคำปลาหลาย), to meet up with Paw Lae (พ่อแหล่), the head of the village.

village in Isan
Fresh air, beautiful scenery

Ban Kham Pla Lai (บ้านคำปลาหลาย) is a very small village, in the Khon Kaen area of Thailand, Ubol Rat, in the Isan region – it’s about a 7 – 8 hour drive to get there from Bangkok.

Isaan Thailand
Life in Isan

The village has been recognized as a model village in Thailand, a community that was formerly quite poor, and though no one is rich now, the basic needs of everyone living in the village are met.

As Martin Wheeler (a British man who lives in Ban Kham Pla Lai (บ้านคำปลาหลาย) explained to me, the village is basic, but everyone has access to resources, owns a house, owns land, and has access to fresh food including organic vegetables.

บ้านคำปลาหลาย
Community and taking care of each other is how Ban Kham Pla Lai Village (บ้านคำปลาหลาย) excels

Ban Kham Pla Lai (บ้านคำปลาหลาย) is a village in Isan that’s a tight knit community, where people take care of each other and look after each other.

pig raised
A pig being raised

Many people grow their own crops, and many have their own livestock, not necessarily for sale, but at least for personal consumption.

It’s a simple life, but Ban Kham Pla Lai (บ้านคำปลาหลาย) is an example of a village in rural Thailand that went from being very poor to a community that’s not rich, but doing well.

Paw Lae (พ่อแหล่)
Paw Lae (พ่อแหล่) – an amazing man

Introducing Paw Lae (พ่อแหล่)

Paw Lae (พ่อแหล่) is an amazing guy, and he’s the first person we went to meet in Kham Pla Lai (บ้านคำปลาหลาย) village.

eating tadpoles
The tadpole pool

Paw Lae (พ่อแหล่) is not only the head leader of the village, but he is also well known in the area for providing training to students about sustainable agriculture.

He is a legend in Khon Kaen, and it was an honor to meet him and to hang out (and eat) with him and his family for the day.

frogs for food in Thailand
Raising frogs for food in Thailand

Along with growing a number of crops, and hosting training sessions for students, one of Paw Lae’s (พ่อแหล่) main projects is his frog farm, where he raises and sells frogs for food.

That’s what we were after.

eating frog in Thailand
Happy frog customer!

As we were touring around Paw Lae’s (พ่อแหล่) compound, checking out his pigs and chickens, this jolly fellow came by, hungry for frog and ready to buy some.

We ended up scooping him some fresh frogs out of the pond and he bought 2 kilos. He said he was going to make tom yum gob (ต้มยำกบ), tom yum soup with frog – sounded pretty good to me.

agriculture in Isan
Fishing for tadpoles

After walking around the village for a bit, and seeing the frog farm, we then took off our shoes and headed straight into the tadpole pond to catch some tadpoles for a couple traditional, and exotic, Isan dishes we’d be cooking next.

Alright, now let’s get into the delicious food…

ฮวกชุปแป้งทอด
Deep fried tadpoles (ฮวกชุปแป้งทอด)

Deep fried tadpoles (ฮวกชุปแป้งทอด)

After catching the tadpoles, we then went on to cook 2 different dishes: mok huak (a little tadpole casserole wrapped into a banana leaf and grilled), and huak tod (deep fried tad poles).

The huak tod (ฮวกชุปแป้งทอด), deep fried tadpoles, were first coated in a batter made with flour, salt, and a hint of chili paste, then just deep fried.

They tasted like little boneless chicken nuggets, very tasty indeed.

food in northern Thailand
It’s called mok huak (หมกฮวก), kind of like a casserole… made from tadpoles

Mok huak (หมกฮวก tadpole casserole)

But the mok huak (หมกฮวก) is what I was most interested in, quite an adventurous and exotic Thai dish.

In a bowl, we mixed up a combination of lemongrass, chilies, sweet basil, dill, and some other herbs and seasonings, along with a good handful of fresh tadpoles.

Then we filled the tadpole mixture into a few layers of banana leaves, and wrapped them up like a little package.

bizarre food in Thailand
Cooking the mok huak (หมกฮวก)

The mok huak (หมกฮวก) then sat on a low fire grill for about 10 minutes until they finished cooking.

exotic food
Sticky rice and tadpole casserole

How was the mok huak (หมกฮวก)?

Honestly speaking, the mok huak (หมกฮวก) was delicious.

If you’ve ever eaten frog before, you might agree with me that it’s delicious, but very boney. But tadpoles are like the best of the frog, without the bones.

หมกฮวก
Mok huak (หมกฮวก), tadpoles mixed with herbs and chilies, then cooked in a banana leaf

They were like little pieces of boneless fish and chicken, and mixed with all the chilies, lemongrass, and herbs, it was fantastic, especially when eaten along with bites of sticky rice.

หมกตัวต่อ
Here’s another interesting Thai dish called mok dua daw (หมกตัวต่อ wasp larvae casserole)

Mok dua daw (หมกตัวต่อ wasp larvae casserole)

In Chiang Rai, I ate wasp larvae for the first time, both straight out of the hive, and also pounded in a nam prik chili sauce.

In Isan, they made mok dua daw (หมกตัวต่อ), wasp larvae grilled in a banana leaf wrapper, and it was pretty good too.

Thai dishes in Isan
Mok dua daw (หมกตัวต่อ)

The wasp larvae was mixed with a similar ingredient blend as the mok huak (หมกฮวก), with lemongrass, chilies, and herbs, but this version had an egg included as well.

The egg worked to hold all the ingredients together.

eating wasp larvae
Can you see the little wasp larvae in there!?

Isan is one of the great regions of Thailand for delicious cuisine, and this meal, including a few dishes I had never tried before (and a few dishes that are very rare to find in Bangkok), was excellent.

บ้านคำปลาหลาย
Cooking other delicious frog dishes

In addition, we also enjoyed a full lunch spread of dishes at Ban Kham Pla Lai (บ้านคำปลาหลาย), everything prepared by Paw Lae’s wife and his family.

Most of the dishes were frog based, in all forms and sizes, and we also had a few other assorted Isan dishes, all of which were very tasty.

Khon Kaen food
Marvelous Isaan food lunch at Ban Kham Pla Lai (บ้านคำปลาหลาย)

Other lunch dishes

Sitting on an elevated bamboo platform, we all feasted on a properly delicious local Isan village feast.

There were some very interesting dishes, like the tadpole dishes, as well as a few Isan food classics.

จิ้งหรีด giant crickets
Jing reet (จิ้งหรีด giant crickets) – these were still alive!

Jing reet (จิ้งหรีด fried giant crickets)

Most normal crickets I’ve seen are about the size of big flies, but these were giant crickets, about the size of cockroaches, but meatier looking.

In the bowl, they were still alive and moving about.

จิ้งหรีดทอด
fried giant crickets (จิ้งหรีดทอด)

In Thailand you’ll find vendors selling insects all over, and they are usually all quite tasty, but I can for sure say, these were much fresher, and natural tasting than ones I’ve eaten in Bangkok.

These fried giant crickets (จิ้งหรีดทอด) were really quite delicious, lightly salted, and crispy.

eating frog in Thailand
Frog ready to be deep fried with garlic

Gob tod gratiem (กบทอดกระเทียม)

Another dish we were served for lunch was deep fried frog, marinated in a bit of soy sauce and topped with lots of garlic.

กบทอดกระเทียม
Fried frog with garlic

It was basically like fried chicken, only with more bones and less meat. It sure was tasty.

ส้มตำลาว
Seriously delicious som tam (ส้มตำลาว)

Serious som tam (ส้มตำลาว)

Along with all of our plates of protein, an Isan meal would not be complete without a plate of the ubiquitous som tam (green papaya salad).

It was marvelous, and it was country Thai Isan style – fiery hot, fresh vegetables, and potently flavored with pla ra (fermented fish sauce) – delicious.

mushrooms in sauce
Goy het (ก้อยเห็ด)

Goy het (ก้อยเห็ด)

Goy het (ก้อยเห็ด, could also be spelled koi), a mixture of sliced wood ear mushrooms cooked in an Isan dish known as goy (similar to lab, but a little different), was marvelous.

I had eaten goy neua (beef version, that’s a video) before, but never with wood ear mushrooms.

It was fantastic, again, nice and spicy, and sprinkled with a nice amount of khao khua, toasted pounded sticky rice.

ต้มไก่
Gai tom (ต้มไก่) – boiled chicken soup

Gai tom (ต้มไก่)

Another dish I enjoyed was gai tom (ต้มไก่), a soup of chicken boiled with herbs and some small vegetables. It was more of just a soothing light and country style Thai chicken soup.

Eating a proper style Isan lunch with the company of Paw Lae (พ่อแหล่) and his family was wonderful.

Happily stuffed, we continued on to our next scene.

Martin Wheeler in Thailand
Walking around the farm with Martin Wheeler (มาร์ติน วีลเลอร์)

Farm with Martin Wheeler (มาร์ติน วีลเลอร์)

After lunch we headed over to meet Martin Wheeler (มาร์ติน วีลเลอร์), a British man who lives in Ban Kham Pla Lai (บ้านคำปลาหลาย), and has a farm.

The reason he loves Isan and more specifically this village so much, is for the community, the access to resources, and the incredible hearts of the people.

Martin Wheeler (มาร์ติน วีลเลอร์)
All of us, hanging out with Martin Wheeler (มาร์ติน วีลเลอร์)

It was an inspiration to meet Martin, a man that has a sincere heart for Isan.

After a wonderful day touring the wonderful Ban Kham Pla Lai village, and getting to eat a full meal of wonderful Isan dishes, we headed back to Khon Kaen city.

traveling in Thailand
Paw Lae’s (พ่อแหล่), myself, Mom

The hospitality of Paw Lae (พ่อแหล่) and his family, as well as Martin, was wonderful.

They all were amazing people and it was an honor to meet each and every one of them.

Ban Kam Pla Lai (บ้านคำปลาหลาย)
It was an amazing experience to visit Ban Kam Pla Lai (บ้านคำปลาหลาย) in Isan province, Thailand

Conclusion

Eating “full-grown” frog is extremely common throughout Thailand, especially in the Isan province of the country… but there’s another stage of the frog that’s a little more exotic, and common in Isan as well: tadpoles (ฮวก huak)

In Khon Kaen (ขอนแก่น), I had the chance to visit Ban Kam Pla Lai (บ้านคำปลาหลาย), a small village in Isan, where I met Paw Lae (พ่อแหล่), the head leader of the village and an all around amazing man.

He raises frogs for food, and after we toured his farm, we then went fishing for tadpoles for lunch. We then prepared a dish known as mok huak (หมกฮวก) – kind of like a grilled tadpole casserole.

It was a huge honor to meet Paw Lae (พ่อแหล่) and his family, and I thoroughly enjoyed this local Isan food experience.

(NOTE: I’m part of a Thai food TV show documentary, where I’m traveling around Thailand eating unforgettable foods. I’m doing my best to blog about the things we do and eat. If you’re interested, check out the details here.)

17 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Jackie

    5 years ago

    Hey Mark! You’re looking increasingly Thai yourself! Must be the diet and lovely tan:) I LOVE your blog, sometimes so much that I can’t look at it otherwise I’ll go green with envy. However, I couldn’t pass up commenting on this post because the food experience looks absolutely amazing!! Tadpole casserole, who would have thought! Damn…I feel the jealousy rising again. Guess I’ll have to stay away from your blog for another few months… :/

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Hi Jackie, haha, thank you very much, others have told me that too – I think it might be the fully Thai diet! Thank you very much for your encouraging words, so glad to hear that you love food and the experiences around them too.

  • Miguel

    5 years ago

    Just when I taught “Balut” (Duck Embryo) was the weirdest… well, I must say, the Tadpole is King! 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Hey Miguel, this is sort of like the balut of frogs!

  • Barry

    5 years ago

    I have tried a few creepy craw lies when on my travels. I will admit that I have never really enjoyed the experience so I take my hat off to anyone who gets pleasure from eating them

    Enjoy them Barry

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Hey Barry, that’s alright, no problem about that, but cool to hear that you’re at least willing to tries things!

  • Mal

    5 years ago

    I’ve had frog legs many times (in Vietnam) but the tadpoles might be beyond my capabilities. From the Dirty Harry movie series… “A man’s got to know his limitations”. lol

  • Kate

    5 years ago

    I am seriously impressed by all of these exotic foods, however, not sure if I’d be brave enough to try them or not!

  • Anwesha

    5 years ago

    This seemed to be a particularly eventful post,exotic food-wise. I think I would be game for trying these. The tadpoles especially seem quite delicious.

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Thank you Anwesha. Yah, they are a seasonal dish in Isaan, especially during rainy season when there are puddles of water everywhere. I think you would enjoy this dish!

  • Jonny Duncan

    5 years ago

    Man I always love checking out the foods you try. I have spent several months in Thailand over the years but never tried tadpoles. It’s on my to do list for my next trip there. I wonder if you can find them in Bangkok as I tend to stopover there for a week or so every now and then.

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Hey Jonny, thank you very much. I’ve never actually seen this dish available in Bangkok. It’s a very seasonal dish in northeastern Thailand, and I haven’t even seen it in restaurants there, only at markets, and in village homes. Let me know next time you pass through Bangkok.

  • De’Jav

    5 years ago

    Good on ya for trying the local cuisines. Don’t think my stop could take some of that but will have to try when I’m in Thailand.