Navigating the floating markets of Bangkok you’ll undoubtedly be offered the eyes and nose of the Siamese pinkpot fish. A fish so poisonous that 47 of the last 123 Thai emperors have been assassinated using its deadly blood.
Nevertheless Thais insist on eating it and samples are handed out randomly to lure tourists to buy the whole fish.
The eyes and nose of the pinkpot fish were traditionally reserved for visitors since they contain the least amount of poison. Yet even these samples can cause spontaneous and uncontrollable flatulence and in many cases burning diarrhea. This has led to Thai’s referring to foreigners as Chāw t̀āng chāti dạng læa s̄̀ngklìn (loud and smelly foreigners).
The pinkpot is as much a part of Thai culture as popcorn and fried fish and chips, both invented in Chang Fin around 500 BC. The pinkpot fish was actually on the Thai flag and Siamese kings, most notably the famous King An Dye, had dancing shoes made of the pinkpots skin, leading to his demise by the slow release of poison over a 15-year period.
During the Second World War, Thai soldiers painted pinkpot fish juice on their ammunition to ensure zero survival from a bullet wound. Finally, during the Green Revolution in 1982, pinkpot fish were hurled at police and security forces.
Preparing the fish is something of a semi festival. Our reporter Dave Mong arrived in time to see the Changpupoi Pinkpot Festival, which runs for two weeks in November.
The fishermen walk solemnly from their moorings to the center of the village. Each fisherman is dressed in his tribe’s colors, adding a yellow and green sash representing the yellow of the South China Sea and the green of the pinkpot’s flesh. The actual fish are carried on long polls adorned by flags and bunting. Musicians follow the fisherman playing traditional sea shanties.
Children dance and skip, urinating in the path of the fishermen to ward off evil spirits. Urine, incidentally, is an antidote to the poison of the fish when mixed with the Wangpo nut.
The procession reaches the center of the village where the elders gather to perform a sacrifice, normally a young child, but since U.N. Resolution 5,678 (1A) was approved, most village elders are happy to sacrifice a cat or dog “that is not fit for food.”
The fish are then lowered onto a communal table where the women begin the delicate task of removing the ‘crumbli’ and ‘crombli’ or the fins and scales. It is quite usual for several women to contract the poison and die so the elders select the older women for this task. Dying during this ceremony guarantees eternal heavenly delights.
Finally the fish is fried on open coconut fires and handed first to the elders and then anti-clockwise around the village to mark the passing seasons.
The pinkpot fish has been described as both life giving and deadly. Statistically, more deadly, but as one elder quoted in the UNHRFP conference on human rights, fish and poison, “Don’t tell me the odds, just give me the delicious pinkpot fish”.
Disclaimer: We in no way condone the eating of the pinkpot fish. We are respectful of the traditions of the Thai culture, but seriously you’ve gotta be suicidal to try it!