Frog in a Can

In Thailand, a woman is convinced that frog in a can is the next big thing. Yupa Sangnet was tired of wildly fluctuating prices for fresh frog, which is eaten locally by Thais and shipped abroad for the Chinese market. So she decided to do something about it.

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A very different kind of business story now from farther south in Asia. It's from Thailand where one woman with the help of the government has set out to change the way the country eats one of its favorite delicacies, frog. NPR's Michael Sullivan went to the village of Bo Talo and sent this report.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN reporting:

First, you've got to catch them.

(Soundbite of water splashing)

SULLIVAN: Kept in concrete tanks behind the house, it isn't that difficult if you have a net and a little patience. Put them in a large bucket of ice water for two or three minutes and then remove.

(Soundbite of pounding)

SULLIVAN: Rinse the frogs thoroughly, then rap them on the head a few times to make sure they're dead. Clean and cut the common bumpy frog meat into bite-size morsels.

(Soundbite of hot oil sizzling)

SULLIVAN: Deep-fry the frog for several minutes in a large wok. Mix it with tomato sauce, salt and sugar. Then let the mixture simmer for a few minutes more. Remove the frog from the wok to drain. Let it cool for an hour or so and then the product is ready for packaging.

(Soundbite of packing machinery)

SULLIVAN: Pack the frog in the small tuna fish-sized cans. Put on the label, the bright blue Big Frog brand label. Then wait for frog in a can to become the next big thing.

That's what Upa Sangnet is hoping for, at least. She got the idea a few years back when prices for fresh frog had dropped dramatically and her village was looking for a way to boost profits.

Ms. UPA SANGNET (Frog Entrepreneur): (Through Translator) We weren't getting enough from the buyers who came to buy our frogs to ship to Hong Kong and other markets, and the buyers only came every few months. If they came when there were too many frogs, then the price we got was too low. I thought if we canned the frogs, then we could control when we sold them and get a better price overall.

SULLIVAN: Upa says she doesn't think anyone else has done this before and she is convinced there is a market both here and abroad.

Ms. SANGNET: (Through Translator) Thais like to eat fresh frogs but Thai homemakers don't like to prepare it. It's too messy and difficult and it takes too much time. If they can go to the market and buy it in cans, then they can have it in the house all the time and eat it whenever they want.

SULLIVAN: The provincial government thought enough of the idea to give her village about $5,000 in start-up money. Upa says they had to shut down for a while after some problems, including her recent run-in with a cobra that laid her up for a few months. In fact, she says the whole operation seems a little snake-bit. There were also licensing problems and a batch of bad labels. The most disastrous development, though, was when a canning machine malfunctioned, leaving a whole batch of frog too dry, rattling like BBs inside the cans. She had to scrap the whole lot. Now she figures she's got things right and offers me and my interpreter a sample of the latest batch.

(Soundbite of munching)

SULLIVAN: It's good. It's a little crunchy. Tastes a lot like fried chicken, yeah?

But my interpreter, Duk(ph), is Thai and the Thais are serious about their food. He chews thoughtfully for a few seconds before delivering his verdict.

DUK (Thai Interpreter): For me, I like the fresh frog more than the frogs in the can. If I can choose, I choose the fresh frogs. Maybe when--like when we have to go somewhere like camping with friends and we cannot--we don't have time to cook like, maybe we can choose this one or so.

SULLIVAN: A glimmer of hope, then, from a serious critic. Upa beams. She says she has a new distributor and is hoping to market her canned frog not just here but all over Asia. And there has been some interest from homesick Thais in the US, too. She's also looking to introduce a few new recipes, canned frog with herbs and canned frog with mint. Upa's hoping the sky's the limit for the village's Big Frog brand. Look for it soon in a supermarket near you.

Michael Sullivan, NPR News.

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