Lamp Shells and Seafood Adventures in Trat, Eastern Thailand

By Mark Wiens 14 Comments
lingula anatina
Lamp shells, officially known as lingula anatina

Have you ever eaten lamp shells?

They were new to me.

I can’t say I had ever seen them in a seafood market in Thailand or ever seen them on a menu either. So I was pretty happy to not only eat, but to find these creatures from their source.

While we were in Trat (ตราด), filming for the Thai food tv show, our mission was to go fishing for lamp shells, and then eat them.

Lamp shells are the more common name for sea mollusks that have a hard shell and a soft lower body.

To be more specific we were on the hunt for what’s known in Thai as hoy back bet (หอยปากเป็ด, which translates to duck beak shell fish), and what in English I believe is technically known as lingula anatina

… but that’s getting a little scientific for me… so I guess all we really need to know is that they are some type of alien looking shell fish, and for the purposes of this article, I’m just going to call them lamp shells.

Trat (ตราด)
Beauty of Trat (ตราด) province in Thailand

Where is Trat (ตราด)?

Trat is the province of Thailand located on the border of Cambodia, along the Gulf of Thailand. Many people go to Trat en-route to get to islands like Ko Chang and Ko Mak.

Since Trat is located on the coast, all things from the sea are widely consumed, including lamp shell fish, the main thing we were interested in finding from the source.

fishing in Thailand
Heading into the mangrove forest

Going fishing

The ocean along Trat is quite shallow, and it’s also home to a substantial mangrove forest.

Trat
It took about 30 minutes to get to the mouth of the ocean

First we boarded onto boats with local fishermen, who drove us through the thickets of mangroves, and after riding for about 30 minutes or so, we arrived at the mouth of the gulf.

jellyfish
Unfortunately there were many jellyfish

Just off the coast of Trat, the waters are quite shallow, and they do a lot of sea farm fishing, similar to the coast off Samut Songkhram, where they also make use of the shallow seas.

The normal way to fish for lamp shells is actually to jump into the waist high water, and just start feeling the shells with your toes and then diving in and scooping up a handful.

But unfortunately, the water was teeming with jellyfish. My boat driver even jumped in the water for a few minutes to see if he could brave the jellyfish, but he ended up getting stung a few times, and so we had to revert to a different method of fishing.

fishing in Thailand
Fishing the Gulf of Thailand for lamp shells

Instead of getting into the jellyfish infested water, we took a pole with a rake on the bottom (I don’t have a photo of it as we got kind of wet, but it was like a fruit picker, only with shorter straight spikes more like a gravel rake).

One fisherman stood up in the boat, like he was surfing, and the other handled the motor. As the driver sped through the water, the fisherman took the rake, and scraped it on the floor of the ocean, scooping into the sticky mud and pulling lamp shell fish in by the rake full.

lingula lamp shells
A fresh catch of lingula lamp shells in Thailand

I was impressed, literally just seconds after the fisherman scraped his rake, he came up with a heaping amount of the lamp shells.

The bottom of the ocean was far from sand, it was more like clay, the mud was sticky and gray. Embedded into the thick mud were hundreds of lingula lamp shells.

หอยปากเป็ด
I thought they looked a little like aliens

I was able to take the rake a few times and try my luck fishing for the shells, and just like the fisherman, I surfaced with a nice rake full of lamp shells.

The toughest part about fishing with the rake, was staying balanced on the fast moving boat, while leveraging the rake into the bottom surface of the mud to scrape them up. But nevertheless, it was quite a fun experience.

lamp shell fish
Fresh catch of lamp shells

After harvesting quite a good supply of lamp shells, we then headed back into the mangrove forest, in search of another delicacy, known as shipworms (but I’ll cover this in the next post).

หมู่บ้านเปร็ดใน
Moo Baan Bred Nai (หมู่บ้านเปร็ดใน) – an eco village in Trat

Moo Baan Bred Nai (หมู่บ้านเปร็ดใน)

After having a successful lamp shell fishing trip in Trat, we then went to meet the leader of the village, who showed us how he is aiming to preserve the culture and ecosystem of the local mangrove forest.

With the help of the government, he has been able to set aside some of the forest as a place for people to come and learn about traditional sources of food and ingredients, as well as natural medicines and the traditional way of living in the area.

mangrove forest in Thailand
Pa Pu Yai (พ่อผู้ใหญ่) explaining some or the local growing vegetation

Pa Pu Yai (พ่อผู้ใหญ่)

Pa Pu Yai (พ่อผู้ใหญ่), the leader of Moo Baan Bred Nai (หมู่บ้านเปร็ดใน) village, gave us a tour of the mangrove forest, and explained all sorts of amazing trees and natural growing plants and what they were used for.

traveling in Thailand
It was interesting to walk through the forest and learn about the many local uses of the trees and plants

It was extremely interesting to learn about this mangrove forest in Trat, and how there are so many resources available within it.

Trat, Thailand
Mangrove forest in Trat

I can’t remember the name of the tree, but there was one tree that Pa Pu Yai (พ่อผู้ใหญ่) explained that if you have an addiction alcohol, you could drink or eat something from the tree, and it would assist you in quitting your addiction.

Thailand
View from the platform lookout

Just like in Bang Krachao, Bangkok’s green lung park, there was about a 7 story high lookout platform at Moo Baan Bred Nai (หมู่บ้านเปร็ดใน).

I decided to make the climb, and the views of the forest and the small mountains in the background were beautiful.

crabs in Thailand
Purple marsh crabs

Purple marsh crabs

Along with being home to numerous important trees and plants, the mangrove forest is a prime habitat for small sesarma crabs, better known as purple marsh crabs (in Thai ปูแสม).

These types of purple crabs can be cooked and eaten almost like crawfish, but in Thailand they are prized for their use in som tam, Thai green papaya salad.

crab fishing
A local crab fisherman

As we were walking through the village, we met up with a crab fisherman, who was weighing his catch for the day.

sesarma crabs
Bag full of fresh sesarma crabs

I think he had something like 20 kilos of feisty purple marsh crabs, which he would proceed to sell at the larger market in Trat town.

Trat seafood feast
Our Trat seafood feast

Just like in Khon Kaen, where we were graciously served a home-cooked local feast, Trat was no different.

We went back to the home of Pa Pu Yai (พ่อผู้ใหญ่) where his wife and a few other aunties from the area, cooked up an incredible Trat seafood feast. Everything was locally sourced, from the seafood to the fresh ingredients.

I’ll cover a few of the other interesting dishes, like the soft shell crab, and the shipworm curry, in future posts, but in this article, I just wanted to highlight the interesting lamp shells.

หอยปากเป็ด
Hoy back bet (หอยปากเป็ด) – known in Thai as duck beak shell fish

How to eat lamp shells?

The lingula lamp shells were curried in a sweet coconut milk curry, with lots of garlic and black pepper. To me they looked a little like aliens shells, or like armored tanks.

The shell, just like any other shell fish was hard, and there was edible meat both within the shell, and also the long tail.

The long tail of the lamp shell had a texture similar to octopus or squid, but tougher and a little more rubbery. The inside of the shell was much softer, more creamy and rich, almost like crab eggs.

They were fun to eat, almost like leisurely eating peanuts in shells, and deshelling them one by one while snacking.

Thai lamp shell curry
Thai lamp shell curry in Trat

Conclusion

When I was in Trat, the province of Thailand bordering Cambodia on the Gulf of Thailand, I learned about a type of mollusk called a lingula anatina, which is a type lamp shell.

After sourcing them in the shallow muddy seas, and fishing for them ourselves, we went to the home of the leader of Moo Baan Bred Nai (หมู่บ้านเปร็ดใน) village, where his wife and a few other local aunties, prepared an outstanding local seafood feast.

The lamp shells were curried in sweet coconut milk and garlic. The tail was chewy, almost like tough squid, which the portion of the lingula within the shell, was rich and buttery.

Fishing and eating lingula lamp shells in Thailand, was a great experience, and the locally prepared seafood feast was outstanding.

Read more of my Thai food tv show adventures here.

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

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  • Kai Battaile

    1 month ago

    Hello! This was a fascinating read, I was interested in hearing what lamp shells tasted like. Theyre not molluscs, but in fact Brachiopods- an evolutionary ancient order, and Lingula specifically has remained relatively unchanged for around 500 million years. Fun to know that living fossils taste rich and buttery 🙂

  • Thinglish Lifestyle

    3 years ago

    We’ve been living in Trat province for a number of years and have never seen Lamp shells. We will be looking out for them now. Great post!

  • nadia

    6 years ago

    hello Mark!
    your blog is amazing! loads of useful information! YouTube channel is cool too! thank you for doing all that!
    i am going to Thailand soon, and as i understand from your blog u are big spicy food lover! in my case i am not really chilly tolerant
    if you would do post about not spicy Thai food that would be amazing! really!
    or maybe u have already one… and ill find it later on your page..i am new to your blog and youtube
    any way! good luck with your food fiestas
    Thanks again for informative way of your blogs

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hi Nadia, good to hear from you and thank you very much for reading. As for spicy, there are plenty of Thai dishes that are cooked non-spicy, especially most of the stir fried dishes and the fried noodle dishes. Or you can ask in Thai for “mai phet” to get non-spicy. Hope you have an amazing trip to Thailand!

  • JB & Renee

    6 years ago

    I LOVE interesting food (so long as they aren’t endangered) and you can’t get any more exotic than those lamp shells! Those purple marsh crabs look interesting too. They remind me of vampire crabs (Geosesarma dennerle). 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Good to hear from you JB and Renee, glad you like sampling interesting / exotic foods as well.

  • Edu

    6 years ago

    Really want to try those shells !! Just to let you know that I have been referring to your block for food tips each time I visited Thailand (and Ethiopia last summer!!!). Many thanks !! I just moved to BKK for work since a month ago and will be based her for some time. So, a totally irrelevant question – any recommendation on proper schools teaching Thai (not visa mills)? Cheers!

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hi Edu, great to hear from you, thank you for following, and great to hear you’ve moved to Bangkok. Hmm, I’m not really sure as I haven’t done much research on this, but maybe AUA for Thai. There are also some decent online resources as well.

  • Christen

    6 years ago

    I’ve never seen these before,I bet they are tasty. I’ve been letting my kids watch your videos and to see someone else other than Andrew zimmern eat unusual foods is very exciting and encouraging for us to try even more new things:)

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Thank you very much Christen, I really appreciate it, and greetings to your kids as well!

  • Angela

    6 years ago

    The entire meal look amazing! Those purple marsh crabs look almost too beautiful to eat.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Thank you Angela. Yah, I had only seen those crabs already in dishes, but fresh like this, they really are beautiful looking.

  • Dirk @ Gourmet-Blog.de

    6 years ago

    Never ate those Shells, they look bit scary but at the same Time i wanna taste them. 🙂
    Those Crabs look also awesome!
    Greets Dirk

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Thank you very much Dirk. Hope you’re doing well.