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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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shipworm Lyrodus pedicellatus (formerly Teredosiamensis), sometimes called teredo worm, is a strange mollusc which starts life as a bivalve, in a double shell, but then, having established itself in a suitable piece of wood—often a floating log or the trunk of a ‘sam’ tree in a mangrove swamp—becomes long and wormlike, with the original two shells transformed into mere appendages at each end. All that one normally sees of the shipworm is the snail-like head peeping out of the bark.

As its name implies, the shipworm can do considerable damage to the timbers of boats, and it is usually thought of in this connection rather than as a foodstuff. Yet it is edible, although not often marketed, and may even have been the subject of some of the earliest experiments in ‘sea farming’. Coastal dwellers in Thailand and elsewhere in SE Asia have for long cultivated the shipworm in logs anchored in the sea. They may be pickled in vinegar or nam pla (Thai fish sauce), or fried and eaten with eggs. However, there is no need to cook them. Doreen Fernandez (1994) comments that the shipworm (known as tamilok) is picked from old wood, especially driftwood, in parts of the Philippines.

The wood is chopped up so that the worms, pink, six to eight inches long, may be extracted, washed a little, and deposited wriggling on one’s tongue. The tamilok, its fans swear, has a fresh clean taste that sends shivers of pleasure down one’s alimentary canal.