WHEN PEST controller Lee Yuet-keung takes his work home with him, his wife couldn't be more thrilled. For in the Lee household, there's nothing more delicious than a coptotermes formosanus omelette. Lee isn't your ordinary pest controller. And Lee family dinners aren't your normal meals. Whether it is lashings of dead termites lacing soups and congee, sumptuous semi-conscious bugs liberally sprinkled on salads or mixed with rice, or little critters steamed or fried atop succulent pork spare ribs - a gastronomic reward comes from a hard day's graft by the Lees. 'They taste like shrimps; they are fresh, sweet and nutritious,' enthuses Lee, 58. 'I soak them in water first, filter them out, put them on a plate and dip them in soy sauce or salt with sesame oil. Sometimes they bite my tongue, so I use my teeth or fingers to crush them to death.' The Lees feast on all kinds of termites - but for sheer taste it just has to be coptotermes formosanus, sometimes, ignorantly, called a white ant. The most common of several dozen types of Hong Kong termite, this particular species makes for particularly good banquets in the Lees' household in Wong Tai Sin. Caterpillars may be a delicacy in Mexico, witchetty grubs in Australia's Outback, and locusts the preserve of many a mainlander, but in Chuk Yuen South Estate, the coptotermes formosanus is king. Well, actually, Lee Yuet-keung is king - the self-styled 'termite king'. Lee was destined to become a pest controller from his very first mouthful of termites as a baby in his family's Huiyang village in Guangdong. 'I don't know when it first started, but I do know that in my great-grandfather's time, my ancestors had already started eating termites,' he says. The family kept their habit a secret from fellow villagers, fearing they would be ridiculed - and that others would scoff their supply. But at home, they would eat several thousand termites each day. 'My mum would put half a bowl of termites into my congee for me,' Lee reminisces. 'My parents told me termites were nutritious. Some of my siblings wouldn't eat them. They found them disgusting, but I loved them. I thought that when I got older, I would go to hunt them myself.' Today, Lee and two of his three sons, Foo-wah, 20, and Chun-yip, 18, make up the Tung Sang Company, which specialises in eradicating premises of the little menaces, which can cause havoc by feasting on wood, carpets and fabric. On finding a nest - made from the termites' droppings and saliva - the Lees first secure their dinner then destroy the remainder with pesticide. 'When people aren't looking, I quickly put the termites into a plastic bag,' Lee says. Lee, his wife Lam Kin-nam, and all three sons, including student Fu-wing, 21, tuck in at home to the daily catch, although Lam recalls being less than bowled over by the prospect when the couple first met. Love, however, won out. 'He said the termites were fat and very nutritious and asked me to try some,' Lam, 45, recalls. 'It was delicious, just like the taste of meat.' Foo-wah has eaten the bugs since he was a baby, but didn't tell his mates for fear they would think him a little odd. Eventually though, they found out. 'They all thought I was strange, but some said they wanted to try, so I brought them home for a termite meal. At the table, no one dared to start eating. Then one began to eat them and they all followed. They all said the termites were delicious.' Foo-wah favours his termites fried; for Chun-yip, it has to be bug omelette. And just for those occasions in the colder, drier months when termites are harder to find, the family breeds them at home for a ready supply. But for the entire family, the insects aren't just the spice of dinners, but the stuff of dreams. 'In one dream, I stole my brother's plate of termites,' Chun-yip recalls. His father, with an embarrassed smile, admits one of his recurring dreams is that he is searching a house for a nest without success. For him it's the stuff of nightmares - the frightening prospect of a bland family dinner. What's in a termite? There is no research in Hong Kong on termites' nutritional value, but according to a study by Darna Dufour, an entomologist at the University of Colorado in the United States, Amazonian termites have a higher protein value than dried fish, and a nutritional value that rivals pork sausage and goose liver. Locally, nutrition consultant Miranda Wong Yuk-yin says like other insects, termites are high in protein, low in fat and cholesterol-free. Geraldine Ng, chairman of the Hong Kong Dieticians Association, agrees, but says because of their small sizes - the coptotermes formosanus is about the size of a common ant - people need to eat many of them to get any nutritional benefit. So should we eat them? Dr Edmund Li Tsze-shing, associate professor in nutrition at the University of Hong Kong's department of zoology, says 'an exotic dish occasionally is okay', but habitual consumption may be problematic. 'I wouldn't suggest people eat them regularly until we know more about the termites and what is inside them.' However, Wong says people from all over the world have a long tradition of eating various types of insects and daily consumption should pose no problem, as long as they are clean. We asked South China Morning Post food editor, Susan Jung, to put the termites to the taste test. But after seeing the magnified photo above, she declared: 'Sorry, I'm not eating termite sashimi!' Fair enough.