Saucy bugs from Thailand

Dipping sauces are ubiquitous throughout south-east Asia. Thai cuisine is famous for its Nam Jeem sauce, which is made with rice vinegar, sugar, garlic and chili, and in Vietnam a fish-sauce and carrot-based condiment called Nuoc Cham is common on dinner tables.

The sharp, sweet/sour, hot and vibrant ingredients of these cuisines are increasingly popular all over the world, particularly among budding chefs. Detailed recipes for the creation of ‘authentic’ sauces and dishes are popular, made with chilis, garlic and herbs pounded together into a paste.

water_bug_paste.jpg

Water bug paste on display at Expo 2015. Photo: Ben Kempas

Some of the most popular, like nam prik kapi, use shrimp paste, a rust-coloured condiment with a strong smell that strengthens as the paste ferments.

Another animal-based Thai/Laos sauce uses the giant water bug as its main flavouring. Giving a unique taste, the large beetles are pounded in a mortar and mixed with chili, garlic, onion and fish sauce and lime juice to make nam prik maengda, a thick condiment served with hot steamed jasmine rice and fresh vegetables. Imports from Thailand are available, mostly in the US. 

Nam_phrik_maengda.jpg

Nam phrik maengda. Photo: Xufanc, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

It’s not just scent but sensation that makes this beetle sauce so special - the crushed bug slightly numbs the mouth in the way sichuan pepper does.

Another use of the giant water bug in south-east Asian cuisine is a super-concentrated flavouring, much-prized and very expensive, known as mangdana essence. This is fragrant, even pungent, liquid is actually the pheromone secretion from the male bug’s abdominal glands.

Mangdana essence is often found in asian supermarkets, though sometimes as a synthetic replacement. Either variety though is so concentrated that the bottles come with a dropper, allowing you to flavour the dish with just a tiny splash. The flavour is described as sweet, floral and sharp and goes well with meat and fish.

Thailand_mixed_bugs.jpg

Bugs from Thailand on display at Expo 2015. Photo: Ben Kempas
More on Giant Water Bugs Thai Food Southeast Asia Thailand

Crispy Thai Chili Maeng Da (and a cold beer)

This is a pretty simple recipe using a wok to crisp up the bugs. Just heat the oil until it’s smoking, then add the chilis and the water bugs More →

More on Thailand

TEDx: from maggots in cheese to a food revolution

"Insects have to be the key to reflect on our capacity to embrace food diversity and knowledge that come from a different country." – Roberto Flore More →

More on Thailand

Fact check: Are insects better for you than meat?

There’s a big hype around edible insects: low in fat and high in nutrients, they're going to revolutionise food on a global scale! Is it true? BUGSfeed went fact–finding. More →

More on Thailand

Plague or plenty? Why the locust is also a prawn of the sky

When you consider that the phrase “plague of locusts” is basically shorthand for “really awful”, it might seem that advocates of eating these bugs have a difficult task. But language is an interesting thing. Don’t ‘sky prawns’ sound lovely? More →


Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.