Bugs, bugs, bugs!
There are over one hundred types of edible insects (or insects considered edible by Thais at least) on sale from street vendors and market stalls throughout Thailand. And while there are plenty of other unusual things to do, the sight of three or four backpackers huddled around an insect vendor, staring wide-eyed at the array of bugs for sale, is a common one.
“You’re not going to eat it, are you?” “Eughh, that’s disgusting!” “What’s it like?” “ “Oh my God, I can see the little eyes! GROSS!”
Have you ever wondered what all those bugs taste like? Do you want to impress your friends by tossing a handful of grasshoppers straight into your mouth with out a moment’s hesitation? Freak them out by biting a beetle in two? If you answered yes to any of these, read on.
Each insect in this Beginner’s Guide to Edible Insects is accompanied by a photo so you can easily recognise it. Each entry is listed with its common English name, its Thai counterpart, and a rating from 1-10 in two extremely important categories; crispness and squishiness.
So, do you want to know which insects taste better than others? Which one crunch and which ones don’t? Well, what are you waiting for? Jump right in, and let the insect munching begin.
Credit: By Thomas Schoch [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia CommonsGrasshoppers are one of the most commonly eaten bugs in Thailand and are sold throughout the country. They are deep-fried in vegetable oil, leaving them very crispy but without any real distinctive flavour. Deep-fried grasshoppers are seasoned with salt, and are enjoyed as a snack by many Thais over a couple of cold beers. A bag of the crispy little buggers sells for around 15 baht (50 cents).
Bamboo worms (non pai)
Bamboo worms are probably the least threatening of all Thailand’s edible insects. This is due to the fact that they look like Cheetos or similar-shaped potato chips. Coincidentally, they also have a slight “corn” flavour to them. Non pai, also known as Lot-duan (fast train), are shallow fried and seasoned with Thai pepper and salt. A ladle full of these extremely edible insects should set you back about 20 baht (60 cents).
Silkworm Pupae (non mai)
Credit: By User:Takoradee (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia CommonsSilkworm pupae are a popular snack in the Northeast of Thailand and other silk producing areas. Like most edible insects in Thailand, they are deep-fried and salted. They look rather like short, fat bamboo worms, but their texture is very different. While some silkworm pupae get a little crispy, most of them remain quite squishy on the inside.
Thais eat many species of cricket. In fact, eating crickets has become so popular that some Thai farmers have started raising them to supply the insect vendors, or even sell at the market themselves.
Crickets are usually shallow-fried for less than a minute, but can also be deep-fried. Shallow fried crickets are soft with a very mild nutty flavour. They are quite tasty and are considered highly nutritious, as they provide some much-needed protein in the diets of rural Thai families. Deep-fried crickets are crisper but have little or no flavour, and less nutritional value.
Whichever way they are cooked, crickets are one of the most popular edible insects in Thailand. They are sold by the bag, or sometimes in small Styrofoam dishes, for around 20 baht a serving.
Giant Water-Beetle (meng-dah)
The giant water-beetle is without a doubt “The Daddy” of all of Thailand’s edible insects. It looks like a kind of giant cockroach and can grow up to 3 inches long.
Credit: By User:Takoradee (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia CommonsThe trick to eating these enormous bugs is not to chuck it into your mouth and chew for all you’re worth. Doing this will most likely result in cuts to the inside of your mouth from the sharp legs and antennae, leaving you with a mouthful of semi-crushed unpalatable armour. The correct way to eat a meng-dah is to first remove its legs. Then pull its head an upper torso from the rest of its body. After discarding the head, remove the wings from the back of the bug and then pop the sac/torso into your mouth.
Thailand’s giant water-beetle is very chewy, rather like a strip of dried meat. Males are smaller than females, their scent is stronger, and they are considered more flavourful. This leads to their use as an ingredient in a type of pungent chilli sauce called nam prik meng-dah. Male water-beetles are also more expensive than their female counterparts at around 10 baht (30 cents) per head.
So, what now?
Now that you’ve finished A Beginner’s Guide to Edible Insects, I feel that you are equipped with a basic understanding of what to expect when confronted with a tray of deep-fried creepy-crawlies. Perhaps next time you’re in Thailand, you will have the confidence to munch away on a bag of bugs, to the amazement of your awestruck travel companions.