What I am witnessing in these recent years in Thailand and in particular in Bangkok is how the attitude towards Thai insects consumption is changing; once a tasty snack for poor Isan farmers (North-Eastern part of Thailand), it is now becoming much more popular in big cities for its citizens. It is not difficult to come across carts with trays full of glittering and crunchy Thai insects, among the most popular: ants, beetles, larvae and even scorpions.
Before delving into the reasons why this food has gained appeal, it is good to make a small digression: insects in Thailand are officially divided into two main categories: 1) Malaeng (Six legs, head, chest and abdomen) 2) Maeng (8 or 10 legs and only two sections of the body without wings). From these two major categories derive many of the most common insects people can see on Bangkok’s streets.
In principle, the idea of eating Thai insects gained popularity in the early 90s when peasants in the northeastern provinces of Thailand plagued by Bombay locusts began to hunt and fry them. Since then insects have become an integral part of the city’s culture. Just think that although some westerners may be put off by their aspect, Bombay locusts have 25.88 per cent protein while giant crickets more than 20.72% with the largest protein content of 237.26 Kcal per 100 grams, as the peddlers themselves say if a person eats insects they can also live without meat.
How does Thai insects and dishes in which they are contained taste like?
The Mot Som stands for rugged ants, these are eggs made by ants cooked in a sort of omelette. Once in the mouth these eggs break giving an aftertaste very similar to soft cheese.
Most of the beetles in the adult phase taste like walnuts, while the typical fried grasshoppers, a staple snack among Bangkok working class are also called “prawns of the air”. After being fried they can be soaked in the soy sauce and eaten immediately.
Water beetles (Maeng Da) eaten with the classic fermented chili sauce (Nam Prik) have a citrus flavor.
Bamboo larvae, also called Rot Duan – literally express train in Thai, due to their rapidity when they move, eat the pulp of the bamboo. It can be found in northern Thailand during the rainy season. It is the most basic snack for anyone who wants to start eating insects and can easily be found at almost every street vendors.
The taste and texture of these larvae is similar to a small, slightly salted, crunchy corn snack.
Fried insects are very popular nowadays, they can be bought in many places. Locals still love buying them from street vendors. You can also find edible insects in various stores like 7/11 and other supermarkets. Also, tourist spots like Khao San Road, Patpong and Soi Cowboy are good places to buy them.