Eating fried insects in Bangkok appears on the priority list of most daring travelers, something you should try at least once and take a photo so you can proudly exhibit it once back home. This only goes for the brave ones, the cowardly ones just want a photo of the little crawlers... to such an extent that some insect vendors started to charge 10 baht just for the right to take a picture. In a way, you have to put yourself in their shoes: they are running a restaurant here, not a Ripley's-Believe-It-or-Not shack!
A bag of crisps has a lot in common with a serving of fried insects. They are both tasty, greasy, cheap and are great with beer, but fried insects definitely have an edge over crisps, both in terms of nutritious value and the exotic element. You won't just find one type, but an entire ramp of species glistening under the bright-neon lights of a hawker’s push-cart, from finger food like bamboo worms and crickets to the ominous-looking scorpions and what seems to be like an entire colony of ants: the queen, her second-in-command and all the workers as well.
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Vinai Suvarnaharn, a veteran vendor of fried insects, arrives at Khao San Road at about 18:00 every day with a push-cart of freshly fried insects. Today’s offerings, he says, includes grasshoppers, bamboo worms, silk larvae, crickets, weevils, ant queens and scorpions. The ‘menu’ changes according to the season and availability in the Bangkok market. While silk larvae and crickets are available all year round, scorpions are considered a rare delicacy, as they are not easy to find and require a collaborative effort with suppliers in Issan (northeastern Thailand).
Every evening, Vinai follows the same route, starting off at Khao San Road and ending up in nearby Banglamphu, eventually going home after midnight when the entire cart is sold out. A small crowd of tourists gathering around Vinai’s cart is a common sight, some just taking photographs while many buy a bag full of mixed species out of curiosity.
Every so often, a bar girl or club bouncer will stop by to collect their fill of insects. Tonight, all eyes seem to be on the tray of scorpions, which sell rather like the proverbial hot cakes, perhaps at the rate of one every two minutes. Upon receiving an order, Vinai skillfully bags the insects, sprinkles them with a dash of special sauce – a closely guarded secret recipe – and a pinch of seasoning pepper. It’s the sauce and combination of herbs that go into each frying pan that distinguish the taste of one vendor’s offering from another.
Not for the Fainted Heart
So, you say, which ones should I try? The answer depends very much on how far you are willing to go. Most of these insects look repulsive enough to turn most people off, leaving only the brave, daring and very hungry. For beginners, the most ‘friendly’ insects are probably the bamboo worms, more commonly known as ‘rod duan’ or express train. Despite how crunchy they look, rod duan are rather mushy, soft and nutty, similar to the silk larvae. Crickets are a bit crunchy with a salty note, while grasshoppers have a bit of everything – sweet, salty, nutty – plus, they are crispy at every bite.
If you are ready for the wildly exotic, go for a mouthful of ant queens, which are served all wrapped up in a betel leaf to counter the sour hint. Scorpions are the ultimate when it comes to rare exotic food, so let’s just say you should try them for yourself.
Where to Find Fried Insects in Bangkok?
Considered a local delicacy, albeit in the street-food category, fried insects are sold in push carts wheeled around Bangkok’s streets at night. You will likely find the carts in the following areas:
- Khao San Road
- Soi Cowboy
- Klong Toey Market (on Rama IV road)
- Banglamphu (near Phra Athit Pier)
- Pahurat (the textile market near Chinatown)
What Can You Eat?
- Bamboo worms
- Silk larvae
- Red Ants
- Water Bugs (Mang Da)