How to Eat a Giant Water Bug (Maeng Da) แมงดา

By Mark Wiens 12 Comments
Thai Maeng Da Water Bug แมงดา

Nothing like some giant bugs for snack!

These giant water bugs, known in Thai as maeng da (แมงดา), are quite commonly eaten throughout Southeast Asia.

In Thailand their essence is mostly extracted and added to chili based nam prik sauces. However, it’s also common to consume these creatures lightly boiled or deep fried and then salted heavily.

This particular lady was proudly serving her trophy catch of the day, and I just couldn’t resist the opportunity for a nourishing snack.

Can snacks get better than this?
Can snacks get better than this?

Maeng da (แมงดา) giant water bugs look like giant cockroaches, except they are a little nicer looking. They are often about 2 – 3 inches in length.

Before consuming, take off the wings
Before consuming, take off the wings

1. Wings

The first step is to grab a bug out of the bag.

Then, the tough and inedible wings must be detached from the body. Grab the wings, pull them off, and throw them away.

Separate the body from the head
Separate the body from the head

2. Pull Off The Body

Next, you have to disconnect the body from the head.

To do this simply pull and bend until the body neatly comes off the head. You may notice some juice that oozes out as you squeeze and pull. Also, there may be a few sticky strings of saliva like juice that are extracted during this procedure.

3. Eat the Body

It’s now time to eat the body. Suck all the meat out of the body, until it’s all gone.

In my opinion the bottom part of a maeng da (แมงดา) giant water bug tastes like watery scrambled eggs with a strong black liquorice flavor (characteristic of these kinds of bugs).

maeng da (แมงดา)
Head meat from a maeng da (แมงดา) bug

4. Eat the Head

After that fulfilling bite of the body, it’s time to move on to the head.

If you can’t bite through the tough head, go ahead and use your finger to fish out the chunk of edible meat. While the body tastes like watery scrambled eggs, the head tastes like mushy crab, but with that same pungent liquorice flavor.

That’s all there is to it!

So next time you spot some maeng da (แมงดา) bugs, you can’t use the excuse “I don’t know how to eat them!”

Have you eaten them before?

12 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Harrison

    6 months ago

    I was in the Airforce in ubon Thailand and got bugs from flight line after they hit the lights and fell. I gave them to people there to eat never tried it but they did not waste them and enjoyed it.
    I think it is like us eating crawfish the same way sucking the head for juice.
    When I was there in 1968 each bug could cost i baut or 5 cent.

  • jon

    2 years ago

    Yum! Pungent liquorice flavor!
    I remember as a pre-teen killing a few of these bugs and they emitted a HORRID smell. After that smell which I will never forget, I would never imagine consuming one cooked or raw.

    • Henry

      9 months ago

      I guess it’s a acquire taste Jon, though I wouldn’t be consuming waterbugs from State side. To many pesticides in the environment.

    • Henry

      9 months ago

      It’s a acquire taste I presume. Would love to try it in Bangkok. American Waterbugs are definitely inedible.

    • Chowchu

      8 months ago

      Meng means stinky in Thai, so it is literally stinky bug. But Thais love it, just like durian.
      But falangs love stinky cheese, which smells even worse.

  • Jason

    4 years ago

    These are delicious! The smell is spectacular. It somehow conjures up memories of green apple candies from childhood. I had it on the street in Bangkok. The woman at the food cart made them into a spicy thick sauce, possibly a type of nam prik, that included a roasted yellow chile & a small fish among other ingredients. Any ideas on what the other ingredients might have been? It was one of my top food experiences. Thank you Mark!

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey Jason, great to hear from you. These giant water bugs are commonly used in nam prik chili dips. The maeng da beetle just gives sort of an essence, so you might find any type of nam prik, then with maeng da added for extra flavor: The one you’re talking about may have been nam prik pla too – mackerel.

  • Molly Huddart

    6 years ago

    That is definitely an exotic food. I haven’t tried eating water bugs and would like to try and taste this as soon as travel in Bangkok.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Thanks for looking Molly, hope you can visit Bangkok!