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

By Mark Wiens 19 Comments
แมงดา
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?

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

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  • Boogieman

    2 months ago

    I got a water bug paste (bugs ground whole, a lot of crispy pieces (wings?) that got stuck in the teeth..s lot of chili was promised to make it spicy and probably some other stuff too.
    Tasted a bit flowery. Pak chi on the side on request (love it) and don’t remember if there was anything else more that a few chang and some rice :-)
    Cant remember any liquirice taste though?

  • Bruce

    3 months ago

    I too was stationed there in the Air Force. Working the flight line at night we’d gather baggies full of them and sell them to the locals for about a nickel each. Never tried one myself.

  • John M.

    3 months ago

    I hate to come here and, after other’s read my post, be considered what many think of as the poster child of an “Ugly American.” Uncharacteristically for me, this “review” will likely contain uninformed comments and subjective conclusions that reflect my ignorance of this specific topic, particularly in light of the fact I have never actually eaten an “Asian Water Bug” aka “Maeng da” (แมงดา) and as of today’s date (6/23/2019) that ignorance can be multiplied by a factor of 10 as I can project that I never will (eat one!)

    I concede the point that Asian “water bugs” probably do have somethings in common with various “water bugs” we American’s consume with delight! Our “water bugs” consist primarily of (in no particular order) Crayfish (Crawdads), shrimp, crabs, lobster, etc. although I’m not sure what similarities of genus/species they share. As far as I know, they could all be similar tasting foods, as it appears that all share a hard outer carapace that is usually there as protection against being eaten by other sea creatures. With that being said, my “ugly” comes forward. Maybe because I started eating various seafood when I was young, I’ve simply accepted them into my diet as seafood delicacies.

    However, there is just something unsettling in just reading the description of how to eat these water bugs and the various flavors, textures, and smells that come with that. There doesn’t appear to be any one specific body part that contains a desirable piece of flesh or muscle similar to a shrimp, crab leg or lobster tail. Therefore, I have to conclude (at least in my own ugly mind) that these are nothing but a giant, disgusting, smelly insect or bug with very little food value and nothing about it sounds appealing to me. So there you have it — my (highly subjective) and largely unsupported opinion of how the eating experience would affect someone.

    As stated above; I’ve never consumed one to form the basis for an objective opinion. Therefore, any “opinion” I have regarding Asian Maeng da could, without malice, be ignored or more appropriately, tossed in the trash alongside all the rest of the non-edible parts of this questionable source of nutrition! Whether you agree with me or not, I don’t believe my opinion would change or improve much upon consuming one. Considering my and not being considered a “foodie”- neither can I be accused of being reluctant to try new things. In this particular case, however, I don’t think I could even “force myself” to follow the recommended serving instructions to get one down even with the help of copious amounts of Thai “Zato Sake!”

    So, in conclusion, and based solely on subjective criteria; as I have no intention of ever putting one of these creatures in my mouth, no less swallowing it. Also, I’ll give Kudos to any American, born and raised in the U.S., who eats these; since I can’t identify any obvious or notable similarities between these and any American counterparts. Even though they share similar body parts and method(s) of eating, I’ll go out on a limb and say that Maeng da is NOT listed in any Anthony Bourdain authored book on American delicacies!

    In all fairness to those who unselfishly took the time to read this, and for my peace of mind for likely drawing a false conclusion; I’ll give the Maeng da blog one more read to see if I can’t overcome my hesitation to eat one. Said reluctance is based, for the most part, solely due to their physical appearance and the process described by which one dissects the creature before consuming it.

    Thank you for letting me share these thoughts, and I will continue to follow this post until someone (bravely) takes the time to film the entire process from start to finish without blowing their breakfast out their nose!

  • Faisal Anwar

    4 months ago

    i really never mind about tying things during 17 years in bangkok life. Maengda is the bug that i continued to eat after i tried it 9-10 years ago. Eggs are super tasty – specially in yums. Even yesterday went to my favorite Thai Restaurant – Mum aroi Sri Racha and had it almost a plateful. Truly – i dont like the body much – but the eggs? Ummmm. It really paid me off for my return drive from Bangkok to Sri Racha.

  • Puyailee

    6 months ago

    I was challenged to to eat mang da (“pimp”)water beetle in Tahkli Thailand. the guy that bought the bug for me sniffed three or four butts before he found a good one with eggs inside. they didn’t bother to tell me to remove the head the wings and the sharp legs before I put it in my mouth so of course the legs hurt my throat. The bugs were purchased from the vendor walking by. the bugs had bed sundried. They had a big laugh over the Farlang who said “I can eat anything you can eat”.

  • Harrison

    8 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

      11 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

      11 months ago

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

    • Chowchu

      11 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.

      • Puyailee

        6 months ago

        Maeng da means pimp .mehn means stink

      • Sam

        2 months ago

        Meng means “insect” in Thai. Stinky is “men” pronounce with a higher tone. Thai language is tonal – 5 to be exact

  • 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: https://www.eatingthaifood.com/2012/07/thai-nam-prik-chili-sauce/ The one you’re talking about may have been nam prik pla too – mackerel.

  • Molly Huddart

    7 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

      7 years ago

      Thanks for looking Molly, hope you can visit Bangkok!