29 January 2008

Mang Da

One reason that wine is so hard to describe is that it's like describing music. One can write as much as one wants to about Bach's unaccompanied cello suites, but there's no direct translation from Bach to English. You've got to hear it. And so it is with mang da - you've got to taste it.

I didn't think I'd ever taste mang da again. When I lived in Thailand I ate a lot of nom prik, a simple sauce/condiment that accompanied nearly every meal I ate. It's ubiquitous in Thailand and never seen in Thai restaurants here in the USA. I make it all the time at home, and it has endless variations. Basically, it can be made with garlic, shallots, fresh chili peppers, dried shrimp, lime juice, palm sugar, and shrimp paste (gapi), another Thai fundamental. There are thick and thin varieties, cooked ones and raw. It's all crushed in a mortar and pestle and a small bowl of it is always on the mat or table when you're eating. Once in a while I'd have nom prik mang da, a variation of nom prik that includes mang da, the insect shown here. They're about two to three inches long.

Mang da is one of the most haunting flavors I know, with an intense floral fragrance that reminds me of essence of gewurztraminer, with a concentrated rose petal and faint citrus taste. A little bit adds a breathtaking layer of complexity to a simple condiment like nom prik.

Needless to say, I was surprised when my mother-in-law opened her grocery bag and pulled out a small cellophane-wrapped styrofoam tray with a half dozen mang da on it! When's the last time your mother-in-law brought home a treat like that?!


  1. Patrick-- so nom prik is an insect? I'm confused. You are a great writer. I love this blog! Happy Easter, Dan

  2. Hi,
    Nom prik is hot sauce: in Thai, "nom" is water and "prik" is a chili pepper. Interestingly, black pepper is "prik Thai" or "Thai pepper." Pepper, what we know as black pepper,is indigenous to Thailand and chili peppers are more recent arrivals. Pepper grows all over the place, and it's used fresh; the clusters of small green berries look like a grape bunch of capers.

  3. A more accurate transliteration of "water" would be "nam" (spoken with a high tone). The word looks like this in Thai นำ้

  4. I've always thought of English transliteration as a rather inaccurate and imprecise act, and I've "spelled" นำ้ nam, nahm, as well as nom. Thanks for your clarification.

  5. I'm brewing beer with these if I can find them. You can follow the beer brewing thread here: