birch and grasses alone on the snow, grey sky indistinguishable. the flat world falls into the edge of time, lifeless, dull wedge of horizon and soundless ...
29 January 2008
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?!