Many a Thai meal comes with a side of nam prik, a hot sauce of peppers, onions, and other seasonings, pounded together in a mortar and pestle. There are countless varieties, but one is especially unique: nam prik mang da, which contains giant water beetles as an ingredient.
Said giant water beetles are called mang da. Three inches long, they can either roam rice fields in the country or buzz around streetlights in the city. The larger females of the species are eaten on their own, after being deep-fried. But the males have their own good qualities: Ground in a mortar and pestle with chilis, onions, and garlic, they give off a unique flowery musk.
The bugs’ pheromones are the reason that they’re are added to nam prik. Taste-wise, they’re rather like licorice-flavored seafood. But their unique musk is so distinctive that it’s often distilled and sold by the bottle: There’s even an artificial version. Along with giving the nam prik a flowery, herbal aroma and taste, the beetles also cause the slightest of numbing sensations on the tongue.