Where to Eat Bugs in Bangkok
The best and worst places to eat edible insects in Thailand's capital
Dec. 16, 2018
Jan. 14, 2019
May contain affiliate links.
Bangkok, Thailand, is arguably the best place in the world to get edible insects. I'm biased, of course, because I spend several months a year in Bangkok and love the city. But also, I live in a completely ordinary Bangkok neighborhood, and within 1 mile from my door there are:
- At least two markets that sell fresh edible insects every night
- One grocery store that sells frozen crickets, silkworms, sago grubs, and bamboo caterpillars
- An old man that sells sweets and bugs out of his food cart, almost every night
- A fine-dining edible insect restaurant
The easy availability of edible insects in Bangkok is certainly how bugs became one of my favorite things to eat. Like most other US Americans, at first I reacted to edible insects with shock, but they are so commonplace in Bangkok, I eventually realized that contextually, I was a total weirdo (not to mention offensive) for making a big deal about an ordinary food ingredient.
Often, when people ask me how a newbie might start eating insects, I jokingly answer, "Go to Bangkok!"
I know this is not a realistic option for many people, but in case you ever do find yourself en route to one of the liveliest, most fascinating cities this big beautiful planet has to offer, or if you're just curious what other places around the world are like, please indulge me in the following recommendations, informed by my several years of eating bugs in Bangkok.
In this article, I'll address the following:
- An Easy Introduction to Edible Insects: 7-11 and Family Mart
- The Worst Place To Eat Edible Insects in Thailand: Khao San Road
- The Most Common Place to Eat Edible Insects in Bangkok: Markets
- The Best Bugs in Bangkok: Insects in the Backyard Edible Insect Restaurant
- Where to Buy Edible Insects in Bangkok to Cook for Yourself
An Easy Introduction to Edible Insects: 7-11 and Family Mart
Your first edible insect experience can be as easy as going to the neighborhood 7-11! 7-11 is a chain of convenience stores that will be familiar to any US American, except that in Thailand 7-11s have a few differences: they are absolutely ubiquitous in Thailand, far more plentiful than they are at home; they usually have a fat street dog that lives just outside of them; and they will probably sell edible insects inside.
Edible insects at a Thai 7-11 come in two forms:
Nam Prik Maeng Da is a great introduction to entomophagy because it doesn't feel buggy at all. It's just a spicy chilli dip that uses the giant water bug as a flavoring agent. Maeng Da has a distinct flavor that has been varyingly described as tasting like anise or green apple flavoring. It's up to you if you want to use Maeng Da as a topping on whatever else you're eating, maybe adding a dollop of it on your fish or noodles, or use it as a dip, to be eaten with fresh cabbage, green beans, or carrots. However you choose to eat it, Nam Prik Maeng Da is a super common condiment and I have no doubt that you will be able to find it at any convenience store in Thailand.
Crispy silkworms and crickets are a slightly different story. In my own experience, I sometimes find them at 7-11, but I almost always find them at Family Mart (a Japanese chain) or Big C (basically Thai WalMart). Hiso Snack offers several flavors of silkworms and crickets—original, barbecue, nori seaweed, cheese, tom yum, and spicy herb, so far in my experience—but I've never seen all of them at once; usually a shop will offer two or three flavors. To be honest, in my opinion Hiso Snack is a little bit dry (though I suppose all the snack chips they are sold with are, as well) and are not my favorite way to consume edible insects. Nonetheless, buying crispy crickets or silkworms at the convenience store is a very easy and approachable way to eat your first bugs in Bangkok. Edible insects are easy to find at Bangkok convenience stores, and who knows—there's just something about the fluorescent lights and popping open a bag of snacks that feels very familiar, and may be a comfortable way to try something totally new and potentially intimidating.
The Worst Place To Eat Edible Insects in Thailand: Khao San Road
If you take away only one thing from this post, please let it be: never eat bugs on Khao San Road!
Khao San Road is basically Backpacker Central. I love Khao San Road, but I love it for the spectacle it is, and food haven it is not. Khao San is almost always listed in tourist blogs as the best place to eat edible insects in Bangkok, and that is 100% wrong.
Khao San Road is the worst place to eat edible insects in Thailand!
I made a video explaining why no one should eat bugs on Khao San road and realized it came off a little harsh. I'm going to allow the video to appear a little more harsh and flippant than I actually feel, because complexity doesn't come across on visual mediums as easily as text.
But please allow me this space to explain more fully why Khao San road is the worst place in Bangkok to eat edible insects. Or, just take my word for it and skip to the next section; it's up to you.
Why Khao San Road is the Worst Place to Eat Edible Insects in Bangkok
I like to compare the kind of snack bugs you see on the street in Thailand to french fries, for two main reasons: historical connection, and relatability. First, I see a historical connection between bugs and potatoes, because even though we now associate potatoes with Irish and Eastern European cuisine, once upon a time Europeans were just as biased and afraid of eating potatoes as they are now afraid of edible insects. Next, on a more practical level, I think anyone who reads anything I write (thank you so much for your time and attention) has had fried potatoes before, and can relate to comparisons I may make between the deliciousness of freshly fried potatoes (or bugs) versus soggy greasy things (be they fried potatoes or fried bugs) that were cooked hours ago. In other words, freshly cooked food is the best, and it's not a potato's fault if tastes bad 6 hours after being cooked; it's not a bug's fault either.
Okay. Here we go.
This is a truism of all food in all countries: tourist food is not good. I don't say this because I am some kind of travel snob, I say this because I understand a little bit about behavioral economics (okay also I read it in Tyler Cowen's An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies). A restaurant that relies on repeat business has an interest in making good food that makes you want to come back. A restaurant that caters to tourists is a restaurant that expects that their customers will never return—because you'll probably be somewhere totally different tomorrow. Consequently, this restaurant will not be as motivated to make their food taste good, because the possibility for repeat business is not within their control.
Any restaurant in a tourist area knows that their customers will never come back, which is the reason why the food on Khao San Road, or in any tourist area, is never particularly good. It's not terrible. It's not just nearly as good as an average place a few blocks away; a place that caters to locals and need these locals to be motivated to become loyal return customers, and will then serve them food that is delicious enough to keep them coming back.
Next, imagine there are two french fry vendors on the street. One of the is very busy and frying a new batch all of the time, and the other one is less popular and not cooking them as frequently. Whose will be more delicious? The busy one, who is more likely to give you crunchy piping hot fries he just freshly made. This one is not so hard to imagine.
Finally, on to bugs. In Bangkok you will not always find bugs being fried right there on the spot. In fact you are a lot more likely to just find someone selling bugs out of a cart or a scooter, in little pans. That's not necessarily bad, but as you can see from the french fry example, they are not at their best. Those bugs are okay. I, and local Thais, eat them all the time. Just know they'd be better fresh.
Now back to Khao San Road, which is undeniably all about tourists and spectacle. The bug vendors on Khao San likely make more money charging shocked tourists to take videos of the edible bugs, than they do selling the edible bugs themselves. This is where I was a little harsh in the video, because that in and of itself does not mean the bugs they're selling are bad. A bug vendor could conceivably make money selling pictures of perfectly fresh and delicious bugs, just as easily as they can make money selling pictures of old bad bugs. But remembering the behavioral economics of tourist food, they have no motivation to make their bugs taste good, for patrons who will never come back, and most of all have no idea what the food item is supposed to taste like.
Not only that, but some of the bugs they sell on Khao San road are edible insects I have never seen nor heard of a Thai person eating. I'm not saying no one does it ever; maybe they do it in regions I've never been to. But I don't think any locals in Bangkok are eating the scorpions, tarantulas, and centipedes that are for sale on Khao San Road. I don't see tourists buy them very often either. So how often do you think they are replaced, and when do you think those ones you see for sale were cooked? Last week? Last month? There is no reason to believe they were cooked in any appetizing time period.
I used to say that no Thai would ever buy the bugs on Khao San Road, but I have to admit that when I was recording the video, I did see one Thai couple buy a bag of grasshoppers from one of the very bug vendors that charges tourists to take photos of her bugs. I have since amended my concept of the bugs on Khao San Road to accept that the more commonly consumed (and therefore more frequently replaced) edible insects, like crickets, grasshoppers, silkworms, and bamboo caterpillars, might be up to a local's standards. Maybe those bugs cycle through often enough to be fresh and edible, like the french fry example. But even then, if you're eating the edible insects on Khao San Road, the very best you can hope for is that they are no worse than what you would find elsewhere; you have no reason to believe they would be better.
All of that is a very long explanation that I don't expect anyone to have the patience to recall, so it's just easier for me to tell people: Don't eat the bugs on Khao San Road; it's the worst place in all of Bangkok to eat edible insects.
The Most Common Place to Eat Edible Insects in Bangkok: Markets
Okay, okay, you're thinking. I won't eat bugs in tourist areas, I'll only eat the same edible insects Thai locals do.... but where is that?
Markets. Especially night markets.
One of the most famous markets in the world is Bangkok's Chatuchak market, and in fact that is where I ate my very first insect (grasshopper). However, Chatuchak is not my first choice for where to eat edible insects in Bangkok; my first choice is a night market, such as the Ratchada Rot Fai Night Market.
Edible Insects at Bangkok's Ratchada Rot Fai Night Market
There are several pop-up night markets like the Ratchada Rot Fai Night Market, but Ratchada Rot Fai (aka "the train night market") is one of the biggest, and most accessible. It's located behind the Esplanada Shopping Mall, just off the Thailand Cultural Center metro stop. If you get off the train any evening of any day and follow where all the young people are going, odds are you'll find yourself at the market, but if you need extra help I made a video showing you how to find the Ratchada Rot Fai night market.
And what else will you find at the train night market? Everything. You will find clothing, knicknacks, bars, hair salons, and literally hundreds, if not thousands, of things to eat. Including edible insects.
I love getting edible insects at Bangkok night markets for many reasons:
- Authenticity:The edible insects at night markets are made for Thai people, i.e. a discerning audience. These are bugs that are meant to be eaten by people who know the difference between a good bug and a bad bug.
- Bug Variety: You will usually find one, if not several vendors, and these guys will usually have two or three different types of crickets, grasshoppers, silkworms, and sometimes even ants, sago grubs, bamboo caterpillars, and waterbugs.
- Food Variety: It makes me laugh when people think that edible insects are only consumed by desperate people who have no other food options. At the Ratchada Rot Fai Night Market alone, there are literally thousands of things a person could choose to eat. People eat bugs because the like them.
Ratchada Rot Fai Night Market is far from the only market to find edible insects in Bangkok; any time you to go a market in Bangkok you will probably find edible insects. It's just a safe bet and a fun recommendation for me to make. But if you are staying far away from Ratchada Rot Fai and want to look for edible insects at other night markets, you'll probably find them there, as well.
The Best Bugs in Bangkok: Insects in the Backyard Edible Insect Restaurant
Insects in the Backyard is one of my favorite restaurants in the world. Keep in mind that I travel full-time and I friggin love food, so that's saying a lot!
I love Insects in the Backyard for the following reasons:
- The food is delicious—it's almost all insects, and it's all so so so good.
- The decor is amazing—the mix of classy and kitschy feels like a Wes Anderson film. I mean where else can you find a taxidermy tableaux and a venus fly trap chandelier in the same place?
- It's inside a very unique night market surrounded by art, artisans, and even an airplane. Going to the Chang Chui Market is a very authentic Bangkok experience that will show you a side of the city most tourists never get to know
- Did I mention its yummy? I've eaten almost everything on the menu and I've always loved every bite and basically had to talk myself out of publicly embarrassing myself by licking the plate.
I feel like I change my favorite dish every time I go to Insects in the Backyard. At the point of this writing, I'm not sure if my favorite dish is silkworm pesto with chorizo (pictured at the very top of this article), crab and water beetle ravioli with turmeric and saffron sauce, or lobster grasshopper bisque risotto. If you're like me and have trouble making decisions, Insects in the Backyard also offers a tasting menu through which you get to try 6 courses, for approximately 900 Thai Baht, or $30 USD.
The only thing that is not yet fabulous about Insects in the Backyard is that, until Bangkok finishes its mass transit extension around 2020, it's kind of hard to get to. Taxis in Bangkok are plentiful and cheap (as long as they use a meter), but the language barrier can be hard to tell a cabbie where you want to go. Realistically, if you want to go to Insects in the Backyard you will probably need to use a rideshare app like Lyft or Grab so you can ensure the driver knows exactly where they're going. That's it. Everything else about Insects in the Backyard is perfect.
Where to Buy Edible Insects in Bangkok to Cook for Yourself
Buying Frozen Edible Insects at Grocery Stores: Makro
I knew to check out Makro because I read about it in Daniella' Martin's Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet. Funny story: when I showed up on a Thai bus with a camera slung around my neck, the people on the bus would not stop trying to explain to me that I got on the wrong bus. They were utterly convinced that I was a lost tourist who had somehow wandered on the wrong bus on my way to the floating market, and nothing I said or showed them would convince them otherwise. It was actually an endearing, but also kind of a stressful, experience to try to explain that I know where I'm going, I'm just so interested seeing the grocery store that I want to take pictures of it.
Anyway, Daniella was right. Makro sells several types of frozen insects in their stores. The location I went to had frozen crickets, silkworms, and sago grubs, and bamboo caterpillars.
There are several Makro locations throughout Thailand, so they're a great option if you ever find yourself in Thailand and interested in cooking bugs yourself.
Buying Fresh Edible Insects at the Market: Klong Toey
The Klong Toey insect market is the main reason I wrote this monolith of a blog post that I know no one will read (hey, if you've read it this far, shoot me an email to say HI!). The Klong Toey market is so interesting you could happily spend all day there, just looking at everything. Also, if you don't know where to go, you could unhappily spend all day there, utterly lost. I support the former option, but I'd like to protect you from the latter, and just tell you where to go, in case you want to get in, get your bugs, and get out.
How To Get To The Klong Toey Insect Market
If you are visually oriented, look at the Bangkok Entomophagy Map I made, posted above. I dropped a pin in the exact spot where the insect market starts. I also made a video of how to get to the Edible Insect section of the Klong Toey market, if you want to see exactly how to find it (or just want to see what it looks like).
If you'd rather read words, here are the steps you should take:
- Get to the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center metro stop, however is most convenient for you from where you are.
- Take exit 1 and walk south along Rama III Road about 5-10 minutes until you get to the intersection between Rama III and Rama IV Road. You will see stairs to a pedestrian bridge that you can climb up, to use when crossing the road.
- Walk up the stairs, cross the street using the pedestrian bridge, and descend to the left.
- Continue walking along the road only 1 or 2 minutes until you see a white lattice fence, past one 7-11 and something after another one across the street. Enter the market right there, and walk along the path parallel to the road.
- You should see a lot of unusual animals for sale, like frogs and eels. If you continue looking around there, you should see insects on ice for sale.
Bonus: Thai people know that foreigners tend to recoil at the idea of eating insects, so if you buy some edible insects from the Klong Toey market, the vendor will probably be very amused. The first time I ever did, the lady insisted on taking a selfie with me. I love when something I'm gawking at gawks back.
Please note that edible insects at the Klong Toey market ar fresh, so you will need to wash, boil, and cook (roast or fry) before eating.
Bangkok Bug Expert!
That's it! you are now an Entomophagy Expert—of Bangkok, at any rate. If I helped you where to go in Bangkok to try edible insects, let me know! Take a picture, and tag @Bugs4Beginners on social media, and hashtag #MyFirstBug if this was your first time eating an edible insect!
This is not an entomophagy recipe and is not included in Bugs for Beginners, a cookbook which teaches Westerners how to prepare edible insects and safely eat a bug. Text may include affiliate links
I'm Mic. I love reading about, writing about, thinking about, photographing, and especially eating, food. Especially bug food. Enough talk, let's eat!