Mod daeng

Ark of taste
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The weaver ant (Oecophylla spp.) is found across the northeast of Thailand, and is so named because it builds its nest by weaving together leaves with larval silk. It is known locally as mod daeng, which means “red ant” in Thai.

While most often collected from wild tree trunks, these ants are increasingly being farmed in home gardens, typically using mango trees. They are collected once a year during the dry season, which lasts from February until May. This is the period when the ant nests are full of eggs, larvae, and pupae. Bamboo sticks with bags attached to the ends are used for harvest: A hole is poked into the nest, which is then shaken, making the larvae and pupae fall into the bag. Once full, the bag is emptied into a basket. Rice flour or tapioca is applied to the inside of the basket to keep the ants from crawling up the walls and escaping or stinging the harvester.

The harvest and consumption of mod daeng are strongly connected to local customs: There are several traditional dances and songs that tell of episodes linked to gathering ant eggs. Unfortunately, populations of mod daeng are diminishing because of environmental pollution, mass use of pesticides, and habitat loss.

Mod daeng, in both egg and adult form, are among the most prized edible insects in Thailand due to their pleasant flavor, richness, and curative properties. They are rich in proteins, sugars, vitamins, mineral salts, and anti-inflammatories, and the high price that they fetch at market makes them an important part of local and regional economies.

These ants are prepared in different ways in the kitchen: They are fried whole or with eggs in a salad called yum khai mod daeng, or used in omelets. In the southern part of the country, there is a local sweet called tom kati kai mod daeng, based on ant eggs boiled in coconut milk.

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Nominated by:Alice Pettenò