“Waiter, there’s soup in my bugs”

Jeff Gordinier writes, in the NY Times, about dining on insects: (after all, one can’t be banging on about raw milk ALL the time)

Illustration from the New York Times story

“SOMETHING happened when Kisha Moorehead looked into the bowl of live worms.

She was midway through a five-course Mexican feast at the Brooklyn Kitchen in Williamsburg last Saturday night, a meal engineered to introduce New Yorkers to the succulent wonders of edible insects. Throughout the first couple of courses (yucca frites dotted with mealworms, a smoked corn custard sprinkled with crispy moth larvae), Ms. Moorehead’s response had been muted. Earlier that evening, in fact, out on the sidewalk, she and her date, Harold Bradley, had considered fleeing the event altogether, even though they’d spent $85 each.

“We kept asking ourselves: ‘Are you ready? Do you want to turn back?’ ” Mr. Bradley said.

But they stayed, and at some point during dinner a bowl of squirming wax moth larvae was passed around. Ms. Moorehead, 38, who most days can be found driving the morning G train, dived in. “They’re moving,” she said. “Oh, I want to try that. Oh! Oh!”

Suddenly almost trembling with excitement, she stuck her fingers into the bowl, grabbed a pale yellow worm, popped it into her mouth and munched down. She closed her eyes. She seemed to swoon.

“I ain’t gonna do that,” Mr. Bradley said.

“Just try one, please,” Ms. Moorehead said.

“It tastes like raw corn,” a fellow diner, Alfredo Lamus, said from across the table.

“Just try it,” Ms. Moorehead said gently.

Mr. Bradley, a police officer, wedged one between his teeth, scrunched up his face, and flailed his arms around in what looked like a genuine spasm of repulsion.

But Ms. Moorehead, who has such a potent phobia about the animal kingdom that she refuses even to pet dogs and cats — well, after having ingested that worm, it was clear that she had crossed a threshold. She beamed like someone who had just walked barefoot over hot coals.

“I’m so glad I did it,” she said. “Because that’s why I came here. I overcame something. If I can do this, I can do anything.”

Phil Ross, the San Francisco-based chef and artist who put together this and other insect smorgasbords, said he sees that kind of reaction all the time.

“People barely need help over the hump,” he said. “As soon as they taste them and they realize that the flavor is actually really good, all the other stuff just goes out the window very fast, and a whole lot of other things start entering. Transgression of one taboo leads to all kinds of other possibilities.”

Mr. Ross is wiry and intense and comes across like a 44-year-old version of Ferris Bueller — if “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” had been directed by, say, David Lynch. (Mr. Ross describes himself as the kind of guy who “gets a pizza with cockroaches on it — intentionally.”) He raises many of the worms in his San Francisco apartment.

His girlfriend, the artist Monica Martinez, builds miniature Bauhaus-style cottages and apartment complexes, and the bugs live rent-free. (These whimsical structures are on display until Oct. 15 at the EyeLevel BQE exhibition space, right around the corner from the Brooklyn Kitchen.)

You really want to go green? Try this. “I have my month’s meat growing in my office,” Mr. Ross said. “It’s taking up almost no space, it’s organically raised, it’s as fresh as I want it to be and the waste from it is garden compost.”

Mr. Ross first brought a group of San Franciscans together to chow down on cooked insects a year ago, and he was surprised when the guests started buzzing around him for raw samples. “I was like, ‘O.K., go for it,’ ” he said. “And then that just led to this very weird erotism moment when people were practically hugging each other while eating these live insects.” The spirit of the moment overflowed, leading, in a few cases, to groping and kissing in a corner.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” he said.

No such love-in transpired among the 40 or so diners at the Brooklyn Kitchen. This is New York, after all. But since the event was simultaneously a history lesson, a lavish meal and an act of performance art, you could hear a lot of talk about edible insects as a vehicle for personal and cultural transformation. As Mr. Lamus put it, “You get to know the world when you get to know the food.”

Mr. Ross said his own doors of perception were blasted open about 20 years ago, when he was traveling through countries like Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Madagascar. These were places where snacking on insects “was the most normal thing in the world,” he said. “People would eat them right out of the ground. There would be, like, a swarm of locusty-type things and kids would burst out of school and start devouring them on the spot. It was like watching popcorn fly through the air, for them. It turns your world upside down a little bit.”

In most cultures outside of North America and Western Europe, tiny many-legged creatures are a delicacy, and an important source of protein. Here in the United States they represent the growing realm of gastronomic spelunking: Sure, you’re open to offal, menudo and mucilaginous Japanese yamaimo, but can you really call yourself a fearless foodie if your taste buds have never tangoed with the rotted-palm grubs of Uganda (yes, they’re dug out of the pulpy trunks of dead trees), or Chinese scorpion soup or Mexican stink-bug pâté?

Indeed, Ms. Moorehead said she’d been inspired to come to the Brooklyn Kitchen after becoming a fan of “Bizarre Foods,” Andrew Zimmern’s globe-trotting, anything-eating show on the Travel Channel. Get Mr. Zimmern on the topic of bug-eating and he, like many other evangelists for the practice, can sound like Timothy Leary touting the consciousness-expanding properties of LSD. “Because the psychological handicap is so intense in our culture when it comes to food,” Mr. Zimmern said in a phone interview, “for people who flip the light switch and head on down the hallway with alternative foods, the bliss factor is quadrupled.”

Mr. Zimmern can rattle off a nauseating litany of bliss, from eating tarantulas in Cambodia to stir-fried bees in Taiwan. He loves the chapulines — little fried grasshoppers — of Oaxaca. (They’re a consistently popular item at the Manhattan restaurant Toloache, where they’re served in tacos.)

“They’re crunchy but they’re kind of soft in a beef jerky way,” said Mr. Zimmern, who once worked with Thomas Keller. “They’re heavily flavored with lime and salt, and they’re the perfect bar snack. You can’t stop eating them. Sautéed silkworm larvae in Thailand are pliant, they’re like little pillows. They remind me of gnocchi. And they have this earthy, loamy, mushroomy flavor. Eaten on their own, they’re good. Sautéed with ginger and scallions, they’re out of control.”…”

Read the whole thing on the NY Times website (may require free signup).

1 Comment

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One response to ““Waiter, there’s soup in my bugs”

  1. thebovine

    Gee, I wonder if it’s “safe” to eat bugs….

    I mean, just because they do it other countries doesn’t mean we should allow it here in the “civilized” world!

    Perhaps it won’t be an issue until the market grows to the point where we have supply management through an “insect producer’s marketing board”. People could be prosecuted for raising insects without the proper license. Just think of the potential revenue stream!

    Then it could be deemed “unsafe” to consume insects produced under unregulated conditions. Who know what germs those unregulated bugs may be harboring. If your bug raising facility hasn’t got a HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) plan in place, who’s going to want to eat your bugs anyway?

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