In a food culture that constantly seeks out the rare and arcane, insects constitute the final frontier. Though you can readily find pig ears, fiddleheads, sea urchins, foie gras, and truffles on menus all over town, season permitting, where would you go to find bugs?
Every year, it seems, there’s a feature in the Times about one learned society or another mounting a feast based on insects, served in the drafty halls of museums and academies, and attended by zoologists and thrill seekers. But when will we see bugs burrowing out of normal restaurants menus? After all, they’re a dependable source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, and easily fit into the sustainable category due to their extreme numbers and indefatigable dispositions. What’s more, at least some of them are reputed to taste good, or at least provide a dependable crunch.
Sure, you can find the occasional bag of grasshoppers to sprinkle on your taco at local bodegas, and there’s a Japanese restaurant or two in town that serves crickets seasonally, but these are only the earliest stirrings. Bugs are the food of the future, and, to get the ball rolling, we’ve researched the greatest and best-tasting bug recipes from the last few millennia, and we provide the top 12 below. For the time being, you’ll have to make these dishes yourself, but chefs take note: Insects are bound to be in our culinary future.
12. Tequila worm lollipops — Drive anywhere in the American Southwest and find suckers for sale with all manner of worms and insects embedded in them, including scorpions, tarantulas, butterflies, and various insect larvae, among them the worm that one also finds in tequila bottles — a caterpillar hatched from an egg laid by a moth on the agave, which burrows into the cactus to feast on its sweet flesh.
11. Boiled cicadas — You know those giant flying beetles that make the chirping/scratching sound in the trees that can sound like a thousand buzz saws? Well, gathered at a young age before the carapace becomes too hard, and boiled for a minute, they taste just like clam-flavored potatoes (others say asparagus).
10. Locust flatbreads — The Roman historian Pliny relates that the Pithians caught live locusts, dried them, ground them into flour, and then fashioned pancakes out of them, which they cooked on a hot stone in the fire.
9. Caterpillar fungus tea — In Yunnan, ghost moth larvae are inoculated with a fungus that gradually grows to replace most of the grub. The dead-larva-plus-fungus is then soaked in hot water to make a refreshing and medicinal beverage.
8. Mealworm spaghetti — The coffee-table book Man Eating Bugs, by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio, offers a recipe in which live mealworms are placed atop a plate of spaghetti, pine nuts, butter, ricotta, and fresh herbs, and the worms squirm as you eat them. (This recipe is a little meta, insect-wise, like something a chef dreamed up.)
7. Vegetable curry with ant eggs — Throughout the Third World ants in one form or another provide nourishment. Jerry Hopkins, in his book Strange Foods, reports that he ate in a restaurant just outside of Bangkok where a sweet curry of local veggies came extensively garnished on top with ant eggs.
6. Parched corn and tayno kuro worms — Peruvians and Ecuadorians often snack on parched corn, which is a staple in the Andes, but an even bigger treat is enjoying the kernels with toasted tayno kuro worms. When cooked in a clay pot over a smoky fire, these insect larvae taste like charred hot dog.
5. Bloodwood galls — In the Aboriginal territories of Australia, an insect called Apiomorpha pomiformis burrows inside the stem of the bloodwood tree and lays an egg inside. Her activities cause the irritated bark to form a fluffy growth, or “gall,” at the point of entry, which the Aborigines pull off to find a teaspoonful of sweet juice and a squirming, succulent larva inside. Sounds like a great cocktail snack!
4. Water bugs in green coconut curry — You’ve got to admit, they look like our own giant cockroaches. I’ve had them at a rather obscure Thai restaurant in Queens (don’t want to mention the name, because it might not be strictly legal), swimming with chile peppers and long beans in the murky green fluid, providing more snap and chew than actual flavor. And, gee, doesn’t it look fabulous when you see one sticking out of a friend’s mouth?
3. Locust egg soup — South African tribespeople, in addition to roasting locusts and other orthoptera, retain the eggs separately to make a coffee-colored soup flavored with local herbs, and the taste is reportedly addicting.
2. Chocolate-covered crickets — Chocolate makes everything taste better, right? In the 1950s and ’60s, chocolate-covered ants were a staple of cocktail-party chatter, and in the age of Ad Men, many a suburbanite was exposed to them. Crickets actually make better vehicles for the chocolate, crunchier and fleshier — in a good way, of course.
1. Raw waxworms — These caterpillars are an annoyance to beekeepers — they gobble the honey and comb in the valuable hives — but it’s this diet that renders them the sweetest insects on earth, according to the National Geographic website. The worms are best gobbled right out of the hives raw, so be on the lookout for angry beekeepers and hives with lids flung open.