The latest and greatest food trend for 2014 might just be bugs. Somehow, someway, little creepies like mealworms, chapulines (grasshoppers), beetles, crickets and other insects are ending up on restaurant dishes across the world. While anyone who's ever been served a cockroach at a dodgy all-night diner might not find the fact that bugs get served at restaurants terribly surprising, what is shocking is that gourmet chefs are actually serving bugs on purpose.
Eating bugs sounds strange (at best) to diners from the U.S., but the practice is fairly common in most parts of the world. Latin American street food has long featured chili-covered roasted grasshoppers (which are supposed to be good as long as you can get past their legs), and several dishes in Asia and Africa feature protein- and nutrient-rich bugs. Frankly, given the internationalization of cuisine and the fact that the price of traditional proteins is only going to continue to rise, it's very possible that bugs will soon be on menus everywhere. And if that's true, what will that look like, and how exactly should we eat these critters?
There are a number of reasons to feast on bugs. Historically one of the reasons people ate bugs was that they were plentiful, inexpensive storehouses of the nutrients our bodies need to function. Even the poorest families could afford to hunt bugs and eat them, but that's not the only reason. Some bugs (such as the aforementioned grasshoppers) are considered gourmet treats with a variety of superior flavors. Still, for the modern eater who worries less about the food supply, eating bugs might sound gross even though those creatures are still full of the things we need for life. Better yet, bugs can be mass produced for a fraction of the environmental and financial impact.
If you're swayed to eat bugs because of their nutritional, environmental, fiscal or culinary benefits, there's still the challenge of how to eat the little beasties. No matter how open minded you might be, you may find yourself staring down at a plate of mealworms and having some serious second thoughts.
If so, that's OK. That's why instead of ordering a platter of bugs, try to find ways to eat them so they're concealed until you get used to the idea that you're eating what you're eating. This can be as simple as wrapping the bugs in a tortilla or putting them in bread, but it might also mean grinding them into flour or into meatballs.
If all that fails, you can always deep-fry them and serve them with Sriracha sauce. Fried foods covered in Sriracha sauce are always better. Always.
Frankly, the practice of eating bugs has all the hallmarks of a food trend that just won't make it in America. While we can tolerate the idea of overprocessed pink slime meat from a fast food restaurant, eating food-grade bugs (yes, bugs bred for the purpose of being eaten) seems far too disgusting. However, there may be a small but vocal minority in such places as Paris, London, St. Louis and New York City that prepares bugs in enough delicious ways (wrapped in bacon, perhaps?) that get us to sit up and take notice.
If that happens, perhaps American mouths will be opened to a new taste sensation, an eating experience full of new textures and ingredients and a meal that's good for them and for the environment too.
Want to try making bugs on your own? If you can source the bugs properly (as in buy them from a store, not catch them outside), then here are some recipes you can enjoy at home.
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