Hakuna Matata: Learning To Eat Bugs

I was not born an epicure; it has been a relatively slow evolutionary process. When I was young, I eschewed many foods I now love, such as: most vegetables, Mexican cuisine or any type of meat off the bone. Luckily, I grew out of my pickiness and now I am eager to stuff myself with organs, raw meat, marrow, you name it — anything edible is fair game.

Still, there are a few final hurdles I have yet to wrap my head (and mouth!) around. For example, while the nutritional value and sustainability of insects as food has been fairly well documented, the idea has never been at the top of my culinary to-do list. So when I received a coveted invite to the opening of Poquitos, a new restaurant in Seattle touting ultra-authentic Mexican street food, I knew I had to pay them a visit and sample their most notable menu offering: chapulines. Time to eat me some BUGS!

Before Poquitos, I was a virgin in the bug devouring department (except for that urban legend about the average human unintentionally eating eight spiders a year, which makes me want to die just thinking about it). My only “experience” with intentional bug eating heretofore was watching that “Hakuna Matata” scene in The Lion King: “Slimy yet satisfying!”

I honestly had no idea what to expect when I ordered my chapulines, but I knew I needed to have a margarita at the ready. Besides my lifelong vendetta against spiders, I’m not terrified of other bugs. But the prospect of putting a whole insect in my mouth wasn’t exactly delightful either. Especially when my lovely server deposited a huge bowl of them right in front of me. When Matt, one of Poquitos’ co-owners, stopped by my table to check in, I pulled him off the busy floor for a quick chat re: Mexican bugs. I needed to know what I was in for.

Emily: Okay, seriously. Are they good?
Matt: You know what, they actually are pretty good! At first the texture is a little weird, but you just have to get over it, and then they’re really nice. A good bar snack.
E: Hmm, way to make it sound appealing.
M: No, you’ll like them. At first we were going to put them out at the bar, like peanuts or something. Then we thought we would offer them as an appetizer on the menu, but right now we’re just trying them out as a special. Right now it’s $3 for a bowlful, but we might reduce the portion size and sell a small handful’s worth for $1.50 or something.
E: Yeah, how many grasshoppers can a person really eat, right?
M: Yes, but the thing is, we have to be careful with pricing because they’re really expensive for us to source! We get them directly from Mexico.
E: Whoa, you do? Seriously? You can’t just pick up a sack from the pet store or something?
M: What?? No… sick.
E: So you really get them all the way from Mexico?
M: Yep, we fly them up here, but they’re unprepared. Our chef actually prepares them in-house here.
E: Wow, I had no idea. Well, bottoms up.

My first chapulín was crunchy on the outside, a bit spongy on the inside and overwhelmingly vinegary. I didn’t hate it, but it left an overwhelming sensation of bitterness and chalkiness in my mouth that had to be cleansed by my aforementioned marg.

The taste and texture weren’t anything too outrageous. The most off-putting aspect of the situation was how realistically buggy the chapulines looked! Legs and all.

My conversation with Matt made a lot of sense; while I enjoyed my little hoppers well enough, a couple of them would do the trick. There was no way my dining companion and I would be able to mow through the entire dish. The best way I found to devour these bad boys was to “sneak” them in with bites of my guac or tuck them into my fantastic tacos al pastor, kind of like giving a dog a pill covered in peanut butter.

Despite my best efforts, I had a ton of chapulines left. I asked my server if she could pack them up to go. She asked what I was going to do with the leftovers and I told her, “I’m gonna play tricks on my friends!” (Because I am a mature adult woman.)

I was at a dinner party the next night and I conned some friends into trying my grasshoppers using the ol’ Open your mouth and close your eyes and you will get a big surprise move. The chapulines elicited responses such as: “They taste like old raisins,” and “It’s like that trailmix we had with those weird blueberries.”

So there you have it. If you’re afraid to eat bugs, don’t worry, they just taste like vinegar and old/weird dried fruit. I’m sure you’ve had worse things in your lifetime. If it’s good enough for Simba, it’s good enough for me!

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  • gansie April 28, 2011  

    you are a brave girl! but would love some follow up from the chef. what exactly does the chef do to “prepare” the bug for eating?

  • miked April 28, 2011  

    in Oaxaca, where most interesting Mexican food arguably originates, chapulines are a common sight in markets, where the senoras sell little baggies of them. They cook them up in a big metal wok shaped pan that sits on top of a charcoal fire. I don’t remember a vinegar flavor… lots of salt an chile though. I never got in to eating them like peanuts, but do like me a good chapulin taco!

  • gansie April 28, 2011  

    @miked – wait, so its one whole taco dedicated to a bug filling?

  • miked April 28, 2011  

    sure … along with whatever else you’re gonna throw in your taco. One place I remember on the zocalo in Oaxaca city serves a giant plate filled with several different types do meat, cheeses, chapulines, chiles, 4 or 5 types of salsa (incl. guacamole–very different from norteno guac) and stacks of little tortillas. I think this would be a good way for Poquitos to serve them–makes it a bit easier for the somewhat squeamish to take the plunge (poquito a poco, you might say).

  • Jacques April 28, 2011  

    Anyone in DC should check out the Tacos Chapulines at Oyamel in Penn Quarter — they’re chopped up (and mostly legs, I think) in the tacos, so you get more of the crispy texture than anything else.

    And it will definitely impress (or gross out) your friends!

  • Emily April 28, 2011  

    @gansie Yeah, I’m interested to know about the exact preparation process, pretty sure it’s some combo of roasting and spicing… maybe he didn’t go into detail with me because it’s a “secret recipe” kinda like the colonel & KFC. I will investigate further next time I pop in.

  • erica April 28, 2011  

    the legs are where all the fiber is! ’cause you know… bugs are fibrous like kale 😉

  • Bee April 28, 2011  

    You are so brave! I’d try them once, but probably that would do it for me unless they were amazingly delicious. Wonder how many they sell there?

  • Rochelle April 29, 2011  

    You need an alter ego name for this new dangerous side of you – Bianca fits. I still don’t know if I have a stomach for this, but applaud your efforts.

    Bottoms up!

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