Over the past 10 years I’ve enjoyed a wide diversity of bugs at our second home in a small village in Eastern Thailand. Coming from a culture that generally harbours a strong dislike for insects and never been exposed to eating them growing up, it was a shock when I first saw vendors selling these in the streets of Bangkok. Then it became a dare among friends to see who could eat the most disgusting looking insect, larvae or worm. I typically won those dares.
Eventually I learned that a number of insects are common place in villages especially in the northern part of Thailand and as I traveled more internationally I tried insects all over Asia, South America and parts of Africa. But what really got me over the cultural hump of eating insects was in our village in Thailand where they can be a daily part of the day’s diet. One of our neighbors maintained a small cricket farm. After eating platefuls of insects, by now I no longer feel that tinge of revulsion that I used to. After becoming familiar with eating certain insects – they are now just another part of the meal.
How many years until the USA Market sees a demand for insects or insect restaurants? Or will this ever happen? For now it seems like the idea of a restaurant focusing on insects is more of a novelty. But perhaps that will change. With the large numbers of immigrant populations in the country from countries where eating insects is culturally and economically relevant it seems there could and should be a market here.
To date, it seems like availability is only in ‘bits of bugs’ with a number of restaurants in the USA selectively dabbling in one or two dishes but no restaurant that I know of that has elevated the art of insect cuisine to the next level. New York would probably be the most likely city to foster such a restaurant. Los Angeles would also be a likely candidate with it’s population and diversity of people. And perhaps with more USA based online vendors selling insects in the last few years, perhaps more restaurants will start focusing on insects.
I was in Raleigh a few years ago and was surprised to discover the annual ‘Bug Fest’ held at the Museum of Natural Sciences: www.bugfest.org While not culinary specific in focus they certainly attract the crowds with some 30,000+ attending annually – and is a good venue for raising awareness about insects.
Changing cultural and culinary resistance to eating insects in the USA is certainly challenging and perhaps will come slowly. From a business perspective it may make more sense to open a restaurant such as this in a neighborhood where the inhabitants are already familiar and comfortable with eating insects.
And of course the repulsion to eating insects comes from how they look – therefore it would make sense to prepare insect based dishes in ways that are not visually repulsive (powder, use of certain parts, chopped up etc). Bug appetizers, bug chili, bug tostados, bug ice cream. Mmm, the list is endless!
When I purchase insects abroad, they are fairly inexpensive. They are good sources of protein, can be in plentiful supply and a number of insect types certainly could be farm raised.
I’ve long wondered about starting an insect farm and selling various products to related restaurants. Perhaps the next culinary wave in the United States will be centered around insects.
For more information on eating insects reference the following sites:
The Gateway Bug Film: www.kickstarter.com/projects/thegatewaybug/the-gateway-bug
One woman’s quest to raise awareness about eating insects: www.girlmeetsbug.com
First insect focused restaurant in the UK: www.grubkitchen.co.uk
First Food Grade Cricket Farm in USA: www.bigcricketfarms.com
Thoughts on this:
Are you repulsed by eating insects? Favorite edible insect story? Any insect restaurant suggestions? Will we see more opportunities for eating insects in the USA? Will there be an insect fast food chain at some point, perhaps titled something like “Hop to Bite” or “Grub to Go” or “Bug Out”?