Tastes Like … Watermelon?

Before Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain, there was Renfield. If you’ve read, or seen, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, you might recall him as the vampire’s sidekick with a mad craving for bugs, particularly flies. I remember seeing Dracula in the theater and when Renfield downed his first fly, the audience let out a collective, “Ew!” Oddly, there were no such similar sounds when Dracula drained his first human.

Why do Americans have such an aversion to eating bugs? Even though I’ve inadvertently eaten many bugs while laughing out loud on a summer night and have even sampled a tequila worm or two, I can’t watch Andrew Zimmern for fear that he will start munching on a spider. When I stop and think about it, though, it’s rather ridiculous. I certainly don’t look at a cow or a pig and think “yum.” Can you imagine sinking your teeth into a pig carcass? Yet once the butcher chops that baby up and breaks it into its delectable parts, the idea begins to sound more appetizing.  Next we cure it (bacon!) or add salt and a marinade, stick it on the grill and salivate at the smell and sight of a melt-in-your mouth pork tenderloin. It’s a long journey from pig in a pen to maple-glazed pork and we’re willing to go there. Why can’t we take this same leap with bugs?

My friend and neighbor, Josh Selle, has taken that leap and has nothing but good things to say about eating our eight (or more) legged friends. As owner and chef of the former Blue Elephant, Josh knows a thing or two about eating bugs. The Blue Elephant, its former locale being the current Duck and Bunny, was known for its unique breakfast and lunch selections.  His more daring diners showed up at night for the occasional “Thorax Thursday,” when the chef would serve up an entrée with a bug of choice as the featured protein. Though never a line at the door, a small group of devotees attended regularly, always willing to try something new; the most popular dish was roasted Thai water beetles served over a bed of greens.

When I asked why this dish was so popular, he explained that the Thai water beetle, which has the consistency of lobster, tastes strangely like watermelon. My thought – why not just eat watermelon? Then again, I am loath even to try buffalo so my opinion is probably irrelevant here.  Another popular dish:  silkworm grubs sautéed in butter and served over pasta in a creamy Alfredo sauce. The grubs resemble potato gnocchi and taste like mushrooms. Gag me with a spoon. For the record, Josh doesn’t care for this dish, but only because he doesn’t like mushrooms.

Next I asked him about his favorite bug. “The stink bug,” he told me emphatically. Named for its odorific innards of iodine, the stink bug takes on the consistency of popcorn when roasted. Put it in a pan with butter and salt, pop in a DVD, and movie night just got a whole lot more interesting.

What’s one bug he’ll never eat? Cockroaches. “Too dirty,” he explained, as if this needed explaining. I guess it’s true – those disease-ridden bastards truly are good for nothing. Bees aren’t high on his list either, given that they’re endangered and all. As we talked, though, I could see the wheels turning as he dreamed up recipes for stinger-less hornets.

Is bug-eating the wave of the future? Sustainability issues may force us to expand our food repertoire to include eating protein sources that currently don’t sound so appetizing.   After all, those cow farts are pretty damning to the environment. Perhaps someday I’ll find myself noshing on a Thai beetle or two. This sounds highly unlikely for a non-adventurous eater like me, but one never knows. If you, on the other hand, are curious about trying bugs, check out Eat a Bug Cookbook: 40 Ways to Cook Crickets, Grasshoppers, Ants, Water Bugs, Spiders, Centipedes and Their Kin. Then visit smallstockfoods.com, a local place to buy your bugs. Just stay away from those cockroaches.


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