Picture me in Philadelphia, sitting at an antique bar in the Mexican restaurant Tequilas: I am hunched up on the barstool drinking a Negra Modelo and keeping one eye on the TV as the hometown team plays a World Series game in the driving rain. I’d selected a couple of bar snacks to go with the beer. One was a poblano chile, lightly battered and stuffed with fresh huitlacoche, the edible corn smut that is often compared to truffles. It was delicious.
Then the second snack arrived, a pair of tacos made with soft fresh corn tortillas, flopping open to reveal a dozen nearly intact insect bodies—heads, antennae, and all. I’d ordered the tacos de chapulines, a plebian delicacy of grasshopper tacos that can be bought from carts in Mexico City. Grasshoppers are also popular in Oaxaca and Chiapas, but are more often served as a snack. A little web research indicates that, pound for pound, the protein content of the hopping insects is twice that of beef, and they contain plenty of other nutrients as well.
As you can imagine, I was a bit apprehensive as I bit down on the first taco. The insects were salty and, of course, crunchy, but they were also meaty in an odd sort of way. They had been rubbed with red chile powder prior to sautéing, and the tacos were dressed with a smear of guacamole, a few fronds of cilantro, and some chopped sweet onion. Really, if I’d closed my eyes, the stuffing wasn’t all that different from, say, the pork tidbits called carnitas—though, as my friend Jonathan Gold points out, every once in a while you get one that’s still gooey inside. That’s not so good. As I ate, I wondered if insects might not be an important food of the future. I’m not alone in thinking this—as reported on MSNBC, farmers near Mexico City are rethinking their crop rotations and planting cheap corn as an incentive to grasshopper infestation, transforming what would normally be considered a pest into a lucrative cash crop.
I signaled to the bartender, and when he arrived, I ordered another beer—and another brace of grasshopper tacos, hoping I wouldn’t get a gooey one.