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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Eating Insects in Asia

Market in Cambodia

I've been away from my blog for a few weeks while I've been traveling in Southeast Asia. One of my favorite things about traveling to different countries is trying new foods and discovering different food traditions.

In Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand I ate animals that are uncommon in the US, like snake, frog, eel, and crocodile, under-appreciated parts like tongue and intestine, and insects including ants, tarantulas, honeybee larvae, and crickets so large they looked like grasshoppers.

It turns out that insects can taste quite good. Fried, they're like any other crunchy snack. A bag of crickets can be as addicting as a bag of potato chips. Seriously.
Fried Crickets

Grilled larve are warm and soft, and they lend themselves well to dipping sauces like the traditional Cambodian mixture of fish sauce, fresh lime juice, minced lemongrass and chili pepper. Delicious.

Grilled Honeybee Larvae

Some say that tarantulas taste like crab or shrimp, but I didn't think so. The legs were crunchy, like shoestring potatoes, while the abdomens were soft and squishy with more of an earthy flavor.

Fried Tarantulas

Insects aren't only tasty, they're also nutritious and full of vitamins, minerals, healthy fat, and protein. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, most dried insects have twice the amount of protein found in raw meat and fish, and an equivalent amount of protein found in cooked meat and fish.

Bugs are also a plentiful, affordable, and sustainable food source with a small environmental footprint. According to a recent report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, crickets require 12 times less feed than cattle to produce the same amount of protein. And unlike livestock, they don't produce massive amounts of greenhouse gases that pollute the air or waste products that contaminate soil and waterways. Eating insects may be the answer to future food security all over the world.

Insects aren't yet common cuisine in the United States, but they are everyday food and even delicacies in cultures all over the world, from Asia and Africa to Latin and South America. The United Nations estimates that more than 2 billion people, or a third of the world's population, already eat insects and more than 1,900 species are edible.

You may not be able to find insects at your local market just yet, but they are popping up on restaurant menus around the country, from caterpillars and cicadas to beetles, locusts, and mealworms. Find grasshopper tacos at Tolache in New York City, scorpion starters at Typhoon in Santa Monica, chocolate-covered crickets at Don Bugito in San Francisco, and an entire bug buffet at the Audubon Insectarium's Bug App├ętit restaurant in New Orleans.

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