Insect cuisine is popular in Thailand, where insect farms are booming as farmers try to keep up with demand by breeding cricket snacks and ant-egg omelet meals to satisfy this growing market. And, lucky you, the bug-eating trend is going international!
Who’d eat insects, you ask? Me, of course!
Don’t act so surprised. Japan has a history of devouring insects and other fun fare, referred to as getemono or, inferior foods. While most Japanese people will turn their noses up at such “delicacies” they probably won’t deny that restaurants, called getemonoya, were once common and that during war times, eating such food was often necessary. The good news is that Jiminy Cricket actually tastes pretty good! And, he’s nutritious.
Join our vegetarian, insect-eating reporter as she crunches and munches her way through some of Japan’s finest insect cuisine that we promise you won’t find in the Michelin Guide.
If you’re curious as to what edible insects taste like, you’re lucky, because although getemonoya restaurants have all but disappeared in Japan, there is one chain restaurant that still retains some of these delicacies. If you’re near a major city, there is bound to be a Hanbey Restaurant close by. I grabbed my reluctant husband and dragged him to one in Okayama City located in front of the train station. It was still rather nondescript however, located on the fifth floor of a building down a side street. But be warned: you’ll need a reservation to get a table at Hanbey. It’s a very popular place.
Going up to the restaurant was kind of creepy, like we were going into some shady place, some place dirty that was infested with cockroaches, for example. I rehearsed my spiel: “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup!”
On the fifth floor, outside the restaurant, you are greeted with this sign advertising mosquito-repellent coils. Makes you wonder exactly what kind of insects they’re serving up tonight.
Perhaps we should have brought insect spray. Most kitchens have a plethora of insects living in them already so it’s probably more just a matter of catching them. Maybe you spray your own insects and when they fall onto your plate, it’s your turn to dive in.
The atmosphere of Hanbey restaurant is loud and fun and the place is full of random memorabilia. This had an immediate effect on my husband, who for the first time became cheery at the prospect of eating household pests.
▼ Look, there’s Astro Boy!
Oh, they’ve brought us an English menu. Everything is inexpensive, about US$1.00 or less!
There’s something for everyone, including those with a hankering for raw uterus.
▼Uterus is going cheap–just 70 yen (64 cents). And I’d be a little leary of the “and so on” component of the “Assorted raw guts”
I’m not sure whose uteruses they’re serving, but there is another entry on the menu for those who know they specifically want pig uterus.
▼ For those who have always wondered what happens when pigs get hysterectomies.
Let’s just hope this stuff is not mislabeled and that some foreign uterus-smuggling scandal doesn’t ensue.
Needless to say, by this time, insects were beginning to sound pretty good! They almost seemed completely normal.
I asked the waiter which getemono he recommended and he said inago (grasshoppers), hachinoko (bee larvae) and medaka, a miniscule fish. Luckily, he didn’t say “and so on.” Grasshoppers are very close to crickets, and indeed, even look like them.
I learned a long time ago that the safest way to try new foods in Japan is with a large beer. Beer makes even the worst things taste okay. The cabbage, however is something they serve to everyone who takes a seat.
▼ Ready for the bug fest to begin!
While we’re waiting for the creepy crawlies to arrive, let’s look at some nutritional information about them:
inago has many translations: grasshopper, locust and sometimes, cricket. At any rate, they all seem to have similar nutritious values.
▼Are you a grasshopper, a locust or a cricket?
Hachinoko translates as “bee children” and means bee larvae.
▼Hey bee, may I eat your children?
Medaka is a tiny fish that many Japanese people keep in fish bowls like goldfish.
▼Now you know what to do with your pet medaka when you want to get rid of them.
Oh, the grub has arrived! Now we get to see what it looks like in its culinary form.
▼ Ohhhhh, yuuuuuuck!
The insects are served on a bed of shredded cabbage. The stuff at the top is medaka. To the left is bee larvae and at the bottom are the grasshoppers. My husband and I oooohed and eeeehhhd appropriately when presented with the specimens on the plate. Too bad they don’t look as appetizing as the previous images! Marveling at the inago, I asked the waiter if they were delivered to the restaurant in frozen form. “No,” he said, “They come in a jar.” Oh dear.
Let’s take a closer look at the offerings.
▼inago–looks like a cricket to me!
▼ medaka, previous pet fish
▼ hachinoko, or, bee larvae
While the flavor was similar among them the biggest difference was texture. The grasshoppers were super crunchy, like Rice Crispies, the bee larvae was soft and mildly chewy like rice, and the medaka were somewhere in between. They were all, however, genuinely delicious!
And only domestic insects were used, according to the waiter. That means you can surely make them at home!
We were feeling a little more adventurous now with our new dinner mates, so decided to garnish our fries with some protein.
▼ Finally, healthy fries!
Needless to say, my husband and I were starting to attract attention from the girls sitting next to us. We offered them some insects, but they politely declined.
They introduced themselves as Risako and Nanako. They had met in high school but hadn’t seen each other in two years. This seemed a grand occasion, enough for them to boldly order frog! “Let’s try frog together,” they said.
I flagged down the waiter and ordered frog. “Just one leg?” said the waiter. “Two legs,” Risako assured him
We were sitting at the bar, and the kitchen was right in front of us so I could easily talk to the chef. As the frog was being cooked, I heard a faint croaky voice calling out, “Miss Piggy, save me!” Even more surprising though, was the answer: “Just a moment Kermit, I’m looking for my uterus. Have you seen it lately?”
I’ve had frog before in Indonesia, where they eat it for breakfast (by going out into the fields and catching it fresh in the early hours). I don’t know what they do after that, but you end up with a plate full of frog legs. Not in Japan. I wasn’t really expecting this: deep-fried frog!
▼Frog tempura. Oh, my!
We turned the frog over to see if it would look any better but now it looked borderline pornographic: frog butt and legs.
▼ I am so sorry, Kermit!
▼ Nanako (left) and Risako (right) posing with the victim.
This frog seemed inordinately large. And although I’ve never seen such large frogs in Japan, the cook assured me that this amphibian was Japanese. None of the four of us knew how to properly eat frog torso and appendages, so I suggested we break it apart like a wishbone. Risako and I, taking one leg each, puuuuuuulled:
Lastly, we ordered dessert. Disappointed that chocolate covered ants weren’t on the menu, my husband ordered oppai ice cream, which is really very sensual–if you believe in Voodoo dolls.
▼ Oppai ice cream, or “breast ice cream”
▼ But the end result is enough to make you cry.
This was surely one of the most memorable dining experiences I’ve ever had in Japan. It was the perfect mix of atmosphere, food, and hobnobbing with the locals. So get out there and ride the international gourmet entomophagy (consumption of insects as food). Find a Hanbey restaurant near you! And don’t forget to try the raw uterus.
If the above foods seem pedestrian to you, then spread your insect wings a bit and read about some far odder Asian delicacies here.
And share your home insect recipes or other odd tastings with us in the comments section! We dare you…
Feature image: Wikipedia
All others © Amy Chavez/RocketNews24 unless otherwise noted