A few weeks ago I was offered the chance to nip to London for BBC East Midlands’ Inside Out for the Great Food Club magazine. The offer was entomophagy (which, to you and I, is eating insects). How could I resist? Actually, I was intrigued, sounded like a blast, (I’m easy pleased…) so I didn’t need asking twice and this Sunday I headed down for tea.
On the serious side, the programme is considering whether or not we should increase our consumption of insects in an effort to feed the growing world population and reduce the negative environmental impacts of farming animals. Insects are highly nutritious, low in fat and high in protein and are, in fact, already eaten in many parts of the world, and have been for Millennia. The extent to which their value can be captured on an industrial scale to provide a protein source either on their own or as part of animal feed or human food production is not yet clear, but in the West, and Europe in particular, probably the single biggest reason why this cheap and nutritious protein is not used (apart from for entertainment, “I’m a Celebrity” style), is primarily the “disgust” factor. We, generally, find the idea of eating bugs pretty revolting.
So, with that happy thought in mind, I joined Mike Dilger (ecologist and TV presenter) at the critically acclaimed Farang restaurant in London’s Highbury Park for their pop-up “Eat Grub” event. To be fair, I eat prawns, happily demolish crabs, love oysters and I taught my daughter to get a winkle out a shell with pin before she could walk, so rationally, surely, I could cope with a cricket? It’s just a question of the right frame of mind…
Farang Owner, Shami Radia, is determined to prove to people that, prepared well, using imaginative and exciting flavours, they will come to love eating insects. To that end, he has teamed up with the exceptionally talented chef Seb Holmes (the guy behind Smoking Goat, see my previous blog) who specialises in truly excellent Thai food.
The menu consisted of a variety of grasshoppers, crickets and worms, served in Thai Street Food style and accompanied by drinks with such additions as cricket powder and insect marmalade. We started with a salty snack of Pandan Crickets, and followed this with cricket flour Miang served in a Betel leaf (with fresh ginger, chilli, peanuts & coconut), tempura grasshoppers, a Som Tham salad with roast crickets and a vermicelli salad with meal and buffalo worms.
As we were filming, I wasn’t able to take as many pictures as I would have liked. But the Pandan cricket dish looked essentially like a bowl of salty dead insects with some green leaves, which indeed is what it was. It wasn’t unpleasant, might even be preferable to something like (always too salty), salted peanuts, certainly an improvement on the hideous “Bombay mix” . But still, there is an aftertaste of what I now think of as “insect” that is a little unexpected/odd, a kind of earthy, maybe residual fungi aspect?. This is a new flavour for me and has greatly expanded my lexicon for describing food. I can now say, with some assurance, that food item X tastes “like insects”.
Next up the Miang. I really liked this, I think possibly the chilli was my friend in this dish. Although I’m not sure how elegant being asked by the producer to eat the, not insubstantial, serving in one go will look on screen (perhaps they won’t use that bit….). The salted cricket and smoked tomato Som Tam salad (no photo) was also really enjoyable.
The Tempura Grasshoppers (no photo) had the added frisson of Mike explaining to me that the crunchy bit (think water chestnut) that came after the slightly dusty bit, was the “thorax, they have a big thorax”….thanks for that. Still there isn’t much that can’t be improved by being battered and dipped in sweet chilli sauce, and that goes for grasshoppers too.
Got to admit the worms were a bit more of a challenge. But I won’t give too much away (that just wouldn’t be cricket, lol) you’ll need to tune in to see how it went.
I had an enjoyable time, and it is certainly true that insects can clearly be used in tasty dishes, as much of the rest of the world is already aware, and when you have a talented chef, who can use flavours like Seb Holmes you can be sure that you will be eating something pretty special. You’ve got to applaud the vision of the team behind this pop-up and the message about sustainable food sources for the future is an important one.
I’m not entirely convinced, however, that I will be swapping my meat for bugs on a regular basis any time soon…
This feature will be shown on BBC East Midlands Inside Out and London Inside Out sometime before Christmas, I’ll let you know when!