Where to Taste Your First Insect

Insects have been cuisine for as long as anyone can remember, so why haven’t you tried a few? Chances are you’ve never seen creepy crawlies as ready to eat, but that should change. Instead of waiting for the insect-as-cuisine movement to arrive at your adventurous eating club, it’s time to travel to where people know how to prepare and eat edible insects in nutritious and flavorful ways. 

Go ahead, be brave. You’ll only have to try one or two to know if you’re hooked. Here are nine countries where you might return home with a newfound taste for insect cooking: 

Fried grasshoppers [Thailand]

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Thailand | You know those munchies you inevitably feel when you reach the bottom of your beer glass? Instead of French fries or big pretzels, hungry Thais reach for spicy fried insects. Grasshoppers, crickets and woodworms are crispy, salty and spicy after they’ve been fried. You can find them on street corners, in markets and in bars. Insects are especially important to Thais from the northeastern part of the country. 

Fried bamboo worms, steamed water bugs and crickets are all important sources of protein when other food sources are scarce. Don’t be scared to try them all. Some people say they can taste like steak or melons or other more familiar food sources. 

Termites, an African delicacy [Ghana, Africa]

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Ghana | In Ghana, food isn’t usually plentiful during the spring. Everyone is planting, but the crops have not yet matured for eating. Luckily, spring rains soak the region and force termites to fly out of their earthen homes. Without their mounds to protect them, termites are sitting ducks to people with nets and traps. The resulting masses of termites can be roasted, fried or ground into flour to make a protein-rich bread. Cooked termites are said to taste a bit like carrots and there’s only one way to find out if this is true.  

Fried tarantulas for sale by the road [Cambodia]

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Cambodia | Cambodians enjoy many of the same insect bar and street foods as the Thais do, so you’ll find regional takes on grasshoppers, crickets and other critters. You’ll also find tarantula spiders served whole by market stalls and street vendors. 

Before you start convulsing with disgust, read on. Tarantulas are served fried in sugar and salt so they have the same sweet-salty appeal as crunchy caramel popcorn. When you try one, you’ll bite the crispy, salty legs first. Maybe save the gooey, soft center for last. If you like nuts and nutty flavors, you may be pleasantly surprised by this eight-legged delicacy. 

Fried grasshoppers at a market [Oaxaca, Mexico]

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Mexico | Everyone knows about the agave worm served in drinks of the Oaxacan liquor, Mezcal. These agave moth larva can be enjoyed deep fried, or canned to go into your drink later. Once you’ve swallowed your Mezcal and your agave worm, there’s a whole wide world of insect cuisine traditional to Mexico. 

Bite down on a crunchy deep-fried caterpillar. Indulge in a chocolate-covered locust. Taste chapulines which are grasshoppers served with chili and lime. If you thought the agave plant stopped giving with the agave worm, you haven’t tried Liometopum ant eggs which are harvested from the bases of agave plants and served fried in butter. 

Skewered silkworms, a Chinese delicacy [China]

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China | In China, you’ll find boiled, vinegar-soaked water bugs served on skewers much like the briny pickles at state fairs in the U.S. Despite the word “bug” in its name, this snack is actually much better for you than the typical fair food. With lots of protein and not much fat, the water bug could be the diet food we need. 

If it’s a cold day, you’ll want to skip the bugs-on-a-stick and go right for a warming bowl of ant soup. Soup and skewers are two more casual ways of serving insects. At the fanciest restaurants, you’ll see insects being served in larval stage: roasted bee larva is said to enhance virility and deep-fried silkworm moth larva have a crunchy outside protecting a soft, creamy exterior. 

Hachinoko, wasp larva in soy sauce with sugar [Tokyo, Japan]

Japan | Insects have been a part of Japanese cuisine for centuries, especially during times when food was scarce. While you won’t usually find people eating insects in the big cities, there are still recipes that have been passed down for insect cooking. For example, the Japanese serve a dish called hachinoko which features pale wasp larva darkened in soy sauce and sugar and quickly crisped for a crunchy snack. 

Sometimes cooked adult wasps are sprinkled into the mix for added texture and variety. You’ll also be able to find fried grasshopper, crunchy fried silk moth pupae and fried aquatic insects.

Ants are collected as traditional Aboriginal food [Australia]

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Australia | Australian Aboriginal culture has a strong tradition of eating insects for food. Lemony honeypot ants are consumed for the sweet nectar pouches they carry around behind them. Finger-sized witchetty grubs are roasted over open fires and coals. They are rich in fat and protein and taste like a buttery, nutty egg dish with a crunchy exterior. Next time you’re out in the bush, you’ll know exactly what to eat to stay alive. 

Mopane Worm, Edible Delicacy [South Africa]

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South Africa | Mopane worms are buttery and bland when roasted and chewy and earthy when dried out like jerky. These bluish-yellow caterpillars can be plucked off the tree and eaten, you just need to squeeze out the entrails first. If you have a batch of mopane worms to serve, they are traditionally cooked with tomatoes, peanuts, chilies and onions. The peanuts and the spice should mask their bland flavor and break down their tough meat. 

Like many larva, mopane worms are at their best when they are just about to transform into moths; they are plumper and offer more meat.   

Protein-rich nsenene grasshopper [Africa]

Uganda | South Africans aren’t the only people to eat mopane worms. People in Uganda and Botswana enjoy them and prepare them in much the same way. Uganda is also famous for the nsenene grasshopper. 

This crunchy, crispy, fat and protein-rich insect is a mainstay in central Uganda during certain times of year. To prepare, the insects are plucked and thoroughly washed. They are almost never eaten raw and are fatty enough where they can be fried in their own fat along with a bit of onion and salt. They can also be sundried or boiled to meet the needs of various dishes. 

Are your eyes bugging out from all the insect cuisine? Try something a bit less daring and discover 10 Countries to Visit Just for the Food

 


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Carmen Fifield

The delight of finding an unknown park, a captivating history museum or a fantastic desert means exploration is never far from Carmen Fifield’s mind. Carmen’s favorite travel memories include biking to historic sites on the island of Guernsey, huffing and puffing up the stairs to the Great Wall of China and eating the most delicious crab cake ever in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Carmen’s Favorite Travel Tip: Say goodbye to airplane food and tuck some fruit and your favorite sandwich into your carry-on.