BANGKOK – The huge black beetles that sit on diners’ plates are, for better or worse, what customers seek out in a restaurant on the outskirts of Bangkok where insects form a major part of the menu.
Sea bass in an ant caviar sauce, seafood risotto with grasshoppers, beef ribs with a cricket paste, scallops with bamboo worms and as dessert, and vanilla ice-cream with silkworms, are just some examples of the distinct cuisine of the “Insects in the Backyard” eatery.
For the bugs, Wednesday marked one more day in the land of the living as the restaurant was closed, and customers hungry for crunchy creepie crawlies would have to wait another day.
“Insects are the future. Experts have warned that the current food production system is stretching the planet and insects are the best substitutes for their nutritious properties, being rich in proteins, vitamins and other micronutrients,” the chef, Thitiwat Tantragarn, told EFE.
In a report, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had identified the enormous environmental effects and water requirements of raising cattle and pigs on farms and said that the consumption of insects can help ensure sustainable development of the food industry.
The FAO has identified more than 1,600 edible species of insects and mentioned that they’re consumed in 112 countries of Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas and Oceania.
Chef Thitiwat concocted a fusion between Western cuisine and insects to attract clients to a new gastronomic experience and as an engaging way to promote a diet of many-legged creatures.
“The clients’ response has been very positive, almost 90 percent of them are tourists or foreigners. Although for some it is difficult to cross their mental barrier about eating insects, but when they dare to, they admit insects are delicious,” the chef said.
His restaurant prepares insects in all manner of ways, from boiling to frying, to adding to sauces and creams and even in oil infusions.
“Close your eyes and taste. How does it taste? It is a like a dry fruit,” Thitiwat said, referring to crickets and silkworms.
Other insects, such as water bugs, taste similar to squid or crab.
Although it is common in Bangkok to find small carts offering a variety of ready-to-eat critter snacks, they are not popular among the affluent class.
“Many of them think that insects are a food for the poor, but few people know that bamboo worms can cost more than meat,” the chef said, citing the price of 1,000 baht ($31) per kilogram for the worms.
On Jan. 1, the European Union opened its common market for insects meant for human consumption.
“The demand is growing, although people definitely need more time to adjust to eating them,” Thitiwat said, claiming that his restaurant is the first in Thailand serving this sort of food, which he considers moderately-priced haute cuisine as costs vary from 165 to 345 baht per plate.
Before opening the establishment, the chef visited farms all over the country to seek out the best supplies of quality insects for his kitchen.
His plans include experimenting with South American critters for possible combinations, increasing the repertoire of the menu with new surprises and even a collaboration with a well-known Mexican chef who recently visited the joint.