GOURMET GRUB

Thai fine-din­ers ex­plore in­sect cui­sine

Global Times - Weekend - - DINING -

At a hip Bangkok diner, food­ies with an ad­ven­tur­ous palate tuck into a bug-based menu that in­cludes water­melon salad sprin­kled in bam­boo worms, na­chos with silk­worm cherry tomato salsa and pasta made from ground crick­ets.

Abun­dant and stacked with pro­tein, in­sects have long been a fa­vorite snack among Thai farm­ers. But they have of­ten car­ried a neg­a­tive im­age, per­ceived as “food for the poor” in a coun­try with pro­found class di­vides.

Now bugs are creep­ing onto the menu of some of Bangkok’s high-end restau­rants as the cap­i­tal’s gour­mands leap on the lat­est global food trend with a sus­tain­able agenda.

Ratta Bus­sako­rn­nun, a 27-year-old who works in the cos­met­ics in­dus­try, ad­mit­ted she was ini­tially scep­ti­cal as she sat for a meal re­cently at In­sects in the Back­yard, which says it of­fers Bangkok’s first in­sect-themed fine­din­ing menu.

Many wealth­ier Thais, she said, think of in­sects as “un­ap­petis­ing and dirty.”

But by the end of her meal she was won over.

“I just ate scal­lops topped with bam­boo worms and a fish fil­let with an ant egg sauce. It was de­li­cious,” she beamed, a gen­tle jazz track play­ing over­head in the dimly lit res­tau­rant.

“The food is well pre­sented,” she added. “This gives an im­pres­sion of so­phis­ti­ca­tion.”

The res­tau­rant is lo­cated in Chang Chui – an arty district in western Bangkok filled with vinyl record stores and lo­cal fashion de­sign­ers.

Feed the world

Co-founder Re­gan Suzuki Pairo­jma­hakij says in­sects are more than just a gas­tro­nomic trend – they are a po­ten­tial panacea for an in­creas­ingly crowded and meat-hun­grymeat- hun­gry world.

The Cana­dian na­tional used to work in the NGO sec­tor with re­mote ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, many of whom in­cor­po­rated in­sects into their cui­sine.

“I’ve been work­ing in the cli­mate change, nat­u­ral re­source man­age­ment fields for a num­ber of years, and a big part of it has been the search for the sus­tain­able forms of pro­tein, food and sup­ply chain,” she said.

With the world’s pop­u­la­tion ex­pected to hit 9.8 bil­lion in 2050, many ex­perts re­main acutely con­cerned about how the world will feed it­self as well as the en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age caused by so much meat be­ing con­sumed.

In­sects, she said, re­quire a frac­tion of the costs and en­ergy needed to farm com­pared to sta­ples like chicken, pork, and beef.

That is noth­ing new to many of Thai­land’s ru­ral classes.

In­sect con­sump­tion is par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar in the ru­ral north­ern re­gions, mainly due to its drought­prone cli­mate, which has cre­ated a more var­ied and less fussy lo­cal palate.

For peo­ple in the cen­tral part of the coun­try that is fer­tile all year long, in­sects are eaten more as a snack, of­ten deep fried and served with sea­son­ing or spicy sauce.

But per­suad­ing the wealthy mid­dle classes of Bangkok, a city of huge dis­pro­por­tion­ate wealth com­pared to the rest of the coun­try, is still a chal­lenge.

“No Bangkokian eats in­sects be­cause it has a so­cial sta­tus con­no­ta­tion,” said Mas­simo Re­ver­beri, an Ital­ian en­trepreneur of a small start-up called Bug­so­lutely.

Based in Bangkok and Shang­hai, his firm says the not-so-wel­com­ing look of in­sects re­mains a ma­jor turnoff for many.

In­stead he looks for ways to use in­sects in ev­ery­day food items like chips and en­ergy bars.

Their cur­rent prod­uct is a pasta made from cricket flour, which is now sold by a small num­ber of out­lets in Ja­pan and New Zealand, but not yet Thai­land.

Bug eggs

Back in the kitchen of In­sects in the Back­yard, chef Thi­ti­wat Tantra­garn says the most im­por­tant thing is to get the fla­vors right.

“Gi­ant wa­ter bug meat has a sim­i­lar tex­ture to crab, so that’s why I use it in the ravi­oli,” he en­thused.

Ant eggs are an­other fa­vorite of his, which he tends to serve with fish. fish.

“They have a sour fla­vor, fla­vor, which helps re­duce the fishy taste. We try to make sure the menu has bal­ance and har­mony.”

“My in­ten­tion is to change din­ers’ at­ti­tude. In­sects are edi­ble and de­li­cious,” he added. “It’s not dis­gust­ing.”

His culi­nary ap­proach ap­pears to be work­ing.

Ania Bialek, a Bri­tish teacher liv­ing in Thai­land, said she had tried fried in­sects sold by street ven­dors but wanted to know what a higher end menu would taste like.

“I will hap­pily eat them again,” she said at the end of the meal.

“But I would need some­one else to pre­pare it for me. I will not be keen on cook­ing it my­self.”

Pho­tos: CFP

A chef places edi­ble winged ants on a fish fil­let inside the kitchen of In­sects in the Back­yard in Bangkok. Be­low: Edi­ble winged ants act as gar­nish for a mar­garita.

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