Guess huhu: grub’s up in Hok­i­tika

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

storm. A 6ft 4in part-fi­jian who lives on the banks of the Waita River, he is the fifth gen­er­a­tion to gather the tiny crea­tures.

White­bait is a New Zealand in­sti­tu­tion, the young of lo­cal fresh­wa­ter fish. They are some­times crumbed and fried as we cook our salt­wa­ter white­bait; but more of­ten they’re mixed with beaten egg and cooked like lit­tle fishy omelettes with a mild flavour and a soft, noo­dle-like tex­ture.

Some of what’s on sale wouldn’t be un­fa­mil­iar to Bri­tish din­ers. The Girl Guides’ “West­car­gots” are just snails with gar­lic but­ter, and other stalls sell veni­son burg­ers and wild boar. Of­fal fea­tures widely (sheep’s tes­ti­cles be­ing a favourite); but there are duck hearts on the menu at my lo­cal wine bar, and Racine on London’s Bromp­ton Road serves tête de veau, al­beit in more re­fined form than the grid­dled brains I was of­fered.

The ge­nially tipsy crowd at Hok­i­tika is half a world away from the mid­dle-class food­ies who pa­tro­n­ise high-end met­ro­pol­i­tan es­tab­lish­ments in Bri­tain. But when a crowd of boys cheered on a mate as he dan­gled a grasshop­per above his open mouth, it didn’t seem so dif­fer­ent from the fris­son of tacit ad­mi­ra­tion around a ta­ble when a London so­phis­ti­cate at Smith­field’s St John or­ders rab­bit of­fal and spinach. Both are do­ing their bit to make eat­ing over­looked foods — of­fal and bugs — ac­cept­able. It’s an im­por­tant is­sue.

Re­cently, gov­ern­ments have been tak­ing in­sect con­sump­tion se­ri­ously. With the world pop­u­la­tion grow­ing at a ter­ri­fy­ing rate, the planet is in­creas­ingly stretched to pro­duce ad­e­quate nu­tri­tion. In 2009, the UN Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion pre­dicted that we would need to in­crease food pro­duc­tion by 70 per cent by 2050.

In­sects and buglife may come to the res­cue as a cheap, sus­tain­able way to source large amounts of pro­tein, and far more ef­fi­cient, in terms of con­vert­ing feed to ed­i­ble weight than, say, beef cat­tle. There’s a cen­tre at Wa­genin­gen Univer­sity in the Nether­lands headed up by “in­sects as food” cru­sader Mar­cel Dicke.

This is un­likely to raise many eye­brows in south-east Asia. Snack­ing on scor­pi­ons, silk­worm grubs and lo­custs is com­mon­place in coun­tries where a bag of bugs is the lo­cal equiv­a­lent of a packet of crisps.

In parts of South Amer­ica, too, they form a nor­mal part of the diet. As Alex Atala, the charm­ing Brazil­ian chef who spe­cialises in jun­gle food, told me, “if you give an Ama­zo­nian In­dian a piece of lemon grass or gin­ger, they’ll say that it tastes of ant”.

Nor are we Western­ers im­mune to the charms of the six-legged. One of the stalls at Hok­i­tika was sell­ing chunks of tangy, bit­ter­sweet manuka hon­ey­comb – like all honey, made by bees from nec­tar and their en­zy­matic se­cre­tions.

But, ready source of nu­tri­ent aside, can in­sects or bugs them­selves be as de­li­cious as honey, or a packet of crisps, for that mat­ter? Is there any other rea­son to eat creepy-crawlies?

There was no more time to pre­var­i­cate. I lifted the huhu grub to my lips and bit its head off, like some hideous sci-fi jelly baby. It tasted woody, not dirty or un­pleas­ant. Rusty nod­ded. “If you were lost in the bush, you’d be glad of that.”

Maybe. But I’m not try­ing the horse se­men. A girl has to draw the line some­where.

Sus­tain­able snack: Xan­the pre­pares to eat a huhu grub, above; above left, New Zealand white­bait; above right, smör­gas­bord,˚ New Zealand-style

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