Bugs are in the food by de­sign at fine-din­ing bistro

Manteca Bulletin - - On The Road -

BANGKOK (AP) — Ants and bee­tles in the kitchen? Nor­mally that’d close down a res­tau­rant im­me­di­ately, but for a unique eatery in Bangkok, bugs in the beef ragu and pests in the pesto are the busi­ness plan.

Tuck­ing into in­sects is noth­ing new in Thai­land, where street ven­dors push­ing carts of fried crick­ets and but­tery silk­worms have long fed lo­cals and ad­ven­tur­ous tourists alike. But bugs are now fine-din­ing at In­sects in the Back­yard, a Bangkok bistro aim­ing to rev­o­lu­tion­ize views of na­ture’s least-loved crea­tures and what you can do with them.

“In Thai­land, there is a long his­tory of lo­cal pop­u­la­tions, of peo­ple con­sum­ing in­sects and they con­tinue to do, in large amounts. But it’s es­sen­tially as a snack, not a part of dishes, not a part of cui­sine,” said Re­gan Suzuki Pairo­jma­hakij, a Cana­dian part­ner at the eatery. “We are in­ter­ested in mov­ing peo­ple away from see­ing in­sects from purely as a snack to be a part of a gourmet and a de­li­cious cui­sine.”

That’s the re­spon­si­bil­ity of ex­ec­u­tive chef Thi­ti­wat Tantra­garn, a vet­eran of some of Thai­land’s top restau­rants. To­gether with his team he’s de­signed a menu that fea­tures seven dif­fer­ent in­sects, in­clud­ing ants, crick­ets, bam­boo cater­pil­lars, silk­worms and giant water bee­tles.

“It’s a new thing,” Thi­ti­wat said. “You live in the world, you need to learn the new thing.”

He said he’s cooked with pork and chicken for a long time, but in­sects are “a new world of cook­ing (and a) new les­son.”

For Kel­varin Chotvi­chit, a lawyer from Bangkok, the menu has been a rev­e­la­tion of taste and tex­ture.

“When I taste this, it’s opened my new at­ti­tudes about foods: that in­sects are one of the foods that’s ed­i­ble,” he said. “And it’s tasty too. It’s not weird as you thought. And the feel­ing — it’s crispy; it’s like a snack. Yeah, I like it.”

United Na­tions food ex­perts have pushed in­sects as a source of nu­tri­tion for years. Stud­ies show they’re higher in pro­tein, good fats and min­er­als than tra­di­tional live­stock. Even when com­mer­cially farmed, their en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact is far lower, need­ing less feed and emit­ting less car­bon.

Whole­saler Amorn­siri Som­porn­suk­sawat is one the sup­pli­ers to In­sects in the Back­yard. The prospect of a new mar­ket — the fine-din­ing sec­tor — is enough to make her sali­vate.

“I hope that peo­ple will eat more of my bugs and I can sell more of them,” she said. “We can have new menus, re­plac­ing the old fa­mil­iar ones. It’s great.”

In­sects in the Back­yard has only been open a mat­ter of weeks, so it’s too early to tell whether its mis­sion to meta­mor­phose in­sect cui­sine is on track.

Amorn­rat Sima­paisan, a lo­cal shop man­ager, tucked in quite hap­pily to her wa­ter­melon and cricket salad on a re­cent evening.

“It’s tasty. It’s munchy,” she said.

But her din­ing part­ner ex­em­pli­fied the big­gest prob­lem the res­tau­rant faces: that lin­ger­ing feel­ing of dis­gust.

“I still have a bar­rier, some­thing on my mind to stop me from eat­ing it,” said Patr Srisook, a free­lance pho­tog­ra­pher. “But, yes, it kind of tastes like nor­mal, noth­ing, like nor­mal food.”

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