Grub’s Up!


Asian Geographic - - In Focus - Text Aaron “Ber­tie” Gekoski and So­phie Fres­son Aaron “Ber­tie” Gekoski

might give some peo­ple the hee­bie-jee­bies, but hu­mans have been con­sum­ing bugs for a very long time. In China, records show that in­sects have been on the menu for at least 3,200 years, and writ­ten recipes us­ing bugs have been found in lit­er­a­ture dat­ing back to the Ming Dy­nasty circa 1368.

Today, there are 29 en­to­mophagous (mean­ing “feed­ing on in­sects”) Asian coun­tries, each cul­ture favour­ing dif­fer­ent species, flavours, and cook­ing meth­ods. The lar­vae of the Asian palm wee­vil – also known as sago grubs – are a del­i­cacy found in Malaysia and In­done­sia. Cooked, they’re said to taste sim­i­lar to ba­con, and are even some­times spread on pizza. Those that make it past their un­set­tling, bul­bous ap­pear­ance liken a squirm­ing live grub to co­conut.

Sago grubs aren’t the only worms con­sumed in Asia. Bam­boo worms are a com­mon sight in Thai­land’s night mar­kets. Their crispy shell and soft in­sides have a salty flavour with an af­ter­taste of corn, ap­par­ently.

Else­where through­out the con­ti­nent, Cam­bo­dia’s taran­tu­las are said to re­sem­ble crab and are be­lieved to boost viril­ity. In China, bees are ground into a tra­di­tional rem­edy for sore throats. Dragon­fly boiled with gin­ger in co­conut milk is a sweet treat in In­done­sia. And in Viet­nam, Pa­pua New Guinea and Laos, a num­ber of crispy crit­ters are reg­u­larly munched on – in­clud­ing grasshop­pers, gi­ant wa­ter bugs, cen­tipedes, and ci­cadas.


The prac­tice of en­to­mophagy in Asia would have be­gun as a ne­ces­sity. When food was scarce, in­sects rep­re­sented a nu­tri­tious and eas­ily ob­tain­able food source, par­tic­u­larly in ar­eas closer to the equa­tor where there is an abun­dance of bugs. Today, how­ever, the con­sump­tion of in­sects has tran­scended its hum­ble begin­nings and is no longer just viewed as a ne­ces­sity, but as a choice.


In­sects have creeped and crawled their way onto the menus of var­i­ous Miche­lin star restau­rants, most no­tably Copen­hagen-based Noma, voted the best restau­rant in the world four times run­ning. Noma serves a range of bug-based dishes, with live black ants be­ing a sig­na­ture dish of the crit­i­cally-ac­claimed head chef. There are even en­tire cook­books ded­i­cated to bug gas­tron­omy.

In­ter­est in ed­i­ble in­sects has surged in re­cent years fol­low­ing re­lease of a re­port from the United Na­tion’s Food and Agri­cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion (FAO) in 2013. It would seem Asian en­to­mophagous cul­tures have been ahead of the curve, as the re­port had one fun­da­men­tal piece of ad­vice for peo­ple glob­ally: eat more bugs. It is thought these crispy crit­ters could of­fer a health­ier and more sus­tain­able food choice for the fu­ture.

The doom-and-gloom sta­tis­tics of our fu­ture may feel all too fa­mil­iar. How­ever, they are im­por­tant. By 2050, the world pop­u­la­tion is ex­pected to have swollen to up­wards of nine bil­lion, whilst the de­mand for meat will have grown by 44 per­cent (FAO).

Crispy crit­ters could of­fer a health­ier and more sus­tain­able food choice for the fu­ture

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