Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Joys of Cooking... With Insects(Part I)

So you’ve been in Japan for a while. You've taken enough pictures of shrines and temples to fill 10 Flickr accounts, you’ve sworn off the bar scene to protect your wallet and liver, and you’ve recently come to the terrible realization that the "totally awesome" local bands don’t have anything new to bring to the table. Sounds like you’re burned out. Sounds like you need to get back to nature.

Thankfully, Shoichi Uchiyama’s monthly insect cooking classroom does just that.
Our field agent Chaya reported on the group last month. This Sunday Voidmare and myself worked up the intestinal fortitude to take the plunge into entomophagy. Let me just say this: You don't know what you're missing out on.

Dried Field Grasshoppers and Argentine Cockroaches

If a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down, then perhaps it can do the same for cockroaches. Fry them up with some soy sauce and sugar and you can barely tell the difference between the scuttering pest and my favorite Japanese snack, Karinto. The seasonings mix with the bug’s own natural juices, creating a three-stage explosion of flavor that went from crispy, to sweet, and ended like melted peanut butter. The legs get stuck between your teeth, but doesn’t everything?

As lip smacking as these candied critters were, I would advise you against stir-frying the ones in your apartment. Today’s ingredients were farm raised, free of the filth and disease associated with the common roach. How you raise cockroaches, however, is the subject for another post altogether.

Sakura Caterpillar Wrapped in Toasted Mochi

These caterpillars, grown fat on sakura leaves, smell and taste like the verdant air in a grove of cherry trees. Served with sticky mochi, a hanami staple, one bite was all it took to transport us from the cold grays of winter to the vibrant green of spring. The light, salty nori was the perfect complement to the heavy, chewy mochi, and the caterpillar provided a satisfying crunch and subtle aroma. I know what I’m packing come next April.

Madagascan Cockroaches in Vinagared Vegetables

These guys look snug as a bug in a rug tucked in a blanket of vinagared carrots and daikon. Cutting open their chitinous underbelly to reveal the supple white meat underneath reminded me of shucking a lobster. Eaten by sucking out the innards and leaving the husk, much like an oyster, the texture was surprisingly rich and granulated.

Spiders in Chili Sauce and Baby Mantises with Wasabi Mayonnaise Over Fish Sausage

Most people’s initial reaction to deep fried spiders was, “Hey! I thought those were out of season!” Uchiyama, however, is hardly one to allow his culinary science to be constrained by the whims of nature. These orb weavers were harvested in the fall and frozen to be enjoyed year-round. Their brittle and pliable legs danced to oblivion on the roof of my mouth while the crispy abdomen crunched like a soft nut.

The baby mantises were likewise delectable, like spicy caviar.

Wasp Larva and Sweet Potatoes

Uchiyama’s experimentation continues to bear fruit. Who would have thought that potatoes and wasp pupa combine to taste like sweet pears? Highly recommended to those looking to offset their carbs with protein. Just be sure to remove the pupa’s colostomy bag before mashing!

Bug Cracker

A real grab-bag of goodies for your friends and co-workers. Our luxurious parting gift was gilded with wasps, silk worms, cockroaches, centipedes, and snake. For once I am thankful for Japan's omiyage culture.

The experience was akin to discovering a ginger bread house deep within a black forest. After the awful fear and trepidation you are rewarded with a sweet surprise that, of course, no one will believe. Don’t take our word for it. You owe it to yourself to attend one of Uchiyama’s sessions. When society reaches a Blade Runner-esque critical mass and we’re farming algae for food, you’ll be glad to still have a source of protein.

NEXT: Interview with chef Uchiyama.


  1. Hey guys just wanted to let you know I nominated you for a Fantastically Frightening Award.


    Take care!