Adventureater: Tacos De Chapulines
Written by Bwog Staff
| Tacos de chapulines
Bwog’s food editor Jon Hill looks south for a south-of-the-border culinary adventure.
I accidentally swallowed a fly when I was in the fifth grade.
I was riding a bicycle at the time, and other than that intensely unpleasant experience, I do not eat insects.
Unlike some who choose not to eat lamb, veal, or rabbit, my aversion to eating insects is not about their cuteness. I mean, I saw A Bug’s Life, too, but remember Hopper? He was one ugly guy.
In fact, that’s precisely the problem. Insects are too ugly to eat. Compound eyes, six legs, exoskeletons—let me know the moment a cow sprouts antennae and then maybe I’ll rethink steak, but bugs are too far out on the phylum branch for me.
Imagine, then, how I felt when I looked down at my plate of grasshopper tacos last night at Toloache, an upscale Mexican bistro in the Theatre District.
Listed on the menu as tacos de chapulines, the insect-based dish is a specialty of the house. “Chapulines” is the Nahuatl-derived word for a type of grasshopper common to Mexico’s Oaxaca, and they are usually roasted with salt and citrus juice until they become as crispy as potato chips. Some Oaxacans even eat them like potato chips—little two-ounce snack bags are sold in markets there like Lay’s Wavys are here, except that chapulines are much lower in fat, much higher in protein, and a whole lot leggier.
Toloache serves its chapulines sprinkled over guacamole and jalapeño on a soft corn tortilla. While chicken or beef might work well in this combination, the gooey green filling forms a rather problematic backdrop for the grasshoppers, which begin to look like they have been smashed by the kitchen help.
| One of Toloache’s roasted grasshoppers, sporting a dab of guacamole
Indeed, the presentation is not for the faint of heart or stomach. The grasshoppers are not tucked away beneath a crust or disguised in a stew—instead, they sit on the top in plain view, almost threatening to jump off the plate. This sight was unsettling to my dining companions, but for adventure-seekers, it’s invigorating.
The first bite opened with a definite crunch. These chapulines were small, so each forkful carried three or four. Immediately, the onion in the guacamole sets the dominate flavor, followed by the kick of the jalapeño and then the avocado. Only after several chews can one perceive the grasshoppers’ sharply salty and smoky taste, a flavor not unfamiliar and surprisingly like roasted peas or dried soybeans.
The biggest challenge is chapulines’ texture. You know you’re eating a bug, so your imagination does its worst whenever you feel something fibrous or woody. Having chewing gum or a toothbrush handy for afterward does help calm the nerves.
Do not fear any strong, unexpected tastes from the grasshoppers, though. Tacos de chapulines are a bigger treat for the eyes than the tongue, and at $11 a pop, they are likely to remain a novelty on the dining scene. Grasshoppers just aren’t very filling and, well—I can inhale insects for free.
WHAT IT IS: Grasshopper tacos
WHERE IT IS: Toloache, 251 W. 50th Street (Theatre District)
HOW MUCH IT IS: $11.00 for two tapas-sized tacos
HOW TO GET THERE: Take the 1 train to 50th Street. Exit on the southwest side and walk a block west on 50th.