Adventureater: Tacos De Chapulines

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 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.

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  1. I prefer  

    Good ol' fashioned cicadas on my tacos. Season lightly with basil and tomatoes, these treats will satisfy even the pickiest of eaters!

  2. yoyoyo  

    Speaking of things which you should not eat, I saw at least 3 rats in Ferris Booth the other night.

  3. random  

    I've eaten a lot of chapulines in Oaxaca, Mexico. Vendors on the street sell them for like $1 for a bag of 30ish.

  4. unsnobby  

    I would never eat at that restaurant...Not because they serve grasshoppers, but $11 for a corn tortilla, bugs, and some guac. What bullshit! Mexican food is cheap for a reason; it uses cheap ingredients and prepares them in a way that tastes amazing. Although NYC is not known for it's mexican food, venturing outside of manhattan can lead to some pretty good finds, and the prices will be reasonable, unlike the food of this "bistro"...what a crock of shit

  5. oh god  

    i ate there last week before a concert. the "entrees" are more like appetizers. although we found the meal pretty tasty, none among us was close to full after finishing. so we went around the corner to the local Chipotle right after. if i'd been close to home, i would've ditched the meal and headed to taqueria.

  6. Annoyed

    Jon, what does tapas-sized mean? I know it has become popular to toss around tapas as a term to connote anything that is slightly foreign and an appetizer, but it just plays into this exoticism of a plate to in fact justify its higher cost.

    Tacos, which Tolaoche claim to serve, originated as street and finger food, and not tapas. If by clothing them within the upscale fanfare of $11 prices leads us to call them tapas, then, well, we certainly are quite willing to pay anything for a name.

    I am sorry Jon for taking it out on you, but it just bugs me (just go to Amsterdam Restaurant and you'll develop the same disgust) where the cool thing to do is call small portion plates tapas when in fact true tapas are unique. And in most parts of the world two tacos are a meal and not just an appetizer.

  7. yellow

    Why go to a restaurant for some scrawny grasshopper appetizers when you can have a fine, filling cockroach right on campus for no cost at all?

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