It’s Not Just A Bug, It’s A good Fine-Dining Feature AS OF THIS Thailand Restaurant : The Salt : NPR

It’s Not Just A Bug, It’s A good Fine-Dining Feature AS OF THIS Thailand Restaurant

Enlarge this graphic toggle caption Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty Images Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty Images

In his tiny kitchen, chef Thitiwat Tantragarn throws a small number of raw bamboo caterpillars right into a hot skillet and saut├ęs them with essential olive oil, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper. Seconds later, the cream-coloured larvae are crispy on the outside and soft inside. Tantragarn adds white colored wine, in that case spoons the bugs, brown beady eye and all, over grilled scallops and Jerusalem artichokes before mailing the plate out to the dining room.

That is Insects in the Backyard, a restaurant in Bangkok that’s turning bugs into haute cuisine. It opened up in the city’s trendy Chang Chui marketplace in July.

In Thailand, you can find ant eggs, crickets and bamboo worms at marketplaces and restaurants in the event that you know where you can look. But Bugs in the Backyard may be the only great dining establishment in Thailand where the complete menu is devoted to bugs. The worms, crickets, grasshoppers, beetles and caterpillars listed below are paired with less intimidating grains, seafood and vegetables, “so it is not too frightening for people who wish to try our foodstuff,” says Tantragarn.

Tantragarn, 30, didn’t grow up eating insects in his native Bangkok. He been trained in Thai and American kitchens, learning to generate high-end Italian, French and New American cuisine. But Tantragarn switched gears since the world is currently, as he sets it, in crisis: “The human population keeps growing but we don’t have enough protein. Thus we must find a source of protein that can sustain humans.”

toggle caption Top best suited and bottom still left: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty Images. Top still left and bottom correct: Stan Lee for NPR

A 2013 statement from the US revealed that although the interest in edible bugs is in its infancy, bugs can be portion of the solution to feeding the world’s 9 billion people by 2050.

In the U.S., insect farmers like Wendy Lu McGill, the founder and CEO of Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch in Colorado, declare the demand for edible bugs can be slowly gaining surface. “In Denver, I use five restaurants that offer edible insects, usually crickets but increasingly other types aswell. And chefs from all over the country regularly touch base for sourcing entire, non-roasted bugs,” McGill says.

But Mark Hoddle, director of the University of California-Riverside Middle for Invasive Species Exploration, doesn’t believe upscale full-menu dining will get on in the West. “They in essence think it is repulsive. There’s a reason for that and it comes down to where Western lifestyle originated, that includes a climate that couldn’t become more not the same as a tropical climate. That they had temperate European-type climates. They didn’t possess temperatures that were designed for year-circular harvesting of bugs,” Hoddle says. “In Southeast Asia even so, there are a great number of big bugs plus they are basically available year-round. These were a resource available somewhat freely, easy to get, nutritious, and they didn’t require enormous inputs.”

Of the thousands of known insect species on earth, at least 1,900 are edible, and Tantragarn is on a mission to work as many as possible onto his menu. Prior to the restaurant opened up, he traveled around Thailand to visit farms growing and harvesting bugs sustainably, under traceable, hygienic conditions. Tantragarn tasted many bugs on his voyage, then spent half a year hoping his favorites in different recipes. He eats bugs whenever possible rather than pork, beef and poultry because they possess a tiny carbon footprint, convert feed efficiently, are nutritious and do not require much land or water to cultivate.

Insects in the Backyard’s nachos with deep-fried grasshoppers, white and red crickets and silkworms are Tantragarn’s beloved creation. “That’s because you can flavor the bugs.” Since the plate finds the table with the insect wings and legs intact and antennae twisting in unusual directions, it’s not for the faint of heart and soul. But where else is it possible to eat crunchy bugs on nachos sprinkled with the Egyptian spice mix dukkah and grated cheese?

Even the dining room has insect-themed decor. A huge sculptural Venus flytrap descends from the ceiling and quite collections of pinned-up butterflies and moths hold on the wall space. Floor-to-ceiling windows look out on lush tropical plant life, causing you to ignore for a minute you’re in a city of 8 million people that never sleeps.

Enlarge this graphic toggle caption Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty Images Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty Images

Tantragarn says his restaurant attracts more tourists than locals, perhaps as a result of their willingness to try “adventurous” foods. Today, a group of Thai-speaking diners giggles and takes photos of reactions to the silkworm tiramisu. The dessert is manufactured by mixing surface silkworms with mascarpone cheese, whipping cream and glucose. Three toasted brown worms sit on the surface of the dish. They flavor like hazelnuts and add texture to the abundant creamy dessert.

The chef also teaches workshops on how to create insects edible at home. Last month, Bangkok resident Mushari Muqbal learned to extract the meat from giant water beetles to fill up ravioli. “I took the course because I’ve reading a good bit about bugs and how they are going to be the continuing future of food because of the fact that they use up hardly any resources. I will certainly eat insects in the future,” says Muqbal.

With a new set of gourmet edible insect dishes arriving at the menu soon, Tantragarn wants to keep attracting intrepid eaters. The cost of working an edible insect fine-dining establishment can add up, especially when the kitchen goes through 22 pounds of bugs every week. Some bugs, like bamboo caterpillars, run about $15 a pound, which makes it a lot more expensive than poultry or pork. To lower the price, insect farms will have to get much bigger and buyer demand for bugs will have to grow.

Hoddle agrees that the price of insects won’t decrease until business insect farms level up, buyer demand for bugs grows significantly and there’s more efficient insect rearing.

But Tantragarn is hopeful: “We may well not make much cash at this restaurant. But we’re beginning something. If humans around the world start eating more insects, then probably the world can last just a little longer.”

Abbie Fentress Swanson is a journalist based in Los Angeles. She covers agriculture, foodstuff production, science, health and the environment.

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