Jiminy Cricket, Wahaca serves insects

by Tristan Plowman - Tuesday March 19, 2013 3:03 pm

Wahaca’s Southbank Experiment, a restaurant built from 8 recycled shipping containers stacked up like so much 'Brobdingnagian' Lego and decked out with Tristan Manco’s Mexican street-art, provides the chain with a platform to showcase more ‘out there’ offerings, with a view to creating new menu stalwarts. But, Jiminy cricket, insects?!

The horsemeat scandal canters on, providing a rude awakening for Brits regarding what’s really in their ready-meal. After initial horror, the equine has been championed as a lean, healthy source of protein – but there is a sustainable alternative which contains almost as much protein as lean beef, and three times the amount of calcium to boot.

You guessed it – insects are the answer. This month, chapulines – grasshoppers - are on Wahaca’s menu. Offbeat, yes, but as hopping mad as it seems on first hearing? My dining companion certainly thinks so, and no amount of reassurance that it’s the little 'Chaps' themselves who really get the raw end of the deal is assuaging his apprehension.

He’s in the minority – throughout the world, insect consumption, or ‘entomophagy’ already prevails in 80% of the population, providing a nutritious and sustainable source of protein. Wahaca sees no reason the final fifth of us shouldn’t get munching, inviting diners to tuck in, then vote #ChapulinYES or #chapuliNO on Twitter.

The ‘hoppers are currently sourced from the Oaxaca region via an accredited farmers’ co-op, but founder Thomasina Miers suggests that, if popular, setting up a UK supplier would up the sustainability, allowing foodies up and down the country to scoop up the cheesy, insect-littered ‘Chapulines Fundido’.

Hashtags at the ready, we dipped in. Chapulines Fundido is essentially a smoky chipotle salsa, smothered in melted mozzarella and cheddar. The critters are snuck into the salsa base, along with garlic, shallots and chillies, supposedly lending a rich earthiness to the dish. Visually, I expected a dish resembling Jiminy Cricket's cadaver, top hat included.

So the arrival of a rather conventional-looking molten cheese salsa was somewhat deflating. Had Wahaca taken the 'fun' out of Fundido?  The grasshoppers arrived without fanfare, stripped of their alarming extremities, with just the armoured abdomens dotted around the dish. Without expecting much, I pinched a tiny carcass between thumb and forefinger.

Biting down, a revelation was had. The chapuline delivered an astonishing burst of highly-concentrated, umami flavour. Smoky, nutty, with a pleasant bitterness, these wooed a first-time insect imbiber. Still, no amount of bugging would convince the timid companion they too might be quite fond of the fundido.

It's pleasing to find that, in creating this accessible little dish, Wahaca has not compromised the honest taste of the main ingredient. In order to embark on your own insect-eating initiation, just get stuck in and learn the delicious truth. When it comes to this bug banquet, ignorance most certainly is not bliss. #ChapulinHELLYes.

Chapulines Fundido is currently on the menu at Wahaca Southbank Experiment, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX, www.wahaca.co.uk

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