Sunday, July 8, 2012

Waiter, there's a grasshopper...

Text and photos by Greg

One fine weekend in early June, we scampered up out of the pale and dusty desert heat and into the wide, green Colorado high country. The mountains in those parts are filled with wild and lonely places, and we found such a place and set up camp beside the truck. Trina and I strolled through meadows as the sun went down, while the two dogs rampaged through the tall grass after small wild beasts -- which were too wily for them. Then we all slept in the bug-mesh tent beneath the stars and moon, surrounded by sounds of night, wind in the trees, crickets, howling coyotes -- and the subsequent barking of the dogs. And thus began a weekend that was like many others we have had the pleasure of experiencing.

But the Colorado high country is not only filled with wild and lonely places. It is also filled with expensive and ostentatious high-fashion ski towns, now festooned with flowers and grass in place of winter snow. And toward such a town, that very next afternoon, did we hie.

To prepare for this new type of adventure, I threw on a t-shirt with nothing printed on it, which, to a man of my station in life means "I'm dressed up." Trina switched out of her faux-Mennonite, little-house-on-the-prairie meets lumberjack's-spinster-daughter dress/socks/clogs outfit, and stepped into some high-steppin' red patent leather shoes. Then all dressed up like Big City folk, we drove into town and parked Trina's dirty, old, scratched-up pick-up truck amid the shiny Land Rovers, Hummers, and Lamborghinis.

We left the dogs in the back and strolled hand in hand through the town, marveling and gawping through shop windows at all the pleasures and wonders that could be purchased with -- in all cases -- heaps of money, and -- in many cases -- with little-to-no-taste. (We consider ourselves arbiters of such things…) Then we sat down at the outdoor table of a fine little Mexican bistro and ordered guacamole and chips.

Shortly, the plate arrived. A ring of crisp yellow chips. And a heap of green guacamole, heavily dusted with spicy red crumbles and the bodies of several dead insects. Excactly what we'd come here looking for.

We'd heard that this restaurant served grasshoppers and we'd come to see what it was all about. These chapulines had come from Oaxaca, Mexico, where the cooked and spiced insects are a traditional food and an important source of protein. Our interest in feeding ourselves in a changing world had made us curious about insects as food. And that curiosity had led us to pay fancy restaurant prices for what seems to be an inexpensive and common food in certain places in the world. We'd wondered, Could we catch and prepare our own grasshoppers? But that concern was secondary if we didn't answer another, more important question: Could we eat them?

We'd both admitted beforehand to being squeamish at the thought of biting into a grasshopper. Part of the fear was of crunching down on a crisp bug and having guts spurt out inside our mouths. Most hesitation, of course, was from an upbringing that said "Don't eat bugs!" But once the plate was set in front of us, it was surprisingly easy. The reddish spiced grasshopper bodies on top contrasted beautifully with the green of the guacamole. The crumble that spilled down the guac slope was interspersed with smaller bug parts like legs and antennae. But for all that, it looked like food, not some weird fear-factor experiment.

Instead of mixing the bugs deep into the guac where they'd be hidden, we at first plucked off individuals and tried them. What does a grasshopper taste like? Well, subsequent bites were even easier -- due to the simple fact that they were so good!

Softer-than-expected texture; more like raisins than the feared crunch/squirt. And
spicy -- in a rich-but-not-hot way -- such that we were unable to tell where the spices left off and the taste of grasshopper began. But the cumulative effect was very nice. Rich flavor that tapered off to a peppery finish. And with the guacamole and sea salt chips, delightful. We'd eat insects any day if they tasted like that.

If you happen to see us out in a meadow with nets, come say hi. And bring your appetite.

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