Grub up: Where to eat insects for dinner

For much of the world, eating creepy-crawlies is the norm but in the UK the delicacy has only recently started to creep onto our menus


Back in 2012, Rene Redzepi, chef-patron at Noma, then the best restaurant in the world, brought a pop-up version of his Copenhagen restaurant to Claridge's hotel in London. It set tongues wagging not only as it was the first time the chef had moved his restaurant outside of Denmark, but because he brought with him 27,000 live ants (give or take), which diners were encouraged to eat as they darted across a starter of cabbage leaves and dressing.

The fact the ants were served live had shock value, but Redzepi's gastronomic point was serious: as the global population grows and pressure on already strained food systems mounts, insects are likely to find themselves – crawling or otherwise – on restaurant plates as a highly sustainable and plentiful protein replacement for meat.

Five years on and UK diners are yet to join two billion people worldwide who eat insects as part of their everyday diet. The steakhouse hasn't been replaced by an all-you-can-eat worm concept, and the London street food movement is yet to take up the scorpion kebabs eaten in Beijing’s night markets but insects have been creeping onto the menu at some UK restaurants.

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A year after Redzepi’s antics, Mexican restaurant group Wahaca served insects at its Southbank restaurant. Its dish of chapulines fundido saw grasshoppers sautéed with shallots, garlic and chipotle chillies, blended into a salsa and topped with cheese.

The move was not to shock its customers, but rather nudge them into trying new things, insists Thomasina Miers, co-founder of Wahaca, who developed an understanding of eating insects after regular trips to Mexico. 'The first time I went to Mexico I saw people eating grasshoppers and I thought "yuck",' she says. 'But when you talk with a Mexican chef and they explain that ant eggs in a taco is a delicacy, and that it's like Mexican caviar, you start to understand. They are soft, buttery and creamy. They really are delicious.'

(Image credit: Copyright: Floro Azqueta)

Wahaca isn't the only Mexican restaurant to do this. Last year Santo Remedio in Shoreditch won favour for its guacamole dish served with deep-fried grasshoppers.

'Grasshoppers have a texture British people are already used to,' adds Miers. 'We eat sea insects, such a prawns, but are not used to eating land ones. It's a cultural thing, not a taste thing.'

Insects are not just the preserve of Mexican cuisine. When it opened in 2015 in Pembrokeshire, The Grub Kitchen became the UK's first insect restaurant, with the aim of turning their consumption from a novelty to normalcy (its mantra is 'eat insects, feed the world’). Not every dish contains insects, but the restaurant ensures those that do, such as the zesty black ant and the olive crusted goat cheese salad and smoked chipotle cricket and black bean chilli, are just as appealing.

Restaurants that don't want to serve insects as overtly as The Grub Kitchen are still being creative with them. While grasshoppers are no longer on the menu at Wahaca, cricket flour is used to make its popular cricket brownie dessert. As Miers says: 'The Brits are incredibly adventurous with their food. The future of dining has got insects in it'.

A new book, On Eating Insects, by Nordic Food Lab, Joshua Evans, Roberto Flore and Michael Bom Frost (£39.95, Phaidon), looks to dispel discomfort at the thought of chowing down on crunchy crickets and the like, through its collection of recipes, stories and essays. The authors takes a holistic look at the subject, including a look at the cultural, political and ecological significance of choosing to eat insects, and argue that to eat something which disgusts us is the height of eating mindfully.

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