The Navhind Times Archive

Feeding off insects

Zubin D’souza

 

I love the horror movie genre!

I know that there are intellectuals out there who would diss me and call me out for my lame B grade choices when there is a world of infinitely better entertainment available.

I am not so much into slasher flicks or the teenage prom misadventure. I could have written a better script for the most of them and they tend to get predictable.

However, cinema that builds up suspense or has crazy endings which you could not have seen coming get my full attention.

However at the cost of losing all respect, I must declare that I totally adore creature movies.

What’s not to love about giant spiders or the transformation of a human being into a repulsive and slimy bug?

Whenever I watch one of these creepy crawly movies where humans are at the bottom of the food chain, I always wonder what would happen should I ever be part of such an encounter.

Would I freeze or be eaten? Would I be the sidekick who gets eviscerated or the hero who comes up with a plan in a last moment of pressure and desperation?

Desperation and hunger lead people down strange paths where experimentation is in essence the only thing preventing total annihilation.

For the poor in Zimbabwe, mopane worms are a great source of sustenance. The name is a misnomer because they are actually the caterpillar form of the Emperor moth.

According to gourmets who have been lucky enough to try this delicacy, the taste of the smoked and fried version of these creatures is very similar to well done steak.

The Australian aborigines enjoy the larvae of the Cassidy wood moth which they call witchetty grubs in honour of the witchetty bush from whose roots these insects are harvested.

They are eaten either raw or barbecued and the tastes are compared to a nutty flavor when raw or scrambled eggs when cooked.

The city of Iquitos in Peru is famous for a unique street snack.

Suri grubs are palm weevil larvae that develop a unique creamy flavour because they feed exclusively off palm tree bark. The palm oil that is such a large part of their diets imparts a buttery taste to the bugs.

When Pol Pot and his failed ideologies lead an entire Cambodian population to starvation, people curbed their initial feelings of repulsion and took to eating spiders as an alternative source of protein.

Buoyed with the initial success and after having triumphantly bred a variety of spiders in captivity for domestic consumption, they moved on to experiment with a myriad of alternative insects.

One such success story involves grilled honeycombs that contain bee larvae. They are still much loved and very much in demand and are available from numerous street vendors in Cambodia and neighbouring Laos.

The residents of Kushihara in Japan also love their larvae albeit of a different kind. Hashinoro or wasp larvae is what they lean towards and they have an entire festival called Hebo Matsuri dedicated to everything even remotely related to a wasp.

In another Japanese village called Omachi, local residents scour or lay traps for digger wasps that are the distinctive feature of a rice cracker called Jibachi Senbei which are eaten locally as a nutritious snack.

In America, certain states convert noisy little crickets into a nutrient dense power bar called a chirpy jerky.

While closer home to me, in the Bastar region which lies in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh, tribals convert red ants into a chutney called chaprah.

This condiment contains a couple of other local ingredients besides the ants and can be extremely hot due to the added spices and the formic acid from the ants.

Should you want a sweeter version of the ants then you could probably try the honey pot ants which are available in most arid regions of the world and more notably in Mexico, Australia and the American Southwest.

Only a few of these ants occur in each colony and they are actually tasked with carrying the emergency food supply for the group. They are fed nectar by the group till their bulbous bottoms swell up to the size of a grape which is technically supposed to be retrieved later in case of an emergency. Foragers normally pluck out a couple of these ants from each colony and suck on their behinds to extract the sweet honey that nestles within.

Being big bottomed seems to be a favourable trait in the ant hunting industry. The pertinently named big bottomed ants or hormiga culona in their native Colombia are a coveted gourmet delicacy around the world.

The tastes which are often compared to that of caviar make these an expensive proposition where a smattering of these chocolate dipped critters could cost a small fortune when sold in gourmet stores like Harrods.

And if all this isn’t enough, a restaurant called the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium in Portland, Oregon, USA offers a bug eater’s delight sundae. It is a bowl of multi-flavoured harmless seeming ice cream scoops that are topped with rainbow sprinkles and crunchy bits of dried worms, scorpions, bugs and crickets.

So the next time I am confronted with a homicidal and maniacal insect, I am going to take the higher road and make a huge sacrifice so that humanity survives.

I am going to loosen my belt, tighten my bib and just eat the creature!

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