Well, I was dreading this day all year, ever since I saw it on the calendar…it’s the one day out of the year that New Yorkers will not want to celebrate. It’s National Chocolate Covered Insects Day! D: It shouldn’t bother me as much as it does: I mean, insects have been a part of the human diet for thousands of years, and are still the main source of protein for people in many developing countries. Insects can be nutrition staples and delicacies all over the world. But here in New York, we’re more used to our insects flying around our heads irritatingly during summer or scattering when we turn on the kitchen light. We don’t ever think to pick them up and eat them!
But insects as food–especially if they’re covered in chocolate–aren’t so bad for you, after all. Insects can be a great source of protein: even better than traditional meats, because insects carry a ton of protein without most of the fat of beef, pork, or other meats. Insects also end up tasting like what they’ve been eating, so bugs cultivated for the purpose of nomming down can be flavored like just about anything they themselves will eat. (They’re like the tofu of the animal world!) And environmentally-conscious eaters will want to know that the cultivation of insects as a food source uses significantly less water, food, and space than traditional meats. You might think it’s something only a contestant on Fear Factor would do in the civilized world, but there are many dishes all over the world that highlight the scrumptiousness of bugs–not just “catch a bug, roast it over open fire, eat.” I’d probably try out an insect or two…especially if it’s chocolate covered!
If your curiosity–and your appetite–is piqued, you’ve got a few choices to nosh on bugs even here in New York City. First, to whet your whistle, you can try the newest cocktail innovation over at White & Church in TriBeCa. Have you ever thought about having a mint grasshopper drink…with a real grasshopper as a garnish?! This bar serves Italian-style small plates, but they’ve become really buzzworthy (no pun intended) for their cocktails garnished with different edible insects. Dried grasshoppers, toasted honeybees, and Mexican spicy worms are all on the drinks menu here, and the bugs aren’t just for show: drop the little buggers into the cocktails and you’ll find they absorb the taste of the drink, to make them sweet, boozy little nuggets of crunch and protein. It’s one of the best ways to introduce yourself to the idea of edible insects: try them out with a good helping of liquid courage.
White & Church
281 Church St (between Franklin St & Avenue Of The Americas)
“Hopping on the microtrend of edible insects, White & Church is serving $14 cocktails garnished with bugs. Not exactly run-of-the-mill, right? In addition to the martinis flavored with river stones served at Il Matto, there’s a tobacco- and sugar-infused brandy drink topped with scorpions; a coconut, crème caramel, and cricket piña colada; and tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, avocado, and red pepper cocktail with Mexican worms. Chef and co-owner Matteo Boglione and his mixologist wife, Christina Bini, say the insects are high in protein. And, besides, people eat snails, right? Um, right.”–The Village Voice
“She’s offering all the classics and then some—if you’re not feeling too adventurous, opt for the Breakfast Martini (peach vodka, topped with black pepper and garnished with cheese) or go for broke with a “Why Not?” (Tequila, Cointreau, sugar, lime and avocado, topped with dried spicy Mexican worms—yes, real insects!). Whether you’re a true food adventurer or a fan of the tried and true, White & Church is sure to please.”–Shecky’s Night Life
“These drinks include a tobacco- and sugar-infused brandy topped off with scorpions (technically arachnids, not insects) called “Blue Velvet;” a coconut, crème caramel and cricket blend called “Summer;” and a tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, avocado, red pepper and Mexican worm mix fittingly called “Why Not.” So far, “Why Not” has been the top seller. “They’re very rich in protein,” says White & Church co-owner and chef Matteo Boglione of the edible insects.”–The New York Post
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“So my first bug experience was called ‘Rosemary”, a cocktail of cinnamon-flavored rum, apple juice, lemon juice, with toasted worms and a sprig of rosemary. Based on childhood pet experiences, I could identity the worms as meal worms, the kind you’d feed birds or keep as a pet until parents consider them too smelly and force you to throw them out. (True story) And rosemary didn’t disappoint both as an appropriately autumnal cocktail and a novelty bug and liquor mix. The worms were crispy and didn’t really have much of a flavor. I’d liken it to a pretzel crunch, a quick bite and ready to move on to the cocktail. A friend ordered the “Why Not?” which was another bug cocktail that was presented in what resembled a glass slipper. It had the consistency of a slurpee but with liquor!”–Tom K.
“Of those two, the Summer is by far my favorite. It is light, not overly sweet, and refreshing. The coconut flavor ties it together very well without being as strong of a flavor as it is in a piña colada, for example. While the Why Not? was interesting, it’s a bit heavier and thicker. It reminded me more of the avocado shakes I would order at Cafe Brazil in Santa Cruz, CA than a “cocktail”. But it did indeed pack a punch, and the worms added an interesting crunch.”–Britton B.
And while us New Yorkers may not consider chowing down on bugs to be a delicacy, there are many culinary cultures around the world who use insects in dishes all the time–and some of them have brought the spirit of those meals to the restaurants of New York. Toloache, a Mexican restauarant known for its exceptional tacos, gets just as much buzz about everything else on their menu as they do their chapulines tacos–or, in other words, grasshoppers. A popular delicacy from the Mexican region called Oaxaca, grasshoppers are eaten as both the protein in an entree and as a snack–quite different from munching a bag of potato chips! To prepare the bugs for the taco, Tolache chef Julian Medina fries them until they’re crispy, then folds these little critters into a soft corn tortilla with avocado and veggies. Unlike the cocktails over at Church & White, the little grasshoppers break apart as they’re cooked and prepared, so it’s less like eating a whole insect and more like a crunchy, spicy taco filling. (The stuff they spoon into the tacos at Taco Bell can’t be any better.) They’re reported to taste nutty and a little spicy–will you take their word for it, or try it yourself?
251 W 50th St (between 8th Ave & Broadway)
“The texture was chewy with a slight crunch, how I imagine an overly sautéed raisin would feel. A larger, second bite revealed a nutty taste, with definite hints of raisin and prune. I wouldn’t think nuts and raisins would play well with lime, onions and jalapeno, but the whole is better than its parts. It was tasty, if not perhaps “delicious,” as our server promised they would be. In fact, it ended up being our favorite of the tacos.”–New York Press
“These little suckers are addictive, crunchy, nutty, and so unusual, yum! At first I just started munching on the individual bugs to get a sense for what they were like on their own, and ate nearly half of them off one taco before i forced myself to try the components together. And they worked well together indeed. These tacos will hardly replace pork or beef (or barbacoa!), but I’d gladly have one as an addition to a meal or as a snack. They were lighter than a meat taco, and the crunch really satisfies.”–Wordsmithing Pantagruel
“Medina gets his supply pre-dehydrated straight from a grasshopper plant in Oaxaca (the thin legs often break off in the process). He lightly sautees the critters in olive oil, onions, and pickled jalapenos; places them in handmade tortillas with guacamole; and tops them with tomatillo salsa. The cost: two tacos for $9. The takeaway: Crunchy!”–Epicurious
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Alright, here’s where things get weird. I ordered the Grasshopper Tacos. They really are little grasshoppers–legs, heads and all. Surprisingly, the tacos were quite delicious as long as I didn’t look at what I was eating. You could definitely tell there were insects inside the taco (it was super crunchy), but the overall flavor was great.”–Victoria P.
“For those brave enough to experience something unique – I highly recommend the Tacos de Chapulin (grasshopper tacos.) They’re incredible!”–George L.
But now we’ve got to get down to the meat of this national holiday…it’s not just Edible Insects Day, it’s Chocolate Covered Insects Day! Try as I might, I only found one place in all of New York City that’s willing to put candy insects on their shelves. The international candy store chain It’sSugar has a ton of novelty sweets, like foot-tall gummi bears and and candy thongs, all to give tourists a happy sugar rush and an unconventional souvenir to bring home to the family. But they also stock a decent selection of insect candies, like scorpion lollipops, candy crickets, and chocolate-covered locusts. They might not be homemade, artisan grasshopper truffles from Jacques Torres (which he should totally do! And give me credit!), but they certainly fit the bill for this holiday. Buy a few lollipops and make the edible insect challenge to your friends today!
1870 Broadway (between 62nd St & 61st St)
“And It’Sugar is worth a look just as goof, or, if you prefer, as an anthropological exhibition. Where else are you going to find a two-foot-long roll of SweeTarts, “novelty” Candy G-strings, Ranch-flavored Crickets (yes, really), 15″-long Rice Krispie Treats AND bags of Zotz? Nowhere else, thank goodness.”–Glenwood NYC
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“This recent addition the the UWS is a SUGAR RUSH for those with a sweet tooth. Prices are rather high. You’ll find coated BUGS such as grasshoppers, worms, and maybe a waterbug? FLASHBACK to the decades with goodies from the era that are packaged to bring back childhood memories, yeah, yeah…mine would be the 80s.”–Ally W.
“Lots and lots of candy-wide selection: Candy Cigarettes,Chocolate Pop Rocks, Big League Chewing Gum, ect…Are you into Bugs? Well if you are they have Bug Lollipops, Candy Crickets, Chocolate Locusts- Hungry yet?”–Ursula U.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!