Grasshopper tacos may not be a “new” thing, but they are new at Villa Cemita, where they made their debut last month.
Before we got there, my friend Holly texted me and offered, “Maybe it’ll be just like escargot?”
Dear Holly: it was not like escargot.
The chalupin tacos arrived looking like any other taco would, topped with pickled onions and guacamole.
Of course, the major difference was that instead of chicken, pork or beef, the tortilla contained heaping piles of insects, completely intact with all of their appendages.
I snapped a picture and sent it to pretty much everyone.
The replies were varied:
“Whoa. That looks difficult.”
“Are those crickets? Are you at Black Ant right now?”
A couple of people responded with, “Yum! Looks great!” but when I said, “Did you zoom in?” They quickly followed up with, “Oh, HELL no!”
My fiancè, Lee, was the first to dig in. In fact, he couldn’t wait. I watched in horror as he took a big bite and a few of the bugs fell out of the taco and onto the plate, practically scuttling across the table.
He chewed thoughtfully before he replied, “There isn’t really any discernable flavor. It just tastes like a taco.”
The thought of following his lead filled me with nervous giggles and proclamations of, “Oh my gosh, I can’t,” each time I reached for one.
Lee stabbed a stray bug and said, “The grasshopper itself tastes like an olive.”
Finally, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and bit down.
The taste itself was musty and salty—the texture, however, was unmistakable: there were legs, antennae, and shells having a field day in my mouth, sticking me here and there.
As Lee continued to dig in, I noticed that the stray insects on his plate had formed a semi-circle, legs in the air, like a well-choreographed group of synchronized swimmers.
Following the bite of taco, I picked up one of the solo little guys and popped him into my mouth, eyes squeezed shut and nose scrunched up involuntarily.
He was right: it did taste like an olive.
I couldn’t help but wonder where they’d been hopping around before they landed on my plate, so I asked owner Alejandra Aco to fill me in.
The grasshoppers are sourced in Puebla (south central Mexico) from pesticide-free grassland and imported to New York by her family members. A basketball-sized bag of them—already cleaned, washed, and roasted— are stored in the fridge before preparation. They are toasted on a traditional comal griddle, seasoned with garlic, chili, salt and lime for flavor and flamed up with wine-based tequila.
Across the restaurant, a long table of 11 high-schoolers deliberated the menu. One girl asked the boy across from her, “What about the grasshopper tacos?”
“No way,” he promptly replied.
“I will give you five dollars to order them,” she said.
According to Aco, the people who usually eat them are European tourists, although some are Americans looking to do something daring.
On average, they sell 1-2 orders per night.
“Our regulars tend to try different options from the menu, and, after they've been coming around for a while, they usually give the tacos a try once,” Aco said.
“If people can put aside the yucky look and pay attention to the facts, they'd learn that insects are a great source of protein, are much less damaging to our environment than other livestock, and can even be killed humanely by popping them in the freezer. It’s insane, but true.”