While eating insects in Western countries is a relatively recent phenomenon, in many parts of the world the practice is ancient.
In Australia, our Aboriginal brothers and sisters have gathered insects for millennia. The most notable is perhaps the widjuti (witchetty) grub, which is the larvae of one of several types of cossid moth found around the roots of acacia trees. Author of Man Eating Bugs Peter Menzel describes eating widjuti grubs lightly roasted in the fire as follows, “the worm’s skin is crispy and light; the flesh creamy and delicate…like nut flavoured scrambled eggs and mild mozzarella, wrapped in filo pastry…capital-D delicious”. Honey ants were also commonly eaten high-energy bush tucker. “Bush coconuts” are actually galls caused by the intrusion of a scale insect Crystococcus achiniformis on a tree.
South East Asia is a region where insects have been on the menu for some time, and still are in many places. As for Laos, insect farming is seen as a path to economic and food security in Cambodia where you can buy fried crickets and cicadas and fresh ant eggs in the Phnom Penh market, and deep-fried tarantulas not far away in the countryside. Weaver ants are foraged by families to supplement their diet. Those of us who have been to Bangkok, Thailand, will have seen the outdoor market stalls with weird and wonderful foods including insects. The site of giant deep-fried waterbugs as big as duck eggs would challenge the most adventurous gastronome. Giant red ants aren’t as big but take plenty of commitment to harvest without being bitten and taste a bit like bacon bits when deep fried. Termites are similar. Fried Insect appetizers are available in bars around Chiag Mai and include fried bamboo worms, June beetles, mole crickets, grasshoppers and giant red ants. In Laos the World Health Organisation ran The Edible Insect Project to revive the practice of farming and eating insects for better nutrition and improved food security. They published a book called Edible Insect Recipes including such delights as mealworm cake, fried palm weevil and basil and silkworm nam deuang (filled omelette), pan-roasted grasshopper, Gan Om cricket (soup) and bamboo worm stew. In Indonesia, people from Bali eat dragonflies and bee larvae, the Iran Jayans eat cicadas and stink bugs, and many people throughout sago growing areas eat sago palm grubs, typically barbequed on a stick.
Food rules dictating what is edible and what’s not are richly rooted in culture, and this can change over time. Environmental imperatives may just accelerate the change toward bug cuisine all over the world.