Grasshopper Tacos, Please

As we settled ourselves at the table that I had reserved earlier in the day, a waitress promptly came over to ask if we’d like to start with some guacamole. Before my friend, who had come strictly to observe and photograph the experience, had a chance to even flip through the menu once, my previously bottled nerves spoke up:

“I already know what I want. The chapulines.”

Photo courtesy of Christina John.
Photo courtesy of Christina John.

Yes, folks—I just ordered grasshoppers. The waitress took my order without any questions. I had come to Toloache, located in Midtown, to try out the grasshopper tacos. Grasshoppers—for the purpose of consumption—seem to be hard to come by in NYC. Here in North America, as in most European countries, insects don’t find their way onto our plates. Anywhere else in the world, however, there aren’t many qualms about eating bugs. Chapulines, for example, are commonly eaten in certain parts of Mexico, perhaps most famously in Oaxaca. Another restaurant I visited actually stopped selling their Oaxacan tacos because the restaurant was told that it would have to close if the dish wasn’t taken off the menu. Yikes.

I decided to explore this extremely sustainable, high-protein interest in a relatively upscale Mexican restaurant with beautiful Spanish tiling on the walls and Moorish lights hanging from the high ceilings. But even in the dim, warm light, there was no mistaking what caught my eye when my food arrived: a stray, black grasshopper leg lounging on the plate. The leg, though seemingly smooth with the sheen of oil, still had distinct barbs.

I wondered how the barbs would feel going down my esophagus. Sharp? There were also rice and beans, but let’s be real: what lay in the soft tortilla was the center of attention. There were at least 15 whole glistening grasshoppers chilling on a small bed of lettuce and guacamole on each of the two four-inch diameter tacos.

I took my phone out—if I’m going to eat grasshoppers, the experience should be documented. After about 23 pictures of the dish itself and teasing my slightly nauseous friend, I bit into a grasshopper I picked up from one of the tacos.

Not bad. Crisp. The exoskeleton of the grasshopper held on to the oil and the flavors of the other ingredients fried in the oil. Chile, lime. There was something about the taste and texture that reminded me of pan-fried shrimp. I found myself picking up another grasshopper. And another. The crunchy treat compelled me like chips or popcorn would. I could have gone on eating the grasshoppers like this, but it was time to try them as they were intended to be eaten. I picked up what suddenly seemed like a miniscule taco and bit in. The buttery creaminess of the guacamole contrasted well with the strong flavors of chili and lime that coated the grasshoppers. The lettuce also brought a crunch, but with a much lighter flavor. All this packed into a tortilla? More perfect than I had expected.

While the flavors exceeded my expectations, I have to admit that I still can’t say what a grasshopper tastes like. A typical American omnivore knows the flavor of beef or chicken, but if I ate grasshopper again in a blindfolded setting, I wouldn’t confidently be able to say, “Ah, grasshopper!” Maybe grasshopper doesn’t have much of a flavor? It seems that it just takes on the flavors of whatever it is cooked or served with.

I also tasted some of my friend’s chicken quesadilla, which was fine. Even for less adventurous, Toloache seems like a quality Mexican restaurant. I personally found the portions to be small and a bit overpriced, but the service was good.

On the train ride back home, my disgusted friend pointed out some grasshopper still stuck between my teeth. As my tongue slid over the offending piece, I tasted a flavorful reminder.

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