'Insects are a delicacy!' is a phrase I've heard a lot and said myself, but I can see why it might be hard to believe.
If your first and only taste of insects is something deep-fried or freeze-dried, you might well be skeptical.
So here's an example of a edible insect - hopefully available in a store near you - that just might change your mind.
First, a little background: This, below, is the view from my window. I'm writing up my PhD results, holed up in an inverted snowglobe (Cambridge), and fresh edible insects seem like a distant, inaccessible luxury.
But a few days ago, everything changed. I went to my local Asian supermarket. As I was browsing and dreaming of warmth and miso, I spotted this on the shelves:
I'd never heard of Kai Mod Dang, but I know an insect dish when I see one! Served with sliced lime and pickles - what could they be? I turned the tin around and read with barely disguised glee: "RED ANT EGGS 25%, SALT WATER 75%'.
OK, not great ratios, but 25% is more than 0%, and the price - 5.45GBP for 400g - felt like a bargain.
I bought a couple of tins, enjoyed the shop owner's reactions to my purchase ('You eat these? Good! These are good!'), and headed home.
I've only ever had Mexican ant eggs before - we sauteed them in a little butter and folded them in blue corn tortillas. Called 'escamoles', they were one of the most delicious insects I've ever eaten. But perhaps Thai ant eggs would be different?
I turned to Twitter for help. Suddenly I had quite a few recipe ideas - I'd have to buy a few more tins!
That was a month ago, and I've only managed to try one of the suggestions so far. But it was definitely worth it. We had dinner guests, one of whom was our landlord, Geoffrey Roughton. I told him excitedly that I planned to cook ant eggs especially in his honour, and he did a very good job of showing his enthusiasm. He's very interested in insects as a potential alternative to meat, but he's always telling me that the key is in the preparation. I hoped that these ant eggs - and the recipes from my helpful Twitter friends - might just be flavoursome enough to win him over.
I drained the salt water off and we both sampled a tiny ant egg. Salty, creamy, and no discernible 'metallic' taste from being kept in a tin.
I sauteed them with a tiny scoop of plant-based 'butter'. Here's a photo:
They have eyes! Tiny black pinprick eyes. And some of them already have legs, too.
With wasp larvae in central Japan, the best quality selection would contain both larvae (no discernible ant/wasp form) and pupae (fully formed, but without a chitinous exoskeleton - like tiny white ghost versions of adult ants). They say this gives a more interesting texture and flavour. Perhaps the same is true of ants?
These ants certainly had a lot of both. They were a bit salty, but otherwise creamy, savoury and very moreish. Geoffrey sprinkled them liberally on his pasta, so I think he agreed. I'll definitely be trying them again, perhaps with another recipe next time.
Meanwhile, if you're based in a climate that's very much lacking fresh insects right now, I recommend checking out the six-legged delicacies that your local Asian supermarket might have on offer!