In a place like Vancouver, there’s food fare for almost everyone — no matter how picky their tastebuds.
There are restaurants and food trucks that cater to people craving a taste of home, those who savour flavours, and others who devour mountains of hot wings.
But even the most daring appetites will surely pause, if only for a second, when they’re served up some fresh-cooked African grasshoppers.
“When the people found out, they just wanted to jump,” joked Nash Mawani, owner of East Vancouver’s Jambo Grill, which offers authentic East African and Indian food, including dishes inspired by his home country of Uganda.
“For locals, grasshoppers are a staple food.”
While it’s not on his restaurant’s menu, Mawani has cooked up dishes of African grasshoppers called ‘senene’ (pronounced ‘sah-naynay’) at home and for friends.
“Once it’s washed and clean, we put it on a frying pan with very low heat and some spices and chilies,” Mawani said. “Cook it on slow heat in its own fat and that’s how we eat it. They’re nice, soft and crunchy — kind of like a shrimp.”
Mawani doesn’t prepare the dish often, since it’s difficult to source the ingredients locally.
When he can, he pays about $20 for four ounces.
“There is so much tasty food out there,” Mawani said.
“Some of it may not look good, but it tastes good.”
Vancouver’s Vij’s Indian Restaurant made headlines worldwide when it began serving cricket paratha. The flour used in the paratha was made from 70 per cent ground cricket, and 30 per cent chapati flour. The dish was a hit, but has been taken off the menu to make room for new items.
While most North Americans may not consider bugs a dinner option, some 2.5 billion people around the world consider crickets, beetles, locusts and other creepy crawlies a part of their diet.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says the protein content in insects is comparable to what’s offered in beef and fish.
“I think people recoil from the idea (of eating insects) because they … don’t have any understanding of it,” said Judy McLean, a University of B.C. instructor specializing in international nutrition.
“They don’t realize the range of food and parts of animals that people (around the world) eat.”
While it makes nutritional sense, McLean said there aren’t any efficient harvesting systems in place that allow insect consumption to become widespread.
“As far as the nutritional value, that’s all fine … but is it practical? I don’t know.”
Nutritional value aside, there’s still the dare factor.
Among the more peculiar items at Jason McCann’s two Candy Aisle locations, are Crick-ettes and tequila worm lollipops.
Crick-etes are dried crickets covered in spices, and the tequila worm lollipops are exactly that: A see-through lollipop with a tequila worm in the middle.
“I put up a sign that says, ‘Yes, ladies — these are real’ because 90 per cent of the time, they’ll ask,” McCann said.
He usually stocks up in the spring and summer, when there are more tourists, and around Christmas, for those seeking unique gifts.
“But I mean I wouldn’t eat them myself,” he confessed.
McCann’s Robson Street location is currently sold out of edible bugs, but his West Fourth store has a few boxes of tequila worm lollipops.
The idea of seeing bugs on a dinner plate — and not immediately wanting to call health inspectors — isn’t as far-fetched as some might think.
Last fall, five McGill University MBA students beat out 11,000 other applicants to win the prestigious $1-million Hult Prize for their plan to farm, process and sell insects as food in underdeveloped communities. The students hope to create industrial insect farms that would allow communities to farm and harvest insects year-round as a sustainable food source.
The group is launching operations in Mexico and Ghana.
Once those are established, the group hopes to bring the concept back to North America.
“I think people tend to be very ethnocentric about their own diet,” McLean said.
“There’s value in simply understanding the history of food and what other cultures eat.”