Insect eatery serves up plenty of bug surprises
Creepy crawlies: Crickets fried in fish sauce with tomato and cucumber.
by Luu Van Dat
Eat insects ? A friend of mine rolled his eyes as he was really surprised by my suggestion to look for a restaurant that served foods made of insects. In fact, neither of us had thought about eating insects before I had heard on the news that the United Nations has been urging people to eat them.
An interesting idea I thought. So I got on the internet and checked if there were any insect restaurants in the city. Surprisingly, there were several that have been open for a while, even before the UN's announcement.
Finally, I decided on a restaurant which I did not know but had opened recently in HCM City's District 11, near the Dam Sen Theme Park. When talking on the phone, I could tell that the owner of the restaurant was quite young. He is now 28 years old and owns a one-hectare insect farm called Thuong Xuan in Cu Chi District.
I had no experience of eating insects, but fortunately, another friend of mine, who had eaten this kind of food before agreed to accompany me to the restaurant.
We were confused with the restaurant's address, which was located up an alley with a dead-end near Lac Long Quan Street. We stood in front of the main gate and called the restaurant's owner, whom later I got to know as Tran Trieu Van, to come and get us.
What is your restaurant's name? It has no name, he replied. In fact it only has four tables and had just opened a few weeks before. It was small but cosy. Before we arrived, a group of more than ten people had just left.
Though this is a small, newly opened insect eatery, it is quite popular with young people in the city. Most of the customers that come to this restaurant are young people, who like to try out new experiences.
I asked him why he had the bizarre idea of opening an insect restaurant instead of a restaurant that sold pho or other types of popular food. Van, who is always friendly to his customers, said that he had wanted to persuade his family, as initially they were opposed to him raising insects on his farm.
Finally, the first dish was ready for us to sample. After finishing dinner, I realised that it had been the most challenging of the insect dishes I ate that night. On seeing the coconut palm beetle larvae swimming in the bowl of fish sauce, I thought I just could not eat this. Everyone's eyes were fixed on me.
|Critter fritters: Grasshoppers fried in fish sauce.
After being encouraged by my friend and the restaurant's owner, I took a deep breath, used my hand to hold the head of the larvae and put it into my mouth. I will never forget when it was still moving in my hand and even when it was in my mouth.
It tasted a little bit sour, fatty, smelt like coconut and had a tough skin. My friend explained that the first time was scary, but after that it became more delicious. It is a popular dish in the insect restaurants in the city.
Our second dish was much easier. It was fried cricket. We were instructed to roll the fried cricket up in leaves from the hog plum tree and eat it with sweet fish sauces. It was delicious. The hog plum leaves gave me a taste of mango but I could still taste fat from the insect.
While eating the dish, the restaurant's kitchen was preparing us another dish made of crickets from his farm. The crickets were also used for our third dish – crickets fried in fish sauce, but a different kind of cricket, much bigger and fatter.
We enjoyed this with cucumber and tomato slices. The smell of fish sauce and peanuts while eating the cricket was lovely.
Sting in the tail: Fried scorpions with hog plum leaves. — VNS Photos Manh Linh
Van told us that he had learnt how to raise crickets and turn them into delicious dishes, from a famous man, Le Thanh Tung, who become a billionaire selling insects in Cu Chi.
The thing that makes this dish delicious is a peanut inserted inside a cricket after its internal organs have been removed. It was not a bad dish for an insect. However, the cost of each insect dish was about VND60,000 to 70,000 (about US$3).
Another dish that we did not order, also fried in fish sauce, was grasshopper. A young customer sitting next to our table who was addicted to eating insects invited us to try his favourite dish in the restaurant.
I did not feel so apprehensive after trying several dishes. Two other customers came into the restaurant. They said that it was also the first time that they had ever eaten insects.
They chose crickets fried in flour, the easiest dish to eat in the restaurant, according to the friendly eatery's owner. He went round every table to say hello and ask for his customer's opinions.
Four dishes were enough. I did not feel scared any more, so I suggested to my friend that we order fried scorpions for our "dessert". Before making the dish, Van brought some live scorpions to show us. They were really big and dangerous. He said he knew how to hold the poisonous insects correctly and we ate them with salt, pepper and lime juice.
There was a strange smell, but I could not describe it. Our host suggested that we try the centipede, but I declined. I did not feel up to it at the time but I'll try it next time.
There are around 20 dishes made of several kinds of insects in the restaurant, but crickets are the most popular. We will go back again another time to try the dishes here.
Though the restaurant is small and it's not easy to find, many young people in HCM City love to come here and get new a new culinary experience. Maybe as the dishes here are delicious and the restaurant is very friendly and helpful. — VNS
Address: 152/36/39F Lac Long Quan Street, Ward 3, District 11
Open: 3pm - midnight
How to get there: At main gate of Dam Sen Theme Park in Lac Long Quan Street, HCMCity. Call 0909.306.880 or 0902.306.880 to be picked up.