Viet Nam News
By Vương Bạch Liên
To many foreigners, Vietnamese are considered adventurous eaters – not afraid to devour the whole animal, blood and guts included. Insects are also on the menu. I laughed when a foreign friend recently asked me whether it was true that when a Vietnamese man encounters a new animal, he first asks “Is it dangerous?” and secondly “Is it edible?”
It’s undeniable that many Vietnamese enjoy eating a range of insects. The critters are local specialties but may seem a little too ‘creepy’ for the uninitiated. However, with the enticing aroma of a freshly fried bug, who knows, you may be tempted to take a bite after all…
The most common insects used as food in Việt Nam are grasshoppers and silkworm pupae.
Roasted grasshoppers – delicacy from the rice harvest
Grasshoppers are closely intertwined with my childhood memories. When I was younger, I loved running through endless rice fields accompanied my friends on the hunt for grasshoppers.
The best time to catch them was in the early morning when their wings were wet with dew and they struggled to fly. Another opportunity was when it was raining. I would shout with joy when I caught a couple of grasshoppers, ‘hugging’ each of them when they were still asleep in the morning’s dew.
Catching grasshoppers was only one of the ways we entertained ourselves. But when I managed to catch a bunch of insects, I brought them home. The grasshoppers were then roasted and the dish became one of my favourites. The crunchy insects were very popular for families living in countryside in the 80s when life was still difficult. They caught them in rice fields or bought them cheaply at the market.
After leaving the countryside for Hà Nội, I missed those days of catching grasshoppers with my friends.
Nowadays, as the economy develops, roasted grasshoppers have disappeared from the diets of Việt Nam’s families, particularly in big cities, replaced by meat and other more expensive food. But it remains a popular dish, especially for those that grew up snacking on bugs.
It’s easy to make fried grasshoppers. Boiled water is poured over the grasshoppers in order to remove their wings. The long antennas, hard legs, and organs are removed. After that, the grasshoppers (with or without their heads) are mixed with salt, rinsed and then left to dry before being cooked. Grasshoppers are roasted in a pan until they turn deep brown. Sliced lemon leaves will be added.
The resulting dish is tasty and crunchy, containing high nutritional value.
Grasshoppers can be found in the fields all year round. However, they are especially abundant during rice harvest season, from May to September. They are also usually a lot fatter.
Grub’s up: Silkworm pupae are taken out of their cocoons. - VNS Photo Bạch Liên
Even more popular than grasshoppers, silkworm pupae were widely consumed in Việt Nam. Roasted silkworm pupae are enjoyed by many Vietnamese people as the dish contains lots of nutritious protein.
The country’s nutrition experts say that the dish, rich in protein and minerals, is good for children as it can prevent malnutrition and is important for the development of the body. It is also good for those who suffer from kidney disease or arthritis.
The silkworm is the larva or caterpillar of the domesticated silk moth. Silkworm pupae are silkworm in the preparation phase, turning into butterflies to lay eggs.
The sericulture — the practice of breeding silkworms for the production of raw silk-- has its origins in China where it has been practiced for almost 5,000 years. It spread to Việt Nam and some other Asian countries.
Many villages in North Việt Nam were famous for raising silkworms with mulberry leaves and harvesting cocoons to make the natural silk.
The silkworm pupae are very popular in the local markets.
From the market, pupae are washed, dried, and then mixed with salt. The silkworm pupae will be fried with oil and fish sauce.
Lemon leaves were cut into tiny strips and mixed into fried pupae to add more taste to the dish.
“The first time I ate silkworm pupae was one year ago in a restaurant in Hà Nội. Well, at first, I was afraid of eating them but then I wanted to try as I was curious. It was much more delicious than I first thought,” says Laura Carle, a Swiss teacher in Hà Nội, laughing.
“In Switzerland and I guess, in other western countries, it is absolutely not on the menu. So why don’t we take advantage of our time in Việt Nam to taste some original food,” she says with a big smile.
Food specialists are encouraging people around the world to think about eating insects – an excellent source of protein. Although you may be creeped out at first, hundreds of Vietnamese can’t be wrong. Why not give it a try? — VNS