Grasshoppers Add Crunch and Punch

Calavera puts edible insects—chapulines—on the menu: Today’s pests are tomorrow’s taco fillings.


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Eureka! Today’s pest is tomorrow’s taco filling.

Photo courtesy of Calavera

What are those plump, rusty, spiky, crispy nuggets served at Calavera in rough-hewn little bowls alongside chips and scrumptious, creamy guacamole? Are they rosebuds? Raisins?

No: As becomes increasingly clearer with every chewy, leggy, acrid bite, they’re chapulines: grasshoppers, toasted old-school-style by executive chef Christian Irabien, as has been done in Mexico for centuries.

The sleek Oakland restaurant, which could easily double as a chic folk-art museum, sources its bugs from Doña Cristina María Cruz, who harvests them in the Oaxaca-area town of San Antonio de la Cal, where indigenous grasshoppers have long been part of the local cuisine. (The source of lead-contaminated chapulines, which sparked concerns several years ago, is another Oaxaca-area town: Zimatlán.) Doña Cruz is a family friend of photographer Daniel Robles, whose artworks adorn Calavera’s bar.

A more local source might be in the works: Farmer Amy Grabish—who works with Calavera co-owner Chris Pastena’s other Oakland restaurants, Chop Bar and Lungomare—is thinking of adding grasshoppers to her range of heritage livestock at Dixon-based Grabishfarm.

Because chapulines are a seasonal item, primarily harvested from mid-spring to early autumn, Calavera’s supplies vary in size. Irabien prefers working with the larger, high-season insects, but the cool seasons’ smaller, denser bugs have their fans as well.

“Guests have been very curious and adventurous,” says Jessica Sackler, who co-owns Calavera with Pastena and Michael Iglesias. “We have sold a surprising amount of chapulines, and I think people in Oakland and the Bay Area are quite receptive to the idea of trying them.

“They add a great salty crunch. About one-third of our guacamoles go out with chapulines.”

Most meat-eaters gladly eat two- and four-legged creatures yet balk at six-legged ones. Insects aren’t as cute as their furry, scaly counterparts, but a recent United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report exhorts us to end world hunger, reduce greenhouse gases, and stoke global economies by eating more of these quickly reproducing fiber-rich protein sources that can be farmed and harvested for practically free.

 

Calavera

2337 Broadway, Oakland, 510-338-3723, www.CalaverOakland.com.

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