Photo by Cathlyn Choi
Silkworm cocoon stir-fry
Readers with an interest in history books or bad ‘80s-era sitcoms probably already know that sushi was once considered exotic food. Yes, there was a time when many people seriously freaked out about the idea of eating raw fish.
Flash forward three decades and every Vons has a sushi bar, and the only people seriously freaked out by sushi are angry because there’s not enough uni or tako in their specialty roll.
One taste treat that is starting to pop up on the local scene involves entomophagy, the practice of eating insects. Most of the world eats insects in some form or another. They have lots of protein, and the hard shells of crickets and grasshoppers also have fiber. In fact, if there is any place in the U.S. where eating insects could and should catch on big, it’s San Diego. We’re close to Mexico where chapulines—a dried cricket flavored with lime and chili—are a popular snack. There’s also the fact that we’re in a desert and, because of climate change, we need to think of sustainable foods for future generations.
Insect cuisine is especially popular in Asia and Latin America and since both these cultures have a strong footing here in San Diego, you’re starting to see insects appear in specialty markets and on restaurant menus. Chef Trey Foshee sees a buggy world in the future of food—at least at his restaurant Galaxy Taco (2259 Avenida De La Playa, La Jolla). He’s featured chapulines in menu items in the past and is adding an avocado tostada topped with chapulines to the menu as this is being written.
“I’ve had no negative comments about [insects],” Foshee says. “But I suspect some people won’t try it at all, while others might try it and like it. And then there are the daring types—the people who like to sample the hottest sauce they can.”
But Foshee isn’t adding chapulines because they’re trendy.
“They’re seasoned with spice and citrus and are a little smoky,” he says. “I’m not putting them on the menu because it’s weird. I’m putting them on because they’re delicious.”
And, it should be noted, insects go great with beer.
“Insects are served in bars and as street food all over Asia,” says local Cathlyn Choi, host of Cathlyn’s Korean Kitchen, which runs locally on Channel 4 on both Time Warner and Cox cable channels.
Choi herself didn’t try insects until her late teens, but has adapted them into many of her dishes.
“I’m trying to use more lighter proteins these days,” Choi says.
One of her personal favorite dishes is a stir-fry dish using silkworm cocoons. “I’ve also had stir-fried crickets—they taste like shrimp!”
So far, stir-fried silkworm cocoons aren’t on many—if any—local restaurants' menus, so Choi makes the dish using pickled cocoons she gets at Zion Market, an Asian grocery store in Clairemont (7655 Clairemont Mesa Blvd).
“You can’t get them fresh,” she laments. “I like them with chopped garlic, chili pepper, and Korean Gochujang chili sauce. The aromatics are important. But silkworm cocoons aren’t like crickets. Crickets have no taste. Silkworms, you bite in and liquid sometimes comes out. That’s why I batter them.”