Care for a Side of Silkworms? Bugs are Now Fine Dining in Bangkok

Ants and beetles in the kitchen? Normally that’d close down a restaurant, but for a Bangkok eatery, it’s business!

Published05 Oct 2017, 07:35 AM IST
Food
4 min read

Ants and beetles in the kitchen? Normally that'd close down a restaurant immediately, but for a unique eatery in Bangkok, bugs in the beef ragu and pests in the pesto are the business plan.

Tucking into insects is nothing new in Thailand, where street vendors pushing carts of fried crickets and buttery silkworms have long fed locals and adventurous tourists alike. But bugs are now fine-dining at ‘Insects in the Backyard’, a Bangkok bistro aiming to revolutionise views of nature's least-loved creatures and what you can do with them!

Chef Thitiwat Tantragarn cooks giant water beetle raviolis at Insects in the Backyard restaurant, in Bangkok, Thailand.
Chef Thitiwat Tantragarn cooks giant water beetle raviolis at Insects in the Backyard restaurant, in Bangkok, Thailand.
(Photo : AP/Sakchai Lalit)
In Thailand, there is a long history of local populations, of people consuming insects and they continue to do so, in large amounts. But it’s essentially as a snack, not a part of dishes, not a part of cuisine. We are interested in moving people away from seeing insects purely as a snack to be a part of a gourmet and a delicious cuisine.
Regan Suzuki Pairojmahakij, a Canadian partner at the eatery

‘It’s Crispy, it’s Like a Snack!’

That's the responsibility of executive chef Thitiwat Tantragarn, a veteran of some of Thailand's top restaurants. Together with his team he's designed a menu that features seven different insects – including ants, crickets, bamboo caterpillars, silkworms and giant water beetles.

It’s a new thing. You live in the world, you need to learn the new thing.
Thitiwat Tantragarn, Executive Chef
Kelvarin Chotvichit eats fried bamboo worms, silkworms and cricket at Insects in the Backyard restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand.
Kelvarin Chotvichit eats fried bamboo worms, silkworms and cricket at Insects in the Backyard restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand.
(Photo : AP/Sakchai Lalit)

He said he's cooked with pork and chicken for a long time, but insects are "a new world of cooking (and a) new lesson."

For Kelvarin Chotvichit, a lawyer from Bangkok, the menu has been a revelation of taste and texture.

When I tasted this, it’s opened new attitudes about foods: that insects are one of the foods that’s edible. And it’s tasty too. It’s not weird as you thought. And the feeling — it’s crispy; it’s like a snack. Yeah, I like it.

United Nations food experts have pushed insects as a source of nutrition for years. Studies show they're higher in protein, good fats and minerals than traditional livestock. Even when commercially farmed, their environmental impact is far lower, needing less feed and emitting less carbon.

Amornrat Simapsaisan, a local shop manager, eats a watermelon salad with bamboo worms at Insects in the Backyard restaurant, in Bangkok, Thailand.
Amornrat Simapsaisan, a local shop manager, eats a watermelon salad with bamboo worms at Insects in the Backyard restaurant, in Bangkok, Thailand.
(Photo : AP/Sakchai Lalit)

Wholesaler Amornsiri Sompornsuksawat is one the suppliers to Insects in the Backyard. The prospect of a new market — the fine-dining sector — is enough to make her salivate:

I hope that people will eat more of my bugs and I can sell more of them. We can have new menus, replacing the old familiar ones. It’s great.
A bamboo worm, silkworm and fried crickets are displayed on a fork before being eaten at Insects in the Backyard restaurant, in Bangkok, Thailand.
A bamboo worm, silkworm and fried crickets are displayed on a fork before being eaten at Insects in the Backyard restaurant, in Bangkok, Thailand.
(Photo : AP/Sakchai Lalit)

Battling ‘Disgust’ With Good Food

Insects in the Backyard has only been open a matter of weeks, so it's too early to tell whether its mission to metamorphose insect cuisine is on track.

Amornrat Simapaisan, a local shop manager, quite happily tucked into her watermelon and cricket salad on a recent evening.

"It's tasty. It's munchy," she said.

But her dining partner exemplified the biggest problem the restaurant faces: that lingering feeling of disgust.

I still have a barrier, something on my mind to stop me from eating it. But, yes, it kind of tastes like normal, nothing, like normal food.
Patr Srisook, a freelance photographer
From left to right – bamboo worms, silkworms and giant water beetles are some of the ingredients used at Insects in the Backyard restaurant, in Bangkok, Thailand.
From left to right – bamboo worms, silkworms and giant water beetles are some of the ingredients used at Insects in the Backyard restaurant, in Bangkok, Thailand.
(Photo : AP/Sakchai Lalit)

And that is the message from the restaurant itself: Judge us on our food.

There is obviously the shock value with insects and that might bring some people through the door. But, essentially, for the longevity or sustainability of the restaurant, and, for the sector of the edible insects as a whole, it has to stand on its own legs, so to speak. It has to be attractive. It has to be delicious. And it actually has to add something to the cuisine as we know it.
Regan Suzuki Pairojmahakij
Spaghetti with silkworm and cricket at Insects in the Backyard restaurant, in Bangkok, Thailand.
Spaghetti with silkworm and cricket at Insects in the Backyard restaurant, in Bangkok, Thailand.
(Photo : AP/Sakchai Lalit)

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