Meeru Dhalwala, chef and co-owner of Shanik in Seattle and Vij’s in Vancouver, British Columbia, first tried insects herself in the summer of 2008 after she read a New York Times article about eating them.
“Before that I was a total bug scaredy cat. They gave me the heebie-jeebies,” says Chef Dhalwala, who serves crickets at her restaurants.
These days, she visits tables and asks if customers want to try the Cricket Paranta (unleavened bread). “It’s different, but delicious and super high in protein and iron,” she tells customers.
Often she’s met with a blank stare. More than once she’s heard the reply, “You mean real crickets?”
Dhalwala can tell diners are trying to figure out how to say no and still be polite. Then she tells them about how she feared eating insects and what changed her mind. It’s effective.
“I would say that 80 percent of the people I talk to will order the Cricket Paranta,” Chef Dhalwala says. “It has become my third best-selling appetizer, closely behind samosas and kabobs.”
While many Americans view insects as pests that destroy crops and spoil picnics, 80 percent of the world’s nations regularly consume bugs. Natives of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Africa, and Mexico, for example, regularly eat crickets, grasshoppers, ants, silkworms, scorpions and tarantulas.
"Insects are healthy, nutritious alternatives to mainstream staples such as chicken, pork, beef and even fish," according to a 2013 report compiled by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Framed as an alternative source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, bugs are slowly crawling onto menus in the U.S.
World Entomophagy—entomophagy meaning the consumption of insects as food—is a nonproft that provides edible insect ingredients and whole insects to chefs and adventurous home eaters. According to Harman Johar, CEO and founder of the company, the most popular insects for restaurants now are crickets—which are also the most cost effective and highest in protein—followed by scorpions, mealworms, and waxworms, in that order.
“Serving insects is an increasing trend with restaurants,” says Johar. “Since 2013 our restaurant clientele has doubled.”