Friday, August 26, 2011

My Encounter with Don Bugito's Wax Moth Larvae Tacos

Street food in the United States rarely has a positive association with bugs. After all, everyone is pretty familiar with the phrase "roach coach." As a matter of fact, throughout the world, the aversion to eating insects is an exception rather than the rule. Not usually one to be squeamish when it comes to eating something that may give others the creeps, when I saw the Don Bugito stand at the San Francisco Street Food Festival on Saturday I knew I had to try the Wax Moth Larvae Tacos.

Monica Martinez, owner of the La Cocina startup Don Bugito, wants to introduce San Franciscans to a part of Mexican cuisine that is often left to intrepid souls like Andrew Zimmern. The sign above the festival booth labeled it as a "prehispanic snakeria," and along with the larvae tacos they were selling Toffee Mealworm Ice Cream. For the cost of $8 for two Wax Moth Larvae Tacos and a side of raw chili-dusted jicama chips, I decided to do what my wife refused to do and chowed down on some bugs.

This was not my first flea circus, though. I have eaten grasshoppers, which pretty much taste like whatever they were fed (in my case it was a neutral corn meal, so yup, they tasted sort of like chicken). I have also had a scorpion lollipop that a friend brought back from New Orleans, but the supposedly shrimp-like flavor never overcame the blueberry and sugar in which it was encased.

The same was pretty much true of the Wax Moth Larvae Tacos from Don Bugito. I did munch on a couple larvae by themselves, and they were crunchy, fatty and slightly salty. Martinez describes them as tasting a lot like either bacon or chicharrones, but to me the flavor was much more mild. Served in taco form, the little critters had to seriously fight for attention among the tang of the marinated red onions and the smoky heat of the pasilla chiles. That all came on a bed of queso blanco with a dab of salsa verde. The tacos had a lot of big, bold flavor and were delicious. With my eyes closed, though, the only indication that the larvae were present in the dish was the extra bit of crunch they provided.

Seeking a couple more opinions of bug cuisine, we asked a few others at the festival to try Don Bugito's wax moth larvae. The first was my three year-old son, who after being given a larva to try kept reaching onto my plate to nibble on more. I cut him off at four bugs, which he simply described as "yummy." That's the great thing about kids; they have no pretenses and no fear about this kind of stuff.

For a more adult perspective, we asked festival attendee Rob Weldon of San Francisco to describe his first experience with a Wax Moth Larvae Taco as he tucked into it. "I believe they're still alive," he joked, cracking a smile. "I knew it wasn't going to be that weird. It's more our idea of what it looks like visually (that's shocking), more than anything."

Weldon agreed that the flavor of the bugs themselves was not particularly strong. "It kind of tastes like popcorn, actually. But it's good," he said, also noting that he'd previously dined on beetles, which were crunchy and salty. As for the larvae taco, "It's not very filling. I need more of that."
Rob Weldon eating a Wax Moth Larvae Taco

Don Bugito (@donbugitosf)

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