The restaurant industry is subject to fads and trends, just like every other industry and everyday life in general. In recent years the food industry has been overtaken by a number of these trends, from the increase in both quality and quantity of food trucks across the nation, to the use of sous vide cooking in restaurants, to craft cocktails and mixologists become the norm behind the bar, and so much more.
So what’s next in American dining?
Obviously, nobody can know the answer to that question with any certainty, but there is one possibility out there that has the potential to take off, and it has even made a few small inroads to the American market already. Even better, it’s a food trend that is practiced in many places around the globe, and has been for hundreds of years but is now finding favor among America’s modern chefs looking to draw something new out of ancient food traditions.
So what is this mysterious food trend hoping to take over the country? Don’t bug out, but it’s the introduction of dishes made using edible insects. Yes, seriously.
Humans have eaten bugs for just about forever, and the nutritional value they provide is undeniable, particularly when it comes to the tremendous amount of protein that can come from eating them. And while the idea of eating insects may cause an involuntary cringe among Americans, it is estimated that 80% of the global population still regularly eat bugs as a normal part of their lifestyle.
Diners and chefs in the United States have spent decades ignoring the buggier part of a global diet, but that may be changing soon, and it may be changing quickly. Edible insects have made waves in a number of other countries similar to the US in recent years, whether it be as one of the most buzzed about items at a major European food fair and trade show last year or as a creeping trend in Australia that feels similar, if not a bit more accepted, to the state of insect cuisine in America.
It should come as no surprise that this trend has taken off in recent years, nor that it has done so thanks largely to the more adventurous and food-obsessed portions of the population in more bug-averse nations. After all, Copenhagen’s freshly-reopened Noma has been named the world’s best restaurant multiple times and they have incorporated insects into their dishes for years, sometimes while they are still alive. This stamp of approval from the team behind the most coveted meals on earth has gone a long way towards the acceptance of edible bugs among foodies, something that may finally begin bleeding over to the mainstream.
Interestingly, there may be readers out there for whom the idea of ordering bugs while dining out is old hat, even in the United States. That is because grasshoppers have long been a staple of Oaxacan cuisine from Mexico, and a number of restaurants located in America that specialize in that style of food offer a grasshopper dish somewhere on the menu, either as an appetizer or as a taco filling.
What is new, however, is the number of non-Oaxacan restaurants around the country that are putting bug-based dishes on their menus. These are restaurants with a variety of focuses, from hip street food joints to sushi places, as well as Mexican-inspired eateries. Not just are these places open around the country, many of them are beloved by customers, boasting 4 stars or better on ratings sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor. The five top-rated spots in the US are in Seattle WA (Nue), Denver CO (Leña), Houston TX (Xochi), New York NY (The Black Ant), and Portland OR (Sushi Mazi).
Edible insects are creeping in to American food culture, and seem poised to make a big leap into mainstream acceptance soon. Whether it be at one of the restaurants that are out in front and leading the charge or at a bug-and-wine pairing event like those that are being held more and more regularly, it is becoming easier for Americans to get a taste of what the majority of the world considers a normal dining experience.
Who knows? Soon enough it may be pretty ho-hum to get your grub on with some grasshoppers in the US too.