Japan wants you to eat a bug. But not like in an elementary school bullying sense. It’s to help you get used to the food of the future. As the population grows, the world will have to start looking outside livestock for our protein needs, and the place we’ll most likely land is insects. It makes sense — those fellas require much less feed and water than chicken or pork, mature faster and are also very lean. There’s also the fact that Japan has been eating bugs for centuries now. It started in farming villages then spread to cities during World War II when food shortages became a problem. The trend later died but is coming back in the form of various snacks (and cricket-broth ramen). To help you get the right image, we embarked on a recent bug gastronomy experience of tasting the latest on Japan’s market — and here’s what we found out.
Super Koorogi Otsumami Senbei
These are senbei crackers made with a mix of cricket meal and rice flour, and, at first glance, no one would be able to tell the difference between them and the real thing. Unless you take a big whiff of them first. Real senbei have a strong, savory smell to them. The Super Koorogi (Super Crickets), on the other hand, smell a bit… stale? You have to really stick your nose into the bag to get it, though. If you start eating them, however, you’ll find that they taste like regular Japanese rice crackers.
The kind we got is flavored with shichimi spice and soy sauce, and you feel it, but they don’t overwhelm the snack. If you pack a bunch of the senbei into your mouth, you will get hints of an underlying bitter taste that’s most likely the bug protein. It’s surprisingly delightful, though, and works well with the spiciness of the shichimi. The packaging says that these crackers go great with beer and the combination of savory, spicy, and slightly bitter flavors attest to that. All in all, this is probably the most painless way to introduce someone to eating bugs. If you couldn’t get your hands on the limited-edition cricket senbei sold by MUJI back in May, give these a go. Super Koorogi Otsumami Senbei can be purchased online from Bugs Farm or Amazon.
Eat Grub Crunchy Roasted Crickets
Made by the British company Eat Grub but available in many parts of Japan, this is another cricket snack, but this one forces you to face what you’re eating. In the sense that these crickets have been roasted whole and despite a generous helping of seasoning, you can still see their tiny bug faces. But, hey, they sort of smell like surume (Japanese dried squid), so down the hatch they go.
The package is not lying — these crickets are crunchy. So crunchy that it almost feels like they have no taste and, in the beginning, you don’t get much more than their flavoring: sweet chili and lime, in our case. But if you empty most of the bag into your mouth, you will get that bitter bug taste hinted at by the senbei from earlier. It works really well with the lime and chili and would similarly make a tasty beer snack.
The other flavor we got was peri-peri pepper, but it was so overpowering that you could be eating gravel and probably wouldn’t know the difference. All in all, the sweet chili and lime is great but the look of this snack may turn some people off. If interested, you can buy here.
Bugoom’s Mixed Pupae
Made by a Fukuoka-based company, this bug snack does not sugarcoat what it’s selling you. It looks a bit off-putting at first. The dried mixed pupae look like live worms or spider legs. Nothing has been done to make them look presentable, and if you want to put off a newcomer from eating bugs, this is probably the snack to do it. However, they are seasoned with just salt, which should give you a more honest taste experience.
The initial smell is very strong and bitter, sort of reminiscent of surume but different. As for the taste, it’s complex, but in a good way. Depending on the pupa, you get a lot of hints of sweetness, bitterness, even a weird kind of natural spiciness. The snack also has a strong aftertaste that you’ll want to wash down with something, though probably not with alcohol. It would mask the pupae’s natural flavors, and you don’t want to miss out on those. Honestly, this almost makes you a big angry that all the other snacks went so hard on the seasoning. Want to taste these? Purchase them online for ¥1,577 a pack.
As it turns out, bugs taste pretty great. It’s a unique taste but you can quickly get used to it — no reason to bug-out about it. Cheers!