Bugs are a common part of any meal in the majority of countries throughout the world. When traveling abroad, do not be surprised if you are offered larvae-based cuisine.
A History of Eating Bugs
Bug cuisine dates back to 10,000 years ago. Before hunters and gatherers had the tools needed for hunting and farming, bugs and other insects comprised a natural part of their diet.
Cave paintings in northern Spain, for instance, illustrate wild bees’ nests. At the time, Spaniards may have eaten the bee larvae with the honey. Eating bugs has since been passed down to the present time.
Entomophagy in Different Cultures
Even though eating bugs is not a common practice in the developed world, it is still thriving in the rest of the world:
- In Africa, people either eat stink bugs plain or they flavor their stews with the bugs.
- Residents of Japan eat hornet larvae as a delicacy every fall.
- People in the Philippines prepare beetles with their meals.
- Mexicans add larvae from Mexican jumping beans to their dinners
The more tropical areas have more diverse selections of bugs. Most religions view eating them as commonplace. Whether the bugs are used as a main source of nutrition or as condiments, eating bugs is not taboo in many regions of the world.
Countries Where Bugs are Often Consumed and Where to Find Them
As aforementioned, consumption of bugs are quite common throughtout Asia, Africa, and Latin America. However, they are more common in some places than others.
Thailand – Thailand is well known amongst travelers for having a large selection of bugs available in their open market places. Street vendors fry certain bugs and serve them with beer as snack foods.
Bugs are also quite prevalent in temple fairs around Thailand. Bugs are very prevalent throughout Thailand, so they can be found in both rural and urban areas. For the best selection of Thai cuisine and bugs, visit Bangkok. Luckily, meals are usually very affordable in Thailand, so you will be able to try everything for a bargain price.
Nigeria – Bugs are eaten throughout Nigeria as well, particularly grasshoppers, termites, and their larvae. These can be found in both market places and street vendors.It would be best to visit Lagos or Abuja to get the best of Nigerian cuisine in general and they certainly have a selection of bugs as well. Food is also very affordable here as well.
Aborigines are known to eat certain types of grubs and ants. They are not usually very prevalent in the major cities like Sydney and Melbourne. They are more likely to be found in areas around Central Australia. Meals will likely be moderately priced.
Australia – Australia is common destination for Westerners, so it may come as a shock to some. Bugs are not really eaten as part of Australian cuisine, per se but they are considered a part of aboriginal cuisine.
- Mexio – Mexican cuisine is not really known for bugs either, but they are eaten in certain areas of southern Mexico, particularly rural areas. Some good places are Oaxaca and Mexico City. People are known to snack on grubs, grasshoppers, and caterpillars as they are considered quite healthy due to their protein content.
The best place to experience Mexican cuisine in general as well as the culture is Mexico City. Expect that meals will be reasonably priced.
Why Western Societies Do Not Eat Bugs
There are several reasons why developed nations do not eat this cuisine when it comes so naturally to other parts of the world:
- Once Europeans started to cultivate their land, bugs were viewed as threats to their crops.
- It is a cultural taboo. Much like shellfish in other cultures, bugs are seen as dirty by westerners.
- Americans and Europeans are very focused on hygiene and healthiness. There is a conception that all bugs carry diseases.
If you are traveling abroad and have any concerns about the points above, think about both the advantages and disadvantages of eating bugs. It could come into good use in certain situations.
There are many advantages to eating bugs. They have a great nutritional make-up, do not impact the environment as much as many other sources of food and they are low-maintenance:
- Bugs are high in protein and low in fat, making them a better nutritional bargain than most meats.
- They get their heat from their environment, requiring less natural resources than mammals require, since mammals have to heat themselves up.
- They can be farmed more easily because they require less space, food, machinery and labor than traditional livestock requires.
- They reproduce more quickly than cattle, chicken and other livestock.
Since bugs and other insects are not regulated by any government agency, such as the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S., unknown factors can make eating them a risky activity. Below is a list of common risks:
- There could be pesticides used in an insect’s habitat. Because so many insects are wild-harvested, it is not easy to know whether or not they have been exposed to toxins.
- The bugs can have a high level of natural toxins. There are moths in Italy, for example, that naturally produce hydrogen cyanide.
- The plants that a bug eats can have toxins.
Eating bugs with high levels of toxins can have adverse health effects such as nausea or vomiting, and it can lead to worse impacts on your health if you do not take proper precautions.
With the right precautionary measures, such as knowing the toxin level you are ingesting and boiling your bugs, you can eat bugs with minimal risk while traveling abroad.
Wendy Bailey lives in San Diego and loves to frequent the tasty restaurants. Her favorite is Tender Greens!