The Taste of Tomorrow
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  • February24th

    Grilled locusts in Thailand.

    Maybe once, in a mescal-induced trance, you sucked down the little worm (actually a moth larva) at the bottom of the bottle. But insects as a regular source of sustenance? Bizzare Foods territory, right? Actually, there is nothing bizarre about eating crawly little buggers.

    In fact, insects might hold the answer to a growing world’s food needs. They are high in protein, low in fat and cholesterol and plentiful. As it is, about 70 percent of all grain goes to feeding livestock. The developing world’s taste for meat will only intensify that imbalance.

    It’s not exactly a new idea. People in 80 percent of the world’s nations eat more than 1,000 insects, according to a July 2010 Guardian article. So, what will it take for Americans to get past the queasiness factor? A Thailand vacation might help. Sure, you will find food carts hawking fried crickets to thrill-seeking backpackers on Bangkok’s Khao San Road.

    But try going farther afield for a wider range of insect delicacies in the markets and fairs that dot the countryside.

    On a trip around the Land of Smiles a few years ago, I tried fried grilled locusts at a highway rest stop and water beetles at a community festival. They were – surprise – pretty tasty. It’s not so surprising, actually, when you consider what a little hot oil, salt and chili leaves will do for just about anything. It didn’t seem like a stretch to imagine them as bar snacks.

    In the U.S., urbanites can find insects on some daring restaurants’ menus. Entrepreneurs such as University of Chicago student Matthew Krisiloff are beginning to market them. Krisiloff’s Entom Foods is gearing up to sell crickets, grasshoppers and mealworms shaped like shrimp or made into patties like hamburgers sans wings, eyes and legs. Publications such as The New Yorker, Time Out and The New York TimesChicago News Cooperative have taken notice.

    Don’t think you will ever see insects in the snack aisle? It’s worth recalling that as late as the 1800s, Americans considered lobsters a repulsive food source. “Even in the harsh penal environment of early America, some colonies had laws against feeding lobsters to inmates more than once a week because it was thought to be cruel and unusual, like making people eat rats, David Foster Wallace wrote in his 2004 Gourmet article, “Consider the Lobster.”

    – Rob Jordan

    Two other thoughts from the ToT to encourage insect-eating from an FAO report:

    1. They’re organic.

    “Edible insects from forests are an important source of protein, and unlike those from agricultural land, they are free of pesticides,” said Paul Vantomme, an FAO forestry expert, in a rep or

    2. They’re healthful.

    For every 100 grams of dried caterpillars, there are about 53 grams of protein, about 15 percent of fat and about 17 percent of carbohydrates. Their energy value amounts to around 430 kilocalories per 100 grams. Caterpillars are also believed to have a higher proportion of protein and fat than beef and fish with a high energy value.  

  • February3rd

    Quick: What food is highly nutritional, abundant, renewable and possibly the answer to global warming?

    Quick #2:   What was the foodstuff that the ToT author most regretted not featuring in the book with its own chapter? (see previous mea culpa posts, & “About Us”)

     

    Seaweed, the perfect sustainable food, has long been a staple in Asia but has yet to show up on most American plates.

    That’s why we’re excited to see a recent spate of interest from the mainstream media.

    Fast Company profiles efforts to use algae to make, among other things, baked goods such as cookies, Omega-3 oil supplements, infant formula and jet fuel. Time names algae food among its top 20 green tech ideas. Both FC and Time mention Solazyme. While it hopes to ultimately sell algae-based biofuels, the San Francisco-area startup is marketing algae as a low-fat, high-protein replacement for eggs, butter and oil. (NOTE: we’ve tried algae sugar cookies – yum)  The Atlantic points to seaweed as a pollution sponge, and cites a Dutch professor who claims a seaweed farm the size of Washington state could satisfy all the world’s protein needs.

    The jury is still out on seaweed. An Associated Press story outlines concerns about seaweed as a panacea. Is it harvested too quickly to measure or control its effect as a carbon sink? Will removing water during the fuel conversion process require lots of energy?

    It may be a while before the algae biofuel market heats up. In the meantime, T of T taste kitchen staff are going to run out to the nearest upscale market for some Maine Coast Sea Vegetables or Ocean Approved laver (Atlantic Ocean version of nori), kelp (large brown seaweed) and dulse (red leaf algae).

    Stay tuned for the results….

    Meanwhile, if you’re interested in seeing the extraordinary diversity of “seaweed,” check out this brilliant site curated by Irish seaweed expert Michael Guiry.

    – Rob Jordan

  • February2nd

    Hollywood = food.

    Lots of foodie-types will pick San Francisco or NYC. Cases can be made for Chicago or Montreal. We’ve enthused about the virtues of DC (see earlier post in “African cuisines”)

    But when the ToT staffers picked our favorite food city in North America, it was unanimous, a no-brainer.

    Here is part 1 of why when we think Hollywood we think food.

     1.Farmers Markets To Die For.

    SoCal has, of course, a really big advantage – the world’s best climate (pretty much). You can get locally grown lettuces and locally grown eggplants and locally grown peaches and locally grown almonds – in January or July. It also has another natural resource – a population filled with  food nerds that support the growing of obscure varieties and risky heirlooms.

    You may have heard about the farmers markets in Santa Monica or Hollywood or Downtown LA.

    But it’s the mediocre LA farmers markets that blow our minds. Your no-big deal LA farmers market might have 10 different types of heirloom lettuce, and 10 different varieties of mushrooms, a citrus bar with seven kinds of oranges,  a nut vendor, a berry specialist, not to mention a bunch of ethnic and artisanal options – in January.  An LA-area farmers market is where you probably have your best chance of crossing paths with an Australian finger lime or a Turkmen melon.  In short, if you’re the type of person who wants every trip to the farmers market to hold the potential of a rapturous food encounter – LA.

    Check out this slightly dated guide to the Best of LA’s farmers markets.

    2. The LA Times Farmers Market Beat Reporter  — The Fruit Detective

    The Woodward & Bernstein of the LA farmers market scene.

    If you are an LA Times food section reader,  or if you read one of the ToT’s favorite books, Adam Leith-Gollner’s The Fruit Hunters, you may know of David Karp.  He is the Woodward & Bernstein of the LA farmers market scene.

    Karp, aka “The Fruit Detective,” is most renowned for his unparalleled knowledge – and obsessive interest – in obscure and exotic fruit.  (For more on Karp, see The Fruit Hunters
    or an excellent New Yorker piece by John Seabrook).

    The Fruit Detective is the chronicler of the LA farmers market scene, writing weekly dispatches for the Times food section. In the past few months alone,  Karp has introduced readers to African scarlet eggplant, Indian blood firestone peaches, green almonds, Red Brussels sprouts, the possibilities of Italian lemons, the melons of Turkmenistan.

    If you’re interested to learn about the 43 varieties of figs – and how and when they taste different, and who the best fig growers are, Karp will amaze you.  If you want to know where to find Australian finger limes, how to select the best grapefruits, how to grow matusake mushrooms in a trailer, consult Karp. The ToT loves him because his passions could foreshadow what could be The Next Big Thing in Produce.  Please savor this classic piece of Fruit Detective work on the varieties of cactus pears beginning to appear at LA markets:

     3. Central Vietnamese.

    North of pho and banh mi, there is bun bo Hue and jackfruit noodle salad.   We know this because, like Randy Newman, we love Los Angeles.

    In LA, it’s not just Vietnamese, it’s  Central VietnameseIt’s not just Thai; it’s Isaan Thai.  LA has Chinatown and Japantown, it also has Little Cambodia and Little Laos and Little Saigon Westminster.

    Yes –there are multiple Little Vietnams.  LA has a whole 100,000-person plus suburb that’s mostly Armenian.   There are suburbs chock full of Islamic Chinese food. The only place in the US that rivals it, in terms of luscious, hyper-diversity, is Western Queens (Jackson Heights, Corona, Elmhurst).  What’s so mind-bending about LA’s diversity is the limitless ethnic chowing to be done in the suburbs of the San Gabriel Valley. In brief, LA, birthplace of the Korean taco, is an ethnic food amusement park.

     4. The David Karp of the San Gabriel Valley Ethnoburbs – Jonathan Gold.   

    The Man (for LA chow hound-types)

    Jonathan Gold, the LA Weekly’s food writer, is no secret.  They finally gave him a Pulitzer Prize. The New Yorker called him “the high low priest of LA food” that readers look to for advice on “where to get crickets, boiled silkworms, cocoons and fried grasshoppers” and where to get the best Isaan Thai (That’s northeastern Thai). Gold is your man if you’re going to Long Beach’s Little Cambodia, or looking for some authentic central Vietnamese food.  Ditto you’re looking for the best Peruvian or Nicaraguan on Pico Boulevard. (Like scaling Everest, pre-planning is essential to approaching the vast LA ethnic smorgasbord)

    Gold also happens to be incredibly entertaining.  If you want a taste, he dispense his weekly restaurant and other advice  on the LA-based food show, Good Food, hosted by Evan Kleiman.

    More on why we love LA next month…

    Meantime, one non-LA note: great piece by Mark Bittman in the NYT travel section on Indian restaurants in London.