Diner: Waiter, there's a fly in my soup.
Waiter: Lower your voice! Or everyone else will ask for one.
It's not a joke anymore, at least according to an enormously entertaining new book. It's the Eat-A-Bug Cookbook, by David George Gordon (Ten Speed Press, $12.95).
Gordon points out that entomophagy--that's the fancy word for bug-eating--has been practiced for centuries nearly all over the globe, except for the United States and Europe. The benefits, he believes, are many:
* Bugs are nutritious, low-calorie and packed with protein and vitamins.
* Bug-raising is environment-friendly. It doesn't require huge tracts of land, large quantities of feed or masses of chemicals, as livestock-ranching does.
* No one ever has to go hungry.
Actually, these days we're all bug-eaters, whether we like it or not. That's because the FDA recognizes that it's impossible to keep our food completely bug-free. So, for example, government regulations permit up to 60 aphids in 31U2 ounces of frozen broccoli; three fruit-fly maggots in 200 grams of tomato juice; and 100 insect fragments in 25 grams of curry powder.
The book's recipes--about three dozen of them--are a laugh-out-loud hoot. Among them: Cream of Katydid Soup; Curried Termite Stew (Gordon calls termites "the other white meat"); Three Bee Salad; Ants in Pants; Worm Tempura with Plum Dipping Sauce; Larval Latkes; Cockroach à la King; Pest-o; Sweet and Sour Silkworm; Party Pupae; and my personal favorite, Scorpion Scaloppine. This last dish calls for one pint low-fat milk, one cup cornmeal, two tablespoons unsalted butter, one tablespoon fresh lemon juice, two tablespoons chopped parsley, and eight desert hairy scorpions.
The book has other charms. Eight vivid, full-page color photographs help the novice make sure the dishes are attractively plated. Giant water bugs on watercress, fried green tomato hornworm and cricket-laden shish kebabs never looked so good.
Gordon includes a section on "choice cuts," those arthropod parts that make the best eating. Try to nab the large strands of longitudinal muscle that operate an insect's legs, wings and tail. He calls them "sumptuous fare." But don't bother with the exoskeleton, roughage that humans can't digest.
What do you drink with insects? Gordon is partial to Pinot Gris, which he claims is a "fine companion for the subtle tastes of bug cuisine." It's particularly effective, he says, with stir-fried dragonflies. Sauvignon Blanc, meanwhile, "complements the woodsy taste of field crickets." A pitcher of sangria, however, is recommended for more robust, full-flavored bugs.
Where can you find these delicacies? You can always turn over rocks in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve or skim your pool. However, Hatari Invertebrates, which operates out of Portal, Arizona, is a more reliable supplier. Centipedes, honeypot ants, katydids, lubber grasshoppers, scorpions and spiders are usually on hand. Call 1-520-558-2418. Bon appetit.
Suggestions? Write me at [email protected] or New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,