Grasshoppers leap onto Metro Detroit menus

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News
Chef Drakopoulous squeeze out house made sour cream on a roasted grasshoppers taco with wild mushrooms, black beans and cilantro.

Americans will eat a lot of unusual things, but insects — which are seen as an acceptable source of protein around the globe — have yet to go mainstream in Metro Detroit. 

Yet some Mexican and Mexico-inspired chefs are challenging that by serving chapulines — dried grasshoppers. 

They're following a nationwide trend of growing acceptance of the Mexican delicacy. It's not uncommon to find chapulines at restaurants in southern border states, particularly in southern California.

Chapulines dusted with chili lime salt caused a frenzy last year when they were served at Safeco Field for Seattle Mariners home games. Demand was so high, said Rebecca Hale, the team’s director of public information, that the restaurant inside the ballpark had to limit the number of orders sold at each game.

Now, the curious can order dried grasshoppers (and other insects) in a variety of flavors for home cooking on and in local restaurants. 

Inside the recently opened Detroit Shipping Company, one of the food vendors is Brujo Tacos and Tapas, which will add chipotle-roasted chapulines to any taco. Chef Petro Drakopoulos said he likes to offer the grasshoppers because it's authentic Mexican street food. They add crunch and a depth of flavor that is spicy and earthy. To make them more pleasant to eat, the bugs' heads and legs are shaken off. 

Chapulines, Drakopoulos added, have ecological benefits. 

"As a modern chef, I appreciate the alternative protein source they represent, and the sustainable form of food they promise for the future," he said. 

Chef Drakopoulous takes a bite from the chipolte roasted grasshoppers taco, with wild mushrooms, black beans, cilantro and house made sour cream.

Chapulines aren't just hopping into tacos, either. Detroit's La Noria Bistro is a sister restaurant to Mexican-Italian fusion hot spot El Barzon. This is a more casual setting with a full bar, tortas, tacos — the tacos arabes with pork loin are worth a visit alone — pasta, seafood and a selection of Neapolitan brick oven-baked pizzas. 

Among the four-cheese, mushroom and pepperoni varieties is a simple pie made with tomato sauce, mozzarella and chapulines. 

Detroit Shipping Company diner Amy Hoffman of Ferndale tried the chapulines during a recent visit, but she couldn't pick out the flavor of grasshopper on the tostada she ordered.

"I never ate one by itself, it was together with all the other toppings which kind of overpowered them," she said. 

She said her friend popped one right in his mouth, though. "He said it sort of tasted like bacon." 

Chapulines aren't a novelty for Detroit-based artist Kia Ix Arriaga, who said they taste earthy and are crunchy like dried shrimp. 

"Chapulines taste (like) what they eat," Arriaga said. "The grass, the field, the earth and summer." 

Arriaga, who was born in Mexico and has been eating the insects for as long as she can remember, stresses that chapulines are grasshoppers, not crickets. 

"They are not the same," she said. "Crickets love to eat rotten things like wood, and sometimes each other."

A pan of dried and roasted grasshoppers.

In addition to grasshoppers, other insects are on menus around town before. When Rock City Eatery moved from Hamtramck to Midtown in 2016, chef Nikita Sanches introduced "ants on a log," a starter dish featuring pickled celery, peanut butter, roasted grapes and dried ants from Thailand that were reconstituted using vinegar.

The dish was eventually phased out of the menu because the ants were hard to import. 

The let's-eat-bugs movement is gaining steam. As Americans look for sustainable foods, insects keep infesting the conversation as a possible alternative protein source because they don't take up as much space or resources as cows, for example. 

Earlier this month a New York Times headline asking why people in the U.S. aren't eating more bugs. The writer concluded that it's likely because there are fewer and smaller bugs in Europe than in other parts of the world. People eat what is available, so familiarity with eating insects isn't the same in Western culture as it is in warmer parts of the world, like Mexico, where grasshoppers have been eaten for centuries. 

At his Dearborn restaurant M Cantina, chef Junior Merino said he's impressed that customers have been enthusiastic about chapulines. 

"They are kind of popular," he said. "I didn't think I'd get the response that I'm getting. People are ordering them, and they love them."

He roasts chapulines like pumpkin seeds and adds lime and salt. He includes them in a taco with fingerling potatoes, melted cheese and veggies.  

"A combination of the crunchiness of the chapulines with the nice texture of the potatoes, and also we use a little bit of guacamole, and the guacamole gives it a really, beautiful complex flavor," he said. 

Merino gets the dried grasshoppers from the Oaxaca region of Mexico, near where he grew up. He said he spent his early years on a ranch and when the wet season arrived, chapulines were plentiful. 

"It's just part of us surviving on what the land is providing for us," he said.

Twitter: @melodybaetes