Wahaca’s Southbank Experiment, a restaurant built from eight recycled shipping containers stacked up like so much ‘Brobdingnagian’ Lego and decked out with Tristan Manco’s Mexican street-art, provides the chain with a platform to showcase more ‘out there’ offerings, with a view to creating new menu stalwarts. But, Jiminy cricket, insects?!
The horsemeat scandal canters on, providing a rude awakening for Brits regarding what’s really in their ready-meals. After initial horror, the horse has been championed, by some, as a lean, healthy source of protein – but there is a sustainable alternative which contains almost as much protein as lean beef, and three times the amount of calcium to boot.
You guessed it – insects are the answer. My rather squeamish dining companion seems to disagree, but he’s in the minority – around the world, insect consumption, or ‘entomophagy’, prevails in 80 per cent of the population, providing a nutritious and sustainable source of protein. Wahaca sees no reason the final fifth of us shouldn’t get munching, and the restaurant has invited diners to tuck in to a grasshopper dish, then vote #ChapulinYES or #chapuliNO on Twitter.
The ‘hoppers are currently sourced from the Oaxaca region via an accredited farmers’ co-op, says Wahaca founder Thomasina Miers, who believes that encouraging Brits to accept and enjoy insects could “change our food map forever”. She adds that, if popular, setting up a UK supplier would up the sustainability, allowing foodies to enjoy ‘Chapulines Fundido’, essentially a smoky chipotle salsa, smothered in melted mozzarella and cheddar.
The critters are snuck into the salsa base, along with garlic, shallots and chillies, only to reappear as a grotesque garnish but, on arrival, the dish appeared rather conventional and I feared that Wahaca had taken the ‘fun’ out of Fundido.
Without expecting much, I bit down on a tiny chapuline. It delivered an astonishing burst of highly-concentrated, umami flavour – smoky, nutty, with a pleasant bitterness. Still, no amount of bugging would convince my timid companion they too might be fond of the fundido.