How do you react when you see a cockroach in your apartment?
I might react a bit differently compared to a regular person, since there is a part of me that sees it as … food. However, cockroaches in Japan are very quick and difficult to catch. Plus, they are relatively small in size. I wouldn’t eat them. The cockroaches that are fit for eating are the Madagascar hissing cockroaches, which are bigger and easier to catch. You wouldn’t find them in your room, though — except if you breed them yourself like I do.
What are some of the best insects you have eaten?
Bugs come in many different flavors. The cherry tree caterpillars are mind-blowingly good. They have that sweet aroma of a cherry tree, because that’s what they feed on. I once recommended silkworms that were still in their cocoons to my grandmother, who bit into one and said it had the same fine scent as when she would pull a kimono out from a chest of drawers. The tarantula . . . now those are only for special occasions. People in Cambodia or Laos usually just bite into them but I like to pull their shells off and dig in with a spoon, like the way I would eat the insides of a crab.
Are there any insects you wouldn’t recommend?
Pill bugs are basically unsavory. Farmed silkworms taste like a runny nose. I guess the tastes ultimately depend on what the insects have eaten. Timing is also key, because an insect that tastes fine as larva might not taste so good once it develops into an adult. Butterflies taste like grass.
When did you first begin to see insects as being edible?
From a very young age, as a child growing up in Tokyo’s Aoyama district. I didn’t have any experience eating grasshoppers as a child, as some kids living in rural areas might. Scenes of entomophagy occasionally pop up in anime and manga. People spit-roast rice grasshoppers in “Barefoot Gen,” for example. I have always wanted to know what they tasted like.
How often do you eat insects? Do you feel any different after eating them?
Once or twice a week. The ethnic grocery stores in Okubo, Ikebukuro, Ueno and Yokohama’s Chinatown district are some of the best places to purchase insects for eating. Of course, one can also visit a local pet store to purchase beetles and other bugs. I’ve never personally experienced any stomachache after eating insects. My skin condition generally gets better whenever I eat hornet larvae, while grasshoppers can help move a person’s bowels. But one should be careful about munching on too much larvae, because they contain a lot of fat and are high in calories.
If you could try eating any insect that you haven’t eaten yet, what would it be?
Honeypot ants. They are ants that carry nectar in their stomachs. I’d also like to try those huge, fat larvae that are often consumed by indigenous Australians (witchetty grubs).
What will it take for more countries in the West to appreciate entomophagy?
A strong prejudice exists against insects in the West, but hopefully they will understand that it’s good food. Sushi was first seen as eating raw fish and many people rejected it. Now, however, it has gained a huge fan base. I hope the same happens for insects. Some Western countries think it’s OK to eat snails and goat brains, so I think there is some tolerance toward eating grotesque food to some extent. Introducing insect food in the form of pizzas or tacos might make it easier.
Do you have any likes/ dislikes regarding food?
I’m not a fan of strong flavors such as wasabi and hot pepper.