In Simao Yecai Guan, a small restaurant situated in the Southern part of Kunming, the capital of China’s Yunnan province, a woman grasps a fried grasshopper between her thumb and forefinger. Smiling gleefully, she exclaims, “we grew up eating these”, adding reassuringly, “they are tasty”.
In China’s Yunnan province, insects have long been a popular snack. Wasp larvae, a local favourite, are deep fried and vendors can sell bags of the golden-brown grubs for 150-200 yuan per kilo (around US$24-40). It is not just wasp larvae on the menu, hungry locals in Yunnan devour dishes of silkworms, barbecued bamboo worms, and fried grasshoppers.
Insects are a lucrative business. Lin Zufa owns a shop which sells insects wholesale to hungry patrons. He takes around 2 million yuan a year (US$320,000) in wasp larvae sales alone. He is hoping to expand his business to enter the Thai market. They are the largest consumers, with an edible insect industry worth US$50 million a year.
Yunnan province’s insect industry is looking to generate other avenues of revenue. In the historic town of Lijiang, the tourism bureau is using the local population’s love of insects as an unconventional method to attract tourists to the region.
Lijiang hosts an annual “bug-eating contest”. Once a year, the local people don traditional garments and attempt to put away as many insects as they can in a five-minute period. In the 2017 event, a local man from Chongquing won the competition after consuming 1.23 kilograms of fried bamboo worms and crickets in just five minutes. His prize was a small 24-caret gold bar.
The event attracts international attention, with hundreds of tourists from across the China and the Asian continent flocking to Lijiang to witness the spectacle. Yunnan’s rich heritage of insect-eating provides an opportunity for the local population to lift themselves out of poverty.
Chef, Simone Tong from New York City ate her way across Yunnan, she offered visitors some words of encouragement. “After getting over the initial psychological barrier of putting grasshopper-looking insects in my mouth, they actually tasted quite delicious, like cured egg yolk”, she said.
The West may not be ready to import grasshoppers and wasp larvae for consumption, but those looking for a local cuisine like no other should head to Southern China.
Featured image By McKay Savage from London, UK [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.