Saturday, December 5, 2009

Grasshoppers, Huitlacoche, Cactus Fries @ Toloache (251 W. 50th Street)

The other day we ventured out beyond our biggest fears by going to a restaurant that had grasshoppers on its regular menu. We figured if we want to be taken seriously as a Weird Food Club, we have to have tried at least 1 insect in our lives.

Yes, grasshoppers are horribly scary-looking, but not that much worse than crawfish (if you think about it), and people in Oaxaca, Mexico eat them like popcorn. Besides, they're a great source of protein!

So we asked for a bowl of crunchy grasshoppers as a starter at Toloache.

In this picture, Rob demonstrates how tiny the little fried buggers were. They were so small we could barely see the head and the legs, which made it that much easier to put them in our mouths and swallow. They were very crunchy and sour (we debated whether that was the actual taste of grasshopper guts or just lime juice).

We also got 2 portions of the grasshopper stuffing used in Toloache's tacos, fruit guacamole, cactus fries, avocado fries and Huitlacoche.

Grasshopper Taco Stuffing (4/10): was hot, moist, and even more sour than the dried grasshoppers. The cooking and stirring of the stuffing chopped up the grasshoppers into smaller pieces, so it was difficult to find one with its legs and head intact. We had to spoon the stuffing onto our chips and eat it like a choppy paste. You could only sometimes detect a crunch of a leg, but the stuffing was mostly uniformly hot, moist and incredibly limey.

I've learned that eating insects is not so bad, and I'm going to continue my search for bigger and scarier insects in New York (comment if you know where I could get some!)

Cactus Fries (6/10): tasted just like you'd expect cactus to taste - a little bit like aloe in texture, and somewhat tasteless.

Avocado Fries (8/10): this was a lesson that everything can be deep fried... and occasionally come out amazing. Avocado fries were more succulent and flavorful than cactus fries.

Fruit Guacamole (9/10): the individual ingredients were not unusual at all - avocado, strawberries and pomegranate seeds, but the combination was absolutely heavenly.

"You don't like this? It tastes like truffles!"

Huitlacoche (2/10): literally means "raven shit" in Nahuatl, and is sometimes referred to as "corn smut". Both of those names are exceptionally appetizing so there was no way we'd pass on it.

It smelled like sweaty socks. And the texture was pretty... shitty. If it smelled like excrement with the same texture, I probably wouldn't be able to eat it. But I could do "shit texture" plus "smell of dirty socks" for a couple of bites.

Huitlacoche was almost as bad as natto (the worst food I've ever tried). Ok, to be fair, huitlacoche had more of a rotten mushroom texture - a little bit chewy and sometimes gooey.

I had 2 spoon-fulls of huitlacoche on a piece of tostada chip, while Felix was swallowing the stuff like it was jam! He said it tasted like truffles. I've never had truffles so I can't compare the taste/texture/smell, but if it's anything like huitlacoche, I'll need to organize a Weird Food Club outing just for truffles.

Luckily for us in the States, the demand for huitlacoche among high end restaurants is growing and the USDA recently allowed some farmers in Florida and Pennsylvania to intentionally infect corn with huitlacoche. There shouldn't be any shortage of it any time soon!


  1. Maybe you should try La Palapa in the East Village, which is more Americanized and maybe more likable. I had grilled cactus there that I definitely wouldn't describe as tasteless, and their huitlacoche isn't smutty at all. Give 'er a try.

  2. Thanks - we'll check out La Palapa!