During a recent holiday trip in Japan’s capital city, Takumi Yamamoto decided to have a distinctive meal of cricket curry and silkworm sashimi, accompanied by a water bug-infused cider.
Yamamoto, a 26-year-old employee hailing from the western province of Hyogo, is among the growing number of consumers worldwide who are becoming intrigued by entomophagy, the practice of consuming insects, as these small creatures gradually transform into a feasible food source.
In his childhood, Yamamoto would occasionally enjoy a snack of grasshoppers coated in soy sauce. In Tokyo, he got the opportunity to partake in insect gastronomy at the insect-centric Take-Noko cafe.
Yamamoto, while at the comfortable upstairs cafe adorned with bug-inspired art and glass containers full of beetles, ants, and cockroaches, commented, “It’s interesting to have an extensive selection of dishes. Everything was flavorful, especially the water bug cider, which was delightfully refreshing and tasted akin to a crisp green apple.”
The global attention toward entomophagy surged when the United Nations recognized insects as a sustainable protein source capable of feeding the predicted global population of 9.7 billion by 2050.
The contribution of the livestock sector to climate change, in addition to the global food security crisis brought about by severe weather patterns and conflicts, has further fueled interest in the nutritious, affordable food alternative that insects offer.
While the idea of eating insects may be unpalatable to some, Japan has a long-standing culinary tradition involving insects.
In areas where access to meat and fish is limited, grasshoppers, silkworms, and wasps were typically consumed, a practice that gained prominence during food scarcities in and post the Second World War, as stated by Take-Noko’s manager, Michiko Miura.
Miura further stated, “Lately, there have been significant developments in the cultivation of insects such as crickets and mealworms for consumption, making insects a truly expanding ingredient in cooking.”
Multiple companies, like the national bread company Pasco, have introduced products like cricket flour-based cakes and snacks. Additionally, food processing company Nichirei and telecom firm Nippon Telegraph and Telephone have invested in insect-related ventures within the last year.
In Japanese media, the term “crickets” began trending following stories of these powdered insects being incorporated in school meals and snacks.
The popularity wave has also reached Take-Noko, which, according to manager Miura, is often fully reserved during weekends.
The restaurant’s curry features crickets formed into meatballs and used as dried toppings. The exquisite “sashimi” is made from the leftover casings of silkworms, and the cider is flavored with water bug extract, complete with a whole insect garnish, said to taste akin to shrimp.
Take-Noko is the creative venture of Takeo Saito, who founded his eponymous company, Takeo Inc, nine years prior and has since expanded it to include a packaged food business selling over 60 varieties of arthropod snacks, ranging from scorpions to tarantulas.
“Our objective is to ensure that insects are not seen as something different but are enjoyed in conjunction with vegetables, fish, and meat,” stated Saito.