Most Milwaukeeans are familiar with BelAir Cantina, but not everyone noticed when the increasingly popular bug-eating trend hopped onto its regular menu.
Over the past few years, entrepreneurs have worked to make room for insects on the American dinner table. Some companies market them as an exotic delicacy, while others, like BelAir, just list them alongside their other dishes.
There are differing opinions about this trend. Health aficionados and environmentalists are wildly enthusiastic, while others can’t stand the thought of eating the creepy-crawlies of their childhood nightmares.
Last week, I went to BelAir to sample their take on the meal – a tempura grasshopper taco called Karate Kid – and found that I fell somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.
As I ordered, the waitress read my curiosity as apprehension (OK, maybe there was a bit of that, too). She assured me that in her experience, everyone who tries the taco reports back positively. And if I didn’t like it, she said she would bring me a different meal, free of charge. Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary.
When the tacos came out, I was surprised at how unassuming they appeared. Since they’re fried, it takes a second to even notice that its grasshoppers beneath the breading.
There was a strong smoky flavor that I wasn’t expecting, but it wasn’t too overwhelming when combined with the guacamole and generous sprinkling of lime. The texture was decent, too, with the grasshoppers providing the same flakiness as the breading.
After the first bite, the grasshopper flavor seemed to get stronger. By the last bite, that’s about all that was left in the taco, and it became clear how much I was depending on the other flavors to get me through. Balanced properly with lime and guacamole, the grasshoppers were something I’d eat again. On their own, they were a bit overpowering.
I wouldn’t be opposed to trying grasshoppers again, if not in the same preparation. Besides, there is something to be said for the environmental efficiency of eating insects. They’re very high protein and very low maintenance, requiring only a fraction of the amount of water it takes to raise cattle.
Ultimately, I can’t say that Karate Kid is my favorite item on the BelAir menu, but it was definitely a worthwhile experience. And at the very least, I’m less squeamish about eating insects now than I was a week ago.