Miriam-Webster's Dictionary defines a worm as "any of numerous relatively small elongated usually naked and soft-bodied animals (as a grub, pinworm, tapeworm, shipworm, or slowworm)". In my mind, I picture the night crawlers I used to get to go fishing in Barton Creek, but since the term applies to the shape of these invertebrates, it also covers the creepy crawly larval stage of beetles, butterflies and moths. When I heard that Machine Project (a storefront space that experiments in technology, science, and the arts) was holding an event entitled "Eat Bug Eat", I was intrigued. Although it sounds like the title of a Japanese monster movie, the event was held to educate people in the culture and custom of eating insects. Although I'd eaten insects many times before, from the crunchy snack-like hormigas culonas to the grassy-tasting silkworm pupae, I succumbed to the come-hither of wax moth larvae tacos.
Machine Project in L.A., host of Eat Bug Eat
The space is well lit and sparse, a good place for shows, events and installations. Several tables were topped with insect displays, a two-burner hotplate, a food preparation area, insect "farms" and bowls of glistening mead. For those who aren't familiar with mead, it is an alcoholic beverage made with honey (sometimes leaning towards wine, other times towards beer). The event featured Chaucer's and Rabbit's Foot mead, both light and white wine flavored, but close enough to being an insect product to be an acceptable beverage for the event. In various plastic tubs and steel bowls were the evening's appetizers and entrees - live, wriggling insect larvae. There were three kinds of worms on the menu: mealworms (the larval stage of the mealworm beetle), superworms (darkling beetle larvae) and the larvae form of the Greater Wax Moth. Some bowls of the fried worms were prepared earlier to munch on while waiting on the tacos, but one of the folks staging the event demonstrated the preparation. This involved simply pouring the writhing insects into frying pans with a little oil, and let me tell you, like me and just about any other life form I can think of they do not like to be cooked. The chef explained that they die rather quickly, but the heat applied to their bodies flexes them, which makes it look like they're still moving around. Although a few diners felt that this was somewhat cruel, the thought of what happens to a cow or pig when it gets butchered made this look like a mercy killing. There were also some locally made chapulines on hand, but they weren't made on the premises.
Tearing into a worm-filled taco
While waiting on the tacos, some of the patrons decided to try the critters live; some did so on a dare, but others like the woman who goes by the name Aurora (a self-confessed insectivore and sideshow performer) ate the little wigglers with gusto. Patron Matt Hartwell also tried several handfuls of the live insects, but preferred the wax moth larvae to the superworm. Never having intentionally eaten live insects I had to give it a go, and I came to the following conclusion: the quality of experience is drastically improved with frying. I don't say this from a taste standpoint; the children of the wax moth have a buttery, nutty flavor that is diminished with cooking, but because these insects wear their skeletons on the outside, it is equivalent to the difference between eating fried and boiled shrimp. Frying crisps the "shell", making the worm easier to eat, but when eaten live they require considerable chewing. The tacos were made with fresh ingredients and handmade tortillas, but somehow the assembled thing buried the taste of the fried bugs. Most of the attendees resorted to snacking on the fried worms right out of the bowl, making them a great happy hour bar snack. I enjoyed the superworms fried - the taste was reminiscent of smoky chicharrón. The flavor of the fried wax moth larvae almost reminded me of French's Potato Sticks, and it occurred to me that these would be a great high protein substitute for bacon bits on a baked potato.
After a few hours the guests began fluttering out into the night, and I was tempted to ask for a doggie bag, but I imagine the fried worms don't have much of a shelf life. There's not much to the preparation and the insects are easy to get online - in no time you can have yourself a worm ranch, providing you with a steady supply of protein. I wonder how small they make saddles...
San Diego Wax Worms
Vista, Ca 92084
(you can get mealworms and superworms at larger pet stores)
1200 North Alvarado Street
Los Angeles, CA 90026-3127
GPS coordinates: 34°4'41.59"N 118°15'46.50"W
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