Miscelanea NY – the now closed shop-and-eat stop in the East Village – was a cozy location to find Mexican products and an elevated street-style kitchen. Talking to the staff members in Spanish as I usually did while I ordered a torta, I noticed a lady, non-staff, stacking cans on one of the shelves. Chapulines. “Hello, I am Virydiana,” she introduced herself, “one of the founders of Merci Mercado. Have you tried my grasshoppers?”
Virydiana Velarde is one of the four founders of Merci Mercado, a business that sells dry and seasoned grasshoppers and worms, as well as these insects’ salt and grasshopper powder. She opened a can and stretched out her hand, “here, try them!” Though I grew up in Mexico and saw family members eat insects numerous times, I had never eaten an insect voluntarily before.
The very first time I tried chapulines was at a friend’s kitchen in New York’s West Village. Writhing half of the time, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I’d seen basketfuls of crickets and worms when I was growing up in Mexico. One of my grandfathers used to love them and he’d order guacamole with gusanos de maguey, or mezcal worms as they’re known in English. You could find an array of ants and other bugs in marketplaces in Oaxaca and Veracruz, as if they were any other “regular” product.
Six days after my not-so-terrible experience with grasshoppers, I then found myself standing in front of Velarde in the East Village. Why am I eating bugs in Manhattan when I never ate them in Mexico? I braced myself for the second time and took the insect off Velarde’s hand. Surprisingly, I enjoyed Velarde’s grasshoppers. They had no fishy aftertaste, were perfectly crisp and the three different seasonings she sells – natural, adobo, or chipotle – had a delightful smokiness to them, just like the one you feel after a sip of mezcal and a bite of an orange slice, but much dryer, sans the boozy kick.
Edible insects are a dietary staple in some areas of Mexico and other countries around the world, but why did it take me so long to find a liking in insects? Why did I have to opt-into eating them in Manhattan and not in my home country where they can be found almost nation-wide? At least two-billion people practice entomophagy – the practice of eating bugs – regularly, reported the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Have the other five-billion become interested all of a sudden?
The following images illustrate Velarde’s work and how chapulines can be incorporated in different culinary spaces.
The images were taken throughout December 2018. An article written on Velarde, grasshoppers and entomophagy can be found here.