It was the year 2000 and life was good. That whole Y2K thing had turned out to be a buncha sound and fury signifying not much, the Twin Towers were still standing and I had a girlfriend. We were both living in Ottawa, in first year of university and decided to take advantage of a long weekend to visit Montreal.
We’d each been to Montreal, of course, but never together and never as part of a couple, so it was a pretty big deal. I got us a room at this fancy boutique hotel in Old Montreal. It was called Auberge Les Passants du Sans Soucy, a name so French the place practically offers to give itself away to any Germans that may happen by.
The hotel was lovely, with a lobby that doubled as an art gallery, exposed stone walls in the rooms and a breakfast that included omelets made to order. It was also perfectly located to explore the city sights, just a walk from the Old Port and downtown core. We did, however, have to take a metro to visit the Insectarium.
Montreal’s Insectarium is part of a complex that includes the Bidome, Botanical Gardens and Olympic Tower. It’s a showcase of insects, live and not, from across the globe and, on the day we decided to drop in, it happened to be hosting an insect tasting.
Now, I am not a squeamish or difficult eater. You know that old joke in movies where a character eats some mysterious dish, loving every bite, only to be told that they’ve been eating—I don’t know—bull balls or snake or some stuff, and reacts with disgust, choking and spitting and gagging? Yeah, I don’t get that joke. I mean, you were loving it just a second ago! Why are you grossed out now that you know what it is? It doesn’t taste any different, right? I mean, if it were cat or dog or your son, fine, I get it, there’s a psychological block there: cats and dogs are pets not meals; sons are progeny not dessert.
But if I’m loving a dish and you then surprise me with, “Haha, you’re eating monkey butt,” I’m still loving the dish. If it tastes good and won’t make me sick, I’ll eat it.
And, so, I leaped at the opportunity to eat insects in Montreal! To be clear, they didn’t just hand you a palm-full of beetles with a hardy, “Bon appétit!” Each of the bugs was served as part of an expertly prepared dish. Ants were integrated into a brownie recipe, crickets were covered in chocolate, scorpions were stir-fried, and a mealworm was served up on a nacho chip, reclining on a dollop of salsa like a too-skinny model on a red bean bag chair.
Honestly, they were all excellent. The ants tasted like slightly nutty rice crisps, the crickets were pleasantly crunchy. The mealworm, completely exposed, probably presented the biggest psychological challenge but, really, I only remember tasting salsa; I couldn’t really tell you what a mealworm tastes like.
My favorite, though, was the scorpion stir-fry. These weren’t giant, fist-sized scorpions but tiny ones, about as long as the distance between the tip of your thumb and its first knuckle. They were fried together with a bit of rice and some veggies and seasoned, but the arachnids were still clearly visible and the meal’s centerpiece. I enjoyed it so much that, if and when I find myself in a region known for using scorpions in their cooking, I would seek out this dish or something similar.
I genuinely believe that insects should be a mainstay of all our cooking. Ounce for ounce and pound for pound, bugs are one of the best sources of high quality protein, they are easy and cheap to raise and breed, and they are found all over the world. They’re also ridiculously varied, offering nearly unending culinary possibilities.
Unfortunately, the Insectarium no longer offers bug tastings. It is, though, still very much worth visiting, along with the Botanical Garden and Biodome.
If you’ve ever tried and enjoyed eating insects, or know where they can be tasted, lemme know!