Beer and bugs! It’s too good an invitation to miss. Skipping lunch, I prepare my appetite for a seafood onslaught at the House of Brews media lunch.
A feast it is, but the ‘bugs’ at Brews push my dining experience into wild frontiers. They’re bugs alright. To be more specific, ants and crickets.
Eating insects is something most of us have done by accident. Remember the joy of sticking your head out of the car window to feel the rush of wind, or cycling in wide mouthed ecstasy down a steep hill until that awful moment you realise you’ve gained a winged passenger, swallowed like Jonah, down past the point of no return.
Yet setting out to deliberately eat insects for a meal is a completely different scenario. Practised for centuries by native peoples, entomophagy (consuming insects as food) is a movement considered on trend in the culinary world. Insects have been on the menus of a few Sydney restaurants (most notably Billy Kwong and El Topo) for a couple of years now. Different breeds of insect have distinct flavours, with some better paired to sweet or savoury dishes than others, we’re told, and with 1900 edible species (including scorpions), that’s a whole lot of experimentation for those cutting edge chefs to get through!
While the Kanaghines brothers, owners of House of Brews, haven’t faced the scorpion yet, they’ve crept a few ants and crickets onto their new menu.
Why eat insects?
“For us initially, it was really a bit of fun – come in and drink beer and eat bugs,” House of Brews co-owner Damien Kanaghines told us, “but in fact, the nutritional profile of bugs compared to other sorts of meat is very impressive as a high protein, low calorie food source.”
It’s a fact confirmed by experts, who add that insects are a highly sustainable food source. While there are questions raised about the sustainability of many other food sources, insects are an alternative source of protein, calcium, iron, zinc and good fats with a virtually endless supply of the product available.
Catching up on centuries of bug hunting forms part of the foraging movement sweeping the world, where chefs tackle the wilds to find samphire and dandelions, seaweed and… insects.
My mind drifts off as I imagine the three Kanaghines brothers leading the kitchen team through the darkness, Bear Grylls style with spotlights and nets, braving the Coombabah bushland in search of the next night’s dinner…
No! Wait! I’m pulled back to reality as Damien tells us that the insects we are eating are not foraged at all, but farmed – a special ‘ground to table’ species sourced from The Edible Bug Shop in Sydney.
A frontier-breaking career choice, farming insects has low environmental costs and is very efficient, taking up a fraction of the land used to farm livestock. In short, it’s ethical food, even if I would not have called it palatable…
I focus on the plate of bubble wrap porky rind, balsamic vinegar salt, mango salsa and roasted ants in front of me. Fat, salt and ants. I’m usually in for a bit of culinary adventure. Besides, ants are insect gold, I’m remember. At $5,000 per kilo, they cost more by weight than white truffles! What more could I ask for?
“Sprinkle some ants on the salsa, salsa on the rind and go for it!” Sacha Kanaghines barks out some orders to his open-mouthed crash test dummies. Boldly, I follow instructions, putting a piece in my mouth, bite and gulp.
Ahhh… Still sitting, feeling OK. The taste? Not so bad, really! I’m expecting a formic acid sort of lingering astringency, but it’s not there – more just a slight crunch sensation in with the salt.
Next the cricket.
I rather like crickets actually, for their role in the nightly insect orchestra. These ones are silent, rather dead, coyly lying in wait for me on the top of the sour cream. ‘Kangaroo tacos with mango salsa, sour cream and roasted chilli and garlic crickets’ – that’s the actual description of the dish. Can’t wait!
Radical nutrition this might be, but when I close my eyes and down these babies, they could be crunchy fried toppers with the taste of mild seeds or nuts…and a little flutter of wings. To me, they’re easier on the palate than the gamey kangaroo that’s the mainstay of the taco. The mango’s the sweetener in the deal.
Frankly, it’s really only the psychological hurdle of eating insects that gets in the way (notwithstanding eating half the coat of arms)! Once tried, I’m initiated, and I probably could do it again, especially matched to Burleigh Brewing’s delicious Big Head, which superbly cuts through the pork (and washes away the ants) and the Hef, so full of flavor that my cricket wings just float away. Given a few more glasses of BB’s Pale Ale I’d be even keener…
While insects probably hold strongest appeal to curious foodies, I’m sure they’ll make it onto many a buck’s night hit list. Let’s face it, though, it’s farmed food and not even risky. After all, Aussies love tucking into the other bugs and prawns, and prawns are commonly known as the ‘cockroaches of the sea’. So, what’s the real difference? Water – the main ingredient of beer.
Beer and bugs – it could become the new trend!
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Open daily 12noon – 1am
Disclaimer: Good Food Gold Coast dined as a guest of House of Brews. While the bugs were a one off trial event, in the meantime, enjoy the huge stack of onion rings, platters of wings and ribs, as well as the fabulous burgers that House of Brews has on offer.