John Carlson: A Hoppy, Er, Happy Taco-Eating Encounter

Who needs a toothpick when you’ve got a grasshopper leg? Photo by: John Gordon CarlsonWho needs a toothpick when you’ve got a grasshopper leg? Photo by: John Gordon Carlson

By: John Carlson—

Not long ago, Nan and I were down visiting our son and daughter-in-law, Johnny and Stephanie, in Nashville, Tenn., when the subject of where to eat dinner came up.

“There’s a new Mexican place just past the interstate that’s pretty good,” my kid said, and the next thing we knew, we were at Bajo Sexto.

Nashville is a great, ever-changing restaurant town. This place fit right in, being a rather spare, unique looking eatery, decorated in what you might call “auto repair shop” chic. In fact, as Johnny noted at dinner, six months earlier he’d taken his Subaru there for an oil change.

In the time since, its new owners had installed an impressive bar and a sunny dining area, the latter being located behind the original windowed garage-bay doors.

Anyway, we started off with margaritas, then put away a hearty tray of nachos, homemade pork rinds, seasoned potatoes and marinated mushrooms, all the while studying the menu. Then, noting the tasty tacos offered, I saw this.

“Chapulines,” the menu read.

Meaning, “grasshoppers.”

“Do people really eat grasshopper tacos?’ I asked our kindly waitress.

For just a second, a weird look flashed across her face. Then, trying to fake enthusiasm and cover up the disgust in her eyes, she exclaimed, “Certain people seem to enjoy them!” Still, it was obvious that in using the word “certain,” she was leaving out her preferred grasshopper-eater adjectives like “gross,” “stupid” and “repugnant.”

Well, that was me. To make a long story short, I ordered one, and was soon happily munching my grasshopper taco.

Now, if you watch Andrew Zimmern’s show “Bizarre Foods” on the Travel Channel, you know that he, along with much of the rest of the world, likes nothing more than a nice big serving of tasty bugs, they being both filling and nutritious.

Of course, if you watch him, you also know he likes to snack on still-beating snake hearts and hard-boiled fertilized eggs with feathery little chicken embryos stuck inside them. The appreciative facial expressions you and I share eating handfuls of delicious grapes flash across his face for yummy mouthfuls of goat eyeballs.

Therefore, I had my doubts. And why not?

When I was a kid, way back in my pre-grasshopper-eating days, it seemed like we had millions of big ones around. They were green with buggy eyes and what we thought of as “feelers,” plus a propensity for what we believed was “spitting tobacco juice.” Indeed, they were juicy, as you found out whenever you stepped on one.

Especially barefoot.

But these chapulines were smaller, dark brown and crunchy from having been fried, then were served in a pile on a small corn tortilla under a big creamy glob of green guacamole. As for feelers and buggy eyes, I didn’t spot any, though I did see the occasional skinny little grasshopper leg (see disgusting photo above).

Rolling up my taco under the leery eyes of my wife, I took a big bite and exclaimed, “Wow! It tastes like chicken!”

OK, that’s lie. But I did take a big bite and knew immediately I wanted to eat another grasshopper taco after this one was finished.

OK, that’s a lie, too. Fact is, it was nice and salty, and its crunchiness was a plus, but after that taco, I ate a duck taco, and judged it far superior.

But the cool thing is, eating a grasshopper taco is a real conversation starter, like when, thinking about my mouthful of grasshoppers, I momentarily choked.

“Sorry,” I said. “Something’s stuck in my throat,” to which Stephanie replied, “It’s crawling back up.”

Yeah, that was good for a laugh! And then the next morning, Nan asked if there were any lingering effects from my meal.

“Well,” I answered, “I do feel kind of jumpy.”

 


A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.