From Malaysia With Love: Salted Egg Yolk Crickets
All photos by Marisse Caine

The year is 2019 and Singapore is adrift on an ocean of salted egg. Once the—no pun intended—preserve of mooncakes and traditional breakfasts, salted egg is now as ubiquitous as chilli sauce. You can buy not just salted-egg potato chips, but also salted egg chicken, salted egg prata, salted egg calamari, salted egg ramen, and even salted egg curry png.

However, even the most enthusiastic egg-yolk evangelist might think twice before trying the latest snack: Singaporean Salted Egg Yolk Crickets.

For a start, they don’t look very appealing. In fact, the ‘slow-roasted’ crickets look exactly like the dead bugs you find on dusty windowsills the world over. Although they’re 150% desiccated, their features are much better preserved than most Egyptian Pharaohs.

Here, a pair of black pupil-less eyes stare accusingly back at you. There, a hairy leg or a translucent wing that must have detached and fallen off in the oven.

I pop one into my mouth and chew thoughtfully. 

Hmmm. Errrr. Huh. 

The packaging might resemble Irvins or The Golden Duck Co, but they taste nothing like salted egg chips. Actually, I can’t even taste any salt or seasoning. There is a satisfying crunch from the exoskeleton, a faint shrimpy aroma, and then nothing on the tongue. Nothing much at all.  It tastes like the ghost of a low-fat cassava chip which had died and gone to purgatory.

They remind me a little of the seaweed (a.k.a nori) used in sushi, but that’s a very generous comparison. Nori’s umami profile is much sharper and stronger. The resemblance—while present—is faint and desultory at best.

After a two-week wait, it is a rather disappointing experience … so I reach for the two other packets: Texas BBQ and Korean Kimchi.

Beating Your Meat

These crickets came via mail, from Malaysian start-up Ento. Started in 2018 by ex-lawyer Kevin Wu, Ento is an artisanal cricket roaster who wants to replace beef and chicken with edible land-based anthropods.

The goal is sustainability. Crickets require less land, less water, less feed, and less of basically everything that harms the environment. They produce fewer greenhouse gases than the average cow, but contain three times the amount of protein, alongside other important nutrients like calcium, iron or vitamin B.

In short, it’s probably the greenest meat you can eat (short of eating your fellow humans). The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has endorsed insect consumption as a climate change solution and so has the venture capital hive mind. 

And according to The Guardian/Barclays, edible insects could grow into an $8 billion dollar market by 2030 as livestock farming becomes increasingly untenable.

While plant-based meat alternatives like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are still the preferred means of *cough* ‘disrupting protein’, some investors see insects as a compelling alternative. Sort of like a Lyft to the Temasek-backed Uber that is the Impossible Burger.

After all, man has a long history of eating bugs. You can buy scorpion skewers in Beijing, fried crickets in Thailand and sago worms in Sarawak. Locusts and grasshoppers were cited as snacks in Leviticus and mentioned by Pliny the Elder. Even today, insects are eaten by 2 billion people around the world. 

Surely, this illustrious pedigree gives it an edge over Silicon Valley’s Franken-soy.

40 Crickets Later…

Sorry, but I have to side with Ho Ching over the Holy Bible on this one.

The Kimchi-flavored crickets have a spicy kick, but they don’t have the crisp, acid freshness of Kimchi. They’re just spicy crickets, really. 

The best of the trio was definitely Texas BBQ. If you close your eyes and let faith enter your heart, you can imagine it as a diet version of the Filipino Chicharon. The illusion, however, lasts for a mere moment. Without the benefit of fat, the savoury flavour does not linger for long—and neither do my colleagues. 

Nobody sticks around for crickets 2, 3, or 37. 

Therein lies my scepticism towards the whole edible insect idea. The case for insect consumption rests on 3 basic axioms: a) Good for the earth, b) Good for your health, and c) Good to eat. 

Since tofu has been available for centuries, Axioms a) and b) depend heavily on c)—the promise of pleasurable animal protein. 

 

This is where Insect PR really loses me. According to the industry, the greatest barrier to cricket-crunching is the ‘ick’ factor. Once we overcome the disgust, everyone will be eating Nasi Mealworm and Black Fly Biryani with gusto. We will all be happily popping larvae and crickets into our gob like, well, popcorn. 

Furthermore, our instinctive disgust comes from a European prejudice/taboo against insect consumption, the industry argues, hence it’s time we decolonised our palates by trading beef for beetle.

The problem is, nobody I spoke to was really disgusted by crickets. I went around offering them to friends and family for 3 whole days, and only one person refused out of squeamishness. Nearly everyone—including my 61-year-old mother—was game to try them. 

However, nobody came back for a second bite. They ate some, hmm-ed at me for a minute, and went on with their lives, leaving me with about a hundred leftover bugs in three different flavours.

They are still in the fridge right now.

So maybe the issue is not our cultural conditioning, but the taste of it; the absence of life-affirming salt and heart-clogging fat. Honestly speaking, no matter how many crickets I ate and how much I wanted to love them for the sake of our environment, eating them felt like a duty. It felt like eating accessory pack biscuits for field camp or egg whites for the gym. They’re a long way from Pringles and further still from something I would actually crave.

I thought I’d never say this, but perhaps more salted-egg yolk would help.

I emailed MUIS to ask about if crickets are Halal.  The answer is a  ‘maybe’. Islamic scholars differ in their opinion of whether crickets are permissible, so best exercise discretion when ordering.

Otherwise, order your crickets at Ento, or chirp to us at community@ricemedia.co

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