When I was fifteen years old, I saw a news report I would never forget. The year was 1995 and the Bosnian War had been going on for three years. Up to that point, the war was something occurring another world away, a conflict I didn’t understand being fought by nations I’d never heard of. Then NATO got involved, and on June 2, 1995 an American fighter pilot named Scott O’Grady was shot down. After hiding in the woods for six days, narrowly avoiding capture by Bosnian-Serb forces, he was rescued by U.S. Marines. After returning to safety, a press conference was held and O’Grady explained how he survived the ordeal. When asked what he ate in the Bosnian wilderness for food, his response has stayed with me for 20 years- bugs.
The notion that bugs could be consumed for survival officially blew my mind. My mom had to further explain their high protein and nutritional value because my teenage brain couldn’t wrap itself around this idea. In my mind, the only purpose an insect served this world was to be squashed by adolescent assholes like me. Thankfully, my maturity and worldview have grown and evolved since then. Okay, maybe not entirely because if you’re an insect trying to set up residence in my house I’m going to spray, squash, and swat you until I’m convinced you’re no longer alive. But in cases of survival, I’m no longer freaked out by the idea of consuming bugs to live another day.
Since starting The Foodist Chronicles, I’ve made an agreement with myself to dine and write about foods I wouldn’t ordinarily order. I’m not going to go to a place with the intention of writing about it, only to play it safe and order a burger, then share all the juicy details. You don’t need me for that because you can get a burger absolutely anywhere in this town. So when my family sat down at Guelaguetza my eyes immediately began scanning the menu for something different.
Guelaguetza is an Oaxacan restaurant located in Koreatown on Olympic Blvd. Spacious, family-owned, and extremely hospitable, they are well renowned for producing authentic Oaxacan cuisine, and have one of the most extensive tequila and mezcal lists I’ve ever seen. The first thing to hit the table was complimentary tortilla chips topped with their first class mole. Truly exceptional, I couldn’t stop eating them while my survey of the menu for that “different” dish continued. And then it happened, an appetizer dish just waiting to be ordered, if only I had the courage to go through with it- Chapulines a la Mexicana: fried grasshoppers sautéed with jalapenos, onions and tomatoes, served with Oaxacan string cheese and avocado. Twenty years after being shocked at what Scott O’Grady had to eat to survive, I was going to eat grasshoppers just for the sport of it.
For me, grasshoppers can stay in the grass. There’s no pretending they’re something else, these are definitely insects being ingested. After the initial crunch, a brininess covers the palate. The flavor profile isn’t bad, I just couldn’t get passed grasshopper legs and antennae getting stuck in my teeth. I tried masking the next bites by wrapping them in a tortilla and adding the avocado and string cheese, which provided only the slightest improvement. Nope, it’s confirmed: grasshoppers are not for me. Thankfully, the mezcal sampler we ordered was there to help wash it all down. When my entrée hit the table I couldn’t have been happier. Costilla de Puerco Enchilada: chile-marinated grilled pork ribs, served with rice, black beans, and green salad. This dish was truly outstanding and was devoured in minutes.
I definitely recommend Guelaguetza to anyone looking for an authentic dining experience. The entire staff was extremely friendly and knowledgeable, and the space itself is quite large with plenty of seating available. They also sell their famous mole and other merchandise up front. And while I’ve learned consuming grasshoppers isn’t for me, it’s nice knowing that I could survive off of them if I’m ever stranded in the wild. For now, I’ll stick to city living.