Chef Jose Avila serves up a plate of traditional Mexican insects with a modern twist at La Diabla on Monday, March 13, 2023. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)
Growing up in Mexico City, it was common for Jose Avila to snack on the edible bugs at the markets around town with his grandma and mom after school.
So, the James Beard-nominated chef didn’t think it would be odd to ship 22 pounds of dried crickets, Chicatana ants, escamoles, scorpions, stink bugs and maguey worms in thermic boxes with iced gel packs from his hometown to Denver, where he’d planned to host a Festival de Bichos (Bug Festival) at his downtown restaurant, La Diabla Pozolería y Mezcalería, earlier this month.
But U.S. Customs and Border Protection had other plans.
“The bugs ended up getting stuck in Customs for three days,” Avila said. “All I was told was that they were sent to the lab, but I think they just wanted to make sure the bugs were actually bugs and not something else.”
Luckily, for all the adventurous foodies or history lovers who want to eat like the Aztecs and other ancient indigenous people of Mexico, Avila was able to secure the edible insects from the customs division last week. Although, it was a quick moment of panic, “because these bugs aren’t cheap; some of them can go up to $150 per pound,” he said.
The Festival de Bichos will now take place from Wednesday, March 15 to Sunday, March 19, and guests can try a $66.60 sampler platter of roasted crickets, Chicatana ants, escamoles (edible ant or fly larvae known as Mexican caviar), scorpions, small stink bugs and red maguey worms. Avila will also incorporate the insects into a special menu with tacos with buttered escamoles, salsa verde, and serrano peppers; maguey worm tostadas with huitlacoche and avocado; and scorpion tamales with pineapple and chocolate.
“This is the type of food I love to cook, you know, like pozole,” Avila said. “A lot of people have no idea what it is, let alone with different flavors, or the whole-animal barbacoa. So in a way, I want to introduce people to new foods, like Yucatan foods.”
Chef Jose Avila is serving a plate of tradition Mexican insects with a modern twist, including crickets (top), ants (at right), larvae (bottom) and worms (left), at La Diabla on Monday, March 13, 2023. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)
Chef Jose Avila cooks up chili paste to be served with traditional Mexican insect dishes at La Diabla on Monday, March 13, 2023. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)
An ant is placed on the plate as part of a Salsa de Chicatana dish at La Diabla on Monday, March 13, 2023. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)
Chef Jose Avila serves up toasted red worms as part of the Tostada de Chinicuiles dish at La Diabla on Monday, March 13, 2023. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)
Roasted bone marrow with esquites, or crickets, is served with roasted garlic chapulines at La Diabla on Monday, March 13, 2023. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)
Chef Jose Avila plates buttered escamoles, or insect caviar, as part of a traditional Mexican insect dish to be served at La Diabla on Monday, March 13, 2023. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)
Eating insects has been a tradition in Mexico for thousands of years, dating back to the Aztecs, who saw them as a vital source of protein. Mexico City hosts its own annual edible insect festival, where restaurants highlight grasshoppers, crickets, worms and escamoles on their menus.
That was part of the inspiration for Festival de Bichos at La Diabla, 2233 Larimer St., which opened in 2021, was named as one of Bon Appétit’s 50 best new restaurants in 2022.
“We can’t let these traditions and recipes get lost,” Avila said. “It’s part of my job and purpose to keep these traditions alive.”
But Avila also got a lot of feedback earlier this year when he posted a photo of a cricket taco on Instagram, which received 700 likes and 100 comments from people, some of whom were interested in trying it and others who were disgusted. Avila had added the taco to the menu as a way to slowly introduce the Mexican tradition and to see what the reaction was.
“People were going at it in the comments, but a majority of them were defending the bugs,” Avila said. “Some people thought we were trying to start a trend of eating bugs. It was insane, but regardless of what they were saying, it was clear to me how naive people still are as far as these types of foods that have been among us for thousands and thousands of years. So the festival is my way of educating people, and I hope to do it every year now.”
And if Avila doesn’t sell out of his 20 pounds of edible insects, he plans to add the festival items to La Diabla’s usual menu until they are all gone.
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News Source: https://www.denverpost.com/2023/03/15/la-diabla-pozoleria-denver-bichos-cricket-tacos-ant-gorditas-edible-bugs-insects-festival/amp/