But, But, But…. What are these things?!?
It is a dish called Inago no Tsukudani (稲子佃煮) and yesssss the main ingredient is: GRASSHOPPERS! The little guys have been previously boiled in soy sauce and sugar before being fried. In the region Kanto, Tohoku and Chubun regions, especially in Nagano and Yamagata prefecture (and probably many other places!), insects has long been used as great source of nutrients and proteins. Still today, you can buy Inago in small towns and even find them in a few izakaya.
While we’r at it, little anecdotes.
In the old time, Japanese crops had suffered grasshoppers plague. The naughty insects had swarmed all the harvest, resulting in a starvation episode. Hence, people starting to eat those same grasshoppers who destroyed their food. Plus, they proved to be tasty and highly nutritious. I think we can fairly say… it’s a case of biter bit, now the biter is bit! :p
But this was not the only reason, people and especially children would catch grasshoppers in the field as a way to have fun and prevent pests. Kids would be send by their school to hunt and collect the grasshoppers in a big sack. The best part is, some of these harvest would be sold to dealers and the money used to benefit the poorest school’s budgets. Inago was so important it’s even mentioned in important culinary guides of the Edo Period and people would have them regarding whether they lived in a rural or not.
Unveiling my entomophagist experience.
In the past I tried Grasshoppers in Cambodia and China. Both have been cooked BBQ style, the one in China were over salty and too dry. The one in Cambodia were more meaty and perfectly seasoned. They were not dry and just massive! About 6cm long. The belly was like a crunchy sac containing a softer nutty flavoured paste. The best was their tiny legs’s crispy skin revealing a very distinctive savoury roasted chicken skin aroma. So Yumi! I was in love :). We really underestimate what a journey and delicacy insects can be.
So, when I saw those little guys in this a one of those food souvenir store in Zao Onsen, Yamagata prefecture, I couldn’t resist but to bring them home. They’r quite small compare to the one you can find elsewhere because they are a particular specie of grasshopper.
What does Inago taste like?
It was really different from any other grasshopper experience I had. Inago is very crunchy. Imagine chewing on small fried shrimp. Flavour wise it’s incredibly sweet! The mere smell of it when I opened the box was sweet! It taste like a sweet because of the sugar and salty from the soy sauce, more sweet than salty, with a caramelised twist. The pure grasshopper taste is completely hidden by the seasoning. It’s a bit a pity, nevertheless it taste GREAT! I enjoyed all of them. So if you happen to see some, don’t be afraid and try. It’s delicious!
What’s the best way to eat Inago?
Alone as a snack or as a rice topping.