The surprise concession hit is put to the test.
I don’t like bugs, and I’m pretty sure bugs don’t like me back. So, when I pitched testing the new-for-2017 grasshopper snacks at Seattle’s Safeco Field, revenge was on my mind. I hadn’t endured any grasshopper attacks recently, but did all the mosquito bites as a child, the ones where my ear or arm would balloon in size, count for nothing? Now, the shoe was on the other (six) feet.
Plus, I would not face these insects alone. My father was my co-pilot for this trip, in town for us to watch the Yankees play the Mariners. Once I found out about the grasshoppers, however, I had ulterior motives. My father is responsible for much of my early exposure to new foods. He tricked me into eating liver and various spicy things; he also exposed me to steak tartare and most of what comes in a plateau de fruits de mer. Dad has an iron stomach. It served him well doing business abroad, where he was served all manner of local specialities generally unavailable stateside. All of this is to say, he could handle whatever insects I threw at him, and I intended to throw some grasshoppers his way.
While perhaps novel at an American baseball stadium, toasted grasshoppers, called chapulines, are a popular snack in Mexico, often served at sporting events. According to the Mariners, grasshoppers at Safeco Field began as an afterthought. The crispy critters were popular enough, however, that the concessionaire sold out during the opening week of the season. Word came down that grasshoppers would be limited to 300-plus orders a game, which turned the ballpark snack into a viral media story.
Poquitos, a Seattle Mexican restaurant with an outpost at Safeco, sells the grasshoppers in a section of the stadium called “The ‘Pen,” with a separate patio for drinking and music pumped up to 11 on the PA. The cocktail bar here is dubbed the “Caught Looking Lounge,” which, well, let’s move on. The bottom line is The ‘Pen is a more adult part of the stadium, if you consider drinking Coors Light a thing adults do.
As we walked into Safeco, I began to have second thoughts about eating these grasshoppers. Why was I doing this to myself, and to my father? Was I perpetuating a pernicious insect-food-industrial complex? Could grasshoppers really taste any worse than other snacks at the ballpark, like circus peanuts? Would they arrive in miniature batting helmet? There were more questions than answers.
First, I had to find the damn bugs. We did a circuit of the area and saw neither antennae nor wing of the creatures. I walked over to the information booth and tried to make myself heard over the oontz-oontz of music in the ‘Pen. “Can you tell me where Poquitos is?”
“GRASSHOPPERS,” I said, pantomiming a shrug, the universal symbol for where-can-I-buy-some-insects. They pointed 50 feet away. We’d walked right by ‘em. We grabbed the grasshoppers, which come in a plastic takeout ramekin, along with some beers, and settled on the patio to watch batting practice. We were not the only ones jumping to try grasshoppers, even here on the patio. Behind us, a group of five egged on one of their party to eat them. “Go, Rosie, go! Go, Rosie, go!” ClThey whooped as Rosie tossed back a handful of chapulines. “They’re not good, but they’re not bad, either,” she declared.
This would be the closest thing we got to encouragement.
I placed one of the grasshoppers in the palm of my hand and considered it. I was a picky eater as a child. There remains a part of my brain that, when confronted with challenging foods, wonders why I didn’t order chicken fingers. When it comes to eating insects, the problem area for me is the thorax and abdomen. It’s just so unmistakably... insectoid. Eating something that’s just been transformed into a variation on a jalapeno popper—snake or alligator meat goes in this category—is easy. Eating something with a thorax is not.
We each ate a grasshopper.
Rosie wasn’t far off in her assessment of the bugs. Hit with a considerable amount of chili and lime, the grasshoppers are spicy and tart. It’s rare to eat something at a baseball stadium with a flavor other than salt. Whether that’s a cheffy choice or a way to mask grasshopper flavor is impossible to say. The grasshoppers themselves are not as crispy-crunchy as one would hope. The general experience is akin to eating a chewy, spicy, stale pumpkin seed. And, while a takeout ramekin doesn’t SEEM like a large serving when it’s filled with ketchup, it is more than enough when filled with grasshoppers.
We kept eating, chewing our grasshoppers in silence. This was not quite the same as trying steak tartare for the first time. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how inviting it was to Mariners fans, either, when the grasshoppers are presented as “look at this crazy food!” But, it was another fun culinary experience with my Dad, and that was worth the price of admission. Though he’s long been a more adventurous eater than I am, it would probably be our first and last meal of grasshoppers together. We were both relieved they didn’t taste worse.
I asked him what he thought. “Well,” he said, pausing to consider his words. “They taste better than fermented mare’s milk.”