Miscelanea NY – the now closed shop-and-eat stop in the East Village – was a cozy location to find Mexican products and an elevated street-style kitchen. Talking to the staff members in Spanish as I usually did while I ordered a torta, I noticed a lady, non-staff, stacking cans on one of the shelves. Chapulines. “Hello, I am Virydiana,” she introduced herself, “one of the founders of Merci Mercado. Have you tried my grasshoppers?”
Virydiana Velarde is one of the four founders of Merci Mercado, a business that sells dry and seasoned grasshoppers and worms, as well as these insects’ salt and grasshopper powder. She opened a can and stretched out her hand, “here, try them!” Though I grew up in Mexico and saw family members eat insects numerous times, I had never eaten an insect voluntarily before.
The very first time I tried chapulines was at a friend’s kitchen in New York’s West Village. Writhing half of the time, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I’d seen basketfuls of crickets and worms when I was growing up in Mexico. One of my grandfathers used to love them and he’d order guacamole with gusanos de maguey, or mezcal worms as they’re known in English. You could find an array of ants and other bugs in marketplaces in Oaxaca and Veracruz, as if they were any other “regular” product.
Six days after my not-so-terrible experience with grasshoppers, I then found myself standing in front of Velarde in the East Village. Why am I eating bugs in Manhattan when I never ate them in Mexico? I braced myself for the second time and took the insect off Velarde’s hand. Surprisingly, I enjoyed Velarde’s grasshoppers. They had no fishy aftertaste, were perfectly crisp and the three different seasonings she sells – natural, adobo, or chipotle – had a delightful smokiness to them, just like the one you feel after a sip of mezcal and a bite of an orange slice, but much dryer, sans the boozy kick.
Edible insects are a dietary staple in some areas of Mexico and other countries around the world, but why did it take me so long to find a liking in insects? Why did I have to opt-into eating them in Manhattan and not in my home country where they can be found almost nation-wide? At least two-billion people practice entomophagy – the practice of eating bugs – regularly, reported the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Have the other five-billion become interested all of a sudden?
The following images illustrate Velarde’s work and how chapulines can be incorporated in different culinary spaces.
Virydiana Velarde, founder of Merci Mercado, orders lunch at Guadalupe Inn in Brooklyn, New York on December 9, 2018. The restaurant is one of her many clients, to whom she supplies grasshoppers.
Virydiana Velarde poses for the camera as she enjoys a bite of chapulines – grasshoppers – and queso fundido at Guadalupe Inn in Brooklyn, New York on December 9, 2018. The edible insects are paired with melted cheese and entrées of the sort in Mexican cuisine. Many times, mezcal tastings are served with orange slices, grasshoppers, and a little chile and salt. A demonstration with water (left) illustrates how a tasting would look like at Guadalupe Inn.
Chapulines top a skillet of queso fundido at Guadalupe Inn in Brooklyn, New York on December 9, 2018. Grasshoppers are a traditional source of protein in several areas in Mexico, as many insects species are around the world.
Sous-chef Roberto Garduño (left), Virydiana Velarde (center) and Teresa Escobar, general manager of Guadalupe Inn, talk about different ways to serve Velarde’s product – edible insects – in different ways at Guadalupe Inn in Brooklyn, New York on December 9, 2018.
Virydiana Velarde takes a picure of one her company’s products – dry edible grasshoppers – topping a molcajete of guacamole at Dos Caminos in Times Square, New York on December 11, 2018. “You need to fry them a little before adding them” to humid foods said Velarde, “if not, they’ll be too grassy.”
A chipotle-flavored grasshopper dispenser stands on the reception podium at Rosie’s in the East Village, New York on December 12, 2018. “Kids reactions are the best! They wither really love them or get freaked out by them,” said Rolan Meyer, general manager of the restaurant.
Virydiana Velarde tries on a “Daughter of an Immigrant” beanie at Miscelanea NY on East 4th Street in New York on December 12, 2018. Velarde provides the Mexican convenience store with dry grasshoppers in three different seasonings and mezcal worm salt.
Guillaume Guevara, founder of Miscelanea NY, poses for the camera as Virydiana Velarde, founder of Merci Mercado, fixes her business’ jacket. Guevara and Velarde are business partners; Velarde provides edible grasshoppers and worm salt and Guevara a brick-and-mortar local to sell and promote them.
Virydiana Velarde walks through the subway station on 42nd Street at Times Square in New York on December 11, 2018. Having to commute between Long Island City and her clients, “you have to plan very well,” said Velarde.
Virydiana Velarde walks her daughter Maya, 4, after picking her up from school to her after-school activities in Long Island City, New York on December 11, 2018. After working for the Mexican embassy and starting her edible insect business, Velarde splits her time between motherhood and edible insects, but mostly motherhood.