Where … to eat worms

Burgers really aren’t my thing, I just don’t understand the fascination with trying to eat something so awkward to pick up – or even to cut up, something so messy to bite into and something with a high probability of leaking juices onto my shirt.

So it was somewhat begrudgingly that I agreed to join some carnivore friends for a burger lunch in a Brussels restaurant. I was impressed by the menu which even had a choice of two vegetarian burgers. I chose the Bux Burger assuming that Bux was short for Bruxelles, the French name for Brussels. It arrived with the promised trimmings and tasted as good as any burger that I can remember tasting.

As we were leaving, I saw a poster for the Bux Burger saying that it was made from sustainable insect protein. I went back to ask the friendly waitress what the Bux Burger was made of. “Insects” she said. Before I could ask why these were in the vegetarian section of menu, she said “no, I’m wrong, not insects”. I felt a sense of relief until she added “Worms, I mean worms”.

The Bux Burger is produced by a small German start-up called The Bug Foundation. Their product is made from 43% buffalo worms and “selected vegetarian ingredients”. The buffalo worm (alphitobius diaperinus) is also called the lesser mealworm and, even less appealingly, the litter beetle. These beetles are also used by museums to clean tissue from carcasses when preparing zoological specimens and the larvae are used as pet food. Bon appétit!

Insects are high in protein, contain iron, zinc and vitamin B. They contain healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats and less saturated fat. Furthermore, insects consume less food and much less water than cattle and they produce less greenhouse gases. So, there are many good reasons to eat insects. So many good reasons and just one bad reason; they are insects and there is something fundamentally unappetizing about eating insects.

This attitude is one of the problems facing insect-based food companies like The Bug Foundation. When I first tried the Bux Burger maybe I only enjoyed it because I didn’t know that it was made from worms. Another major problem is that currently it’s only allowed to sell the Bux Burger in (the forward-thinking) Belgium and the Netherlands – although Switzerland might be added to the list in the near future.

I remember a few years ago going on a wild goose (or do I mean ostrich?) chase to find an ostrich egg in London. I eventually found and bought one at Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly. I also bought scorpion lollipops, roasted crickets and honey-covered black ants. The lady at the till didn’t bat an eyelid at this unusual combination – which probably goes to show that some creepy-crawlies at least are sold regularly in the UK.

For the record: you can make a HUGE omelette from an ostrich egg (use a paella pan to cook it), the lollipop tasted of strawberries, the crickets tasted of crunchy smoke and the ants tasted of honey.

A year after my first, and somewhat unfortunate, encounter with the Bux Burger, I decided to return to the same restaurant and order the same burger. There’s no longer any mention of vegetarian on the menu and their only “green” burger is the Bux Burger with a small note (and several posters and flyers) saying that it’s made from worms. This time the burger didn’t taste quite so good; I found it somewhat sour and the consistency was less meaty than I remembered.

I asked the same friendly waitress (and co-owner) about this. Apparently, the recipe has been improved since I was last there but they still only manage to sell 1 or 2 Bux Burgers per week which isn’t so surprising given that people tend to go to a steak and burger restaurant for meat and not worms.

I left feeling satiated but somewhat disheartened. It’s a worthy attempt by the Bug Foundation boys to re-educate us and to help save the planet at the same time. However, I suspect that until the image problem is resolved, my carnivore friends won’t even try their first worm burger let alone return for second helpings.

Where? B34 Steak and Burger House, Rue Saint-Boniface 34, Brussels, 1050 Belgium.

If you’re interested in unusual food check out Where … to eat moving food and Where … you’ll need three raincoats.