Step aside, ramps and rhubarb: this spring’s buzziest ingredient is the cicada. The Brood X insects are starting to emerge, and chefs are freaking out—one even closed his Michelin-starred restaurant “for cicada season.” But for the most part, cooks are excited for an Iron Chef-style bug challenge.
Cicadas have landed on the menu of Leesburg restaurant Cocina on Market, which is serving locally-sourced cicada tacos. Before chef de cuisine Tobias Padovano began sautéing members of Brood X, he was cooking grasshoppers for traditional Mexican chapulines tacos. So why not go local with a high-protein, sustainable ingredient? Reading up on cooking with cicadas, Padovano learned the bugs taste like shrimp—a take he confirms through his own sampling, describing the flavor profile as “umami grass-like.”
Padovano and his team scavenge trees, bushes, and the sides of houses searching for juicy, young bugs. Similar to crustacean cousins like lobster and crabs, the cicadas are boiled alive (unlike crabs, they’re then dehydrated overnight). Padovano sautées the bugs with onion, garlic, Serrano chili, and lime, and tucks them into a tortilla with mole verde.
Cocina on Market began selling the tacos on Tuesday night, and Padovano predicts they’ve sold around 30 dishes so far. The restaurant will continue offering the special until the insects get older and tougher (those hardened exoskeletons don’t go down as easy).
Padovano is not the only one inspired by nature’s bounty. Chef Seng Luangrath of Laotian hotspots Thip Khao and Padaek is posting her home-cooked cicada comestibles on Instagram. Most recently, Luangrath uploaded a photo of cicada scampi (#shrimpofthetreescampi). When asked about whether the dish is available at any of her restaurants in DC or Virginia, the chef responded cryptically:
“Soon on a secret menu.”