Lunch customer Katsunori Takesawa bites into the giant brown water bug that garnishes the fizzy drink that smells of apples and declares it “delicious”.
Take-Noko caters to a growing population of entomophagy or eating insect enthusiasts who come to the eatery to eat everyday favourites like curry, made using an insect ingredient. The cafe is often fully-booked on weekends.
Japan has a rich culinary history of insects as food. Grasshoppers, silkworms and wasps were traditionally eaten in land-locked regions where meat and fish are scarce, a practice that picked up amid food shortages during and after World War II, says Take-Noko manager Michiko Muira. A study by entomologist Tsunekata Miyake listed 55 types of edible insects eaten during the Taisho era (1912 – 1926).
“Recently there have been advances in rearing things like crickets and mealworms for food, so the possibilities of using insects as ingredients are really growing,” said Miura.
The eatery is the brainchild of Takeo Saito, who founded his namesake company Takeo Inc nine years ago. Apart from the insect cafe, it has a packaged food business which offers more than 60 types of arthropod treats which include scorpions and tarantulas.
Take-Noko hopes the cafe can be a place where customers can access edible insects in a casual atmosphere.
Bugs have made a culinary comeback in Japan in recent years with several companies, including national bakery brand Pasco, selling cookies and cakes made from cricket flour. Retailer Muji offers cricket crackers and cricket chocolate protein bars. Japanese processed food maker Nichirei and telecom Nippon Telegraph and Telephone have also announced investments in bug ventures in the past year.
The term “crickets” started to trend in Japanese media recently after reports of powdered insects being used in school lunches.
Bugs are seen as a protein-rich flour replacement but Take-Noko serves them as they are to show they can be enjoyed at the same table as vegetables, fish and meat.
“I think it’s pretty funny how once you get used to the way they look, they make for a surprisingly normal meal,” said Miura.
A UN report in 2021 stated that with the global population expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 and limited resources in agricultural land and freshwater for farming, insects are fast emerging as a viable food group and gaining some popularity globally.