3rd wave of locusts from Sinai takes Israel by swarm

Hardly a plague – Jerusalem chef insists insect-based dishes delicious, popular and excellent source of protein.

Chef Moshe Basson holds a locust 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Chef Moshe Basson holds a locust 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
A new group of locusts crossed the border from the Sinai region on Sunday, ending up in the area of Moshav Be’er Malka, in the Ramat Hanegev region, the Agriculture Ministry reported.
After entering Israel, the insects split up and continued their flight, with one faction heading toward Ashalim and another toward Ofakim, the ministry said.
Once these swarms land on the ground, ministry workers will map out their locations in order to spray them with pesticides.
They expected to begin their spraying at the first signs of light on Monday morning, the ministry said.
This latest swarm of locusts follows a second that entered the country from Egypt on Friday in the Nitzana region, after which the Agriculture Ministry sprayed pesticide heavily throughout the weekend, both by air and on the ground.
Initial groups of the bugs swooped into the country on Tuesday near Kadesh Barnea, after taking a break from storming the markets of Cairo and the Suez region last weekend. While that swarm has largely been eradicated, people have sighted remaining individuals from the group all over the country, including in the Center and the North.
When news broke of locusts swarming over Egypt, farmers began to tremble in their boots.
Locusts can cause millions of dollars of damage to crops as they chomp through fields.
But when Jerusalem chef Moshe Basson heard about the locusts, he had two thoughts: schnitzel, and social justice.
Schnitzel, because that’s his favorite way of eating locusts. A light dusting of bread crumbs, fried up in olive oil, served with a touch of salt. And social justice? “Locusts eat the rich peoples’ food, and poor people eat the locusts, and they get an excellent source of protein for free,” explained Basson, an award-winning chef who owns the Eucalyptus Restaurant in Jerusalem that specializes in local heritage and biblical foods.
Despite many clients clambering for a taste of the crunchy pest, you won’t find the local locusts on the menu at Eucalyptus.
That’s because they exist in a kosher grey area.
Previously, Shas spiritual leader and former Sephardi chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef ruled that the locusts, part of the Acrididae family that includes grasshoppers, are kosher for everyone who has a tradition of eating them. That includes Yemenite Jews, who used to eat them skewered on shish-kebabs and baked with a light sprinkling of salt.
Because there is no record of the kashrut of locusts in religious texts, their status is unclear, according to Yosef. Basson was born in Iraq, but that doesn’t stop him from frying up locusts for dozens of curious clients, including foreign journalists.
“The whole restaurant is about local, traditional, biblical food,” he said.
This swarm of locusts first appeared near Cairo on March 2.
After massing near the border, the locusts descended on Israel on March 6, and the Agricultural Ministry took aggressive steps to stop the swarm from continuing northwards. A few locusts have been reported in northern Israel and Tel Aviv. One of Basson’s workers found a locust near his home in the Old City’s Armenian Quarter, but he was too afraid of it to bring it to work.
Which is too bad, since Basson is running low on locusts. After the pesticide spray, it’s been hard for him to get fresh ones. Those he has now were collected a few days ago by farmers in Ramat Hanegev, and brought exclusively to Basson. But after three days in boxes in Basson’s kitchen, they have lost most of their meat.
When the chef drops the live ones in boiling oil, they make a hissing sound, just like shrimps, as the air escapes from their hard shells. Their brown bodies turn a brilliant red as they cook.
On Sunday, Basson decided to make both savory and sweet locusts. In one dish, he sautéed deep fried locusts with a yellow sauce made from pickled lemon and saffron, mixed with a salsa of roasted red pepper and freshly blended almond milk.
For the sweet one, he created a candied locust caramel. After removing the head and the wings (parts of the locust with no nutritional value that only serve to get stuck in your throat, Basson explained), he poured boiling caramel over the bodies and detached legs of the locusts, creating an amber-colored locust candy that inspired references to edible Jurassic Park lollipops.
After breaking up the candy, he stuck it in a mound of whipped coconut cream decorated with beet leaves.
The truth is, locusts don’t really taste like anything except crunchy air. Both dishes I tried tasted exactly like the sauces Basson used to cook them in.
As I teased the squeamish photographer with locust legs poking out of my mouth, I couldn’t help but think, if Israel has to experience one of the Ten Plagues before Passover this year, I’m sure glad we didn’t end up with lice.