In a steamy Tokyo kitchen, a roasted scent wafts through the air as Yuto Shinohara prepares soup stock for ramen, derived not from pork or chicken, but crickets (AFP Photo/Behrouz MEHRI)
In a steamy Tokyo kitchen, a roasted scent wafts through the air as Yuta Shinohara prepares soup stock for ramen, derived not from pork or chicken, but crickets.
"In this pan, we have 10,000 crickets, making stock for 100 bowls," Shinohara explained, as he stirred a large silver pot.
The bowls of ramen produced by Shinohara and his team look and smell like those at restaurants across Japan: fine white noodles sit in a savoury soup, topped with a juicy slice of pork and fat pieces of pickled bamboo shoots.
There's little to give away the fact that 26-year-old Shinohara uses crickets in the broth, oil, soy sauce and even noodles. Except, that is, for the deep-fried insect perched next to a mitsuba leaf garnish on the soup's surface.
Shinohara isn't a professional chef, in fact his preferred description of himself is "earth boy." And it's his love of all things nature-related that led to him insect-based food.
"I want to introduce the joy of insect eating, so that insects will be respected equally to animals and plants," he told AFP.
Shinohara's love affair with insects began as a child, when he spent most of his time in fields and bushes, catching grasshoppers and cicadas.
He was so fascinated by creepy-crawlies that he eventually even tasted them -- but only secretly.
"I couldn't tell anyone that I love insects or I eat insects until I was about 20 years old," he says shyly. "I was afraid of becoming the odd one out or being bullied for it."
- 'Like a delicate sweet' -
Humans have been eating insects for thousands of years and they remain a common food in many countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania.
But for many in the West and elsewhere, a cultural bias against insects as food remains strong.
Environmental and agriculture experts have been trying to break down those barriers, promoting insects as an environmentally friendly rich source of minerals and protein.