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    Eat & Swig

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    Photo by Danny Alexander

    The little Mexican place, the one with the fried grasshoppers. That’s how we’ve referenced it in my house for at least a year, as it has repeatedly bobbed from our gotta-go list to our maybe-tonight debates, only to slip to the sometime pile. I blame the hesitation on the grasshoppers, those bouncy backyard pests that I know curiosity will compel me to crunch. Would I taste bug guts? Would I have to wrestle a wee leg from my teeth? I’m not a vegetarian. I rip into a bag of beef jerky like lion on antelope. So I’m not sure why grasshoppers send me all aquiver. But I adore small, family-owned Mexican restaurants, the places preferred by Central and South American natives now living stateside. Finally, on a 100-plus-degree June day, my family heads across the river to Clarksville, destined for La Lupita.

    It sits next to a car wash and behind a Chinese spot with an unforgettably direct name — You-A-Carry-Outa Chinese. Inside La Lupita, traditional Mexican clothing — vivid, ruffly skirts and tops — hang on the walls. Pottery and plants add to the decor and a steamy telenovela plays on a TV screen. On this evening, men slide into booths and order micheladas, a drink made of beer, lime juice, sauces and spices, served in tall salt-rimmed glasses. La Lupita’s lengthy menu leaves no dish unaccounted for — tamales, quesadillas, chilaquiles, tortas, enchiladas and more. Several items hail from the Oaxaca region of Mexico, like the platillo oaxaqueño — steak and chorizo with Oaxaca cheese, chicken-and-mole enchilada, guacamole and corn tortillas.

    I order caldo de camarón, my favorite Mexican meal. It’s a spicy soup with shrimp, onions, cilantro and carrots, the zucchini and potato sliced nearly as large and thick as plums. (My Spanish is poor but I’m fairly certain I hear a table mocking my decision on what is a scorching, suffocating day. But it’s what I love, boys! Get back to your micheladas.)

    Now, the bugs. When we inquire about the fried grasshoppers (chapulines), our waiter furrows his brow. “I think I know what you’re talking about,” he says before walking away. A woman with a round, beautiful face, a choker necklace and cowboy boots comes over. “You want grasshoppers?” she asks, cautioning that tonight they’re really spicy. “I’ll give you a sample.”

    Minutes later, in an oval-shaped dish, a heap of segmented bodies and tiny bent legs arrives. Once ready to pounce, they now lie before us, stuck in the food chain. Slathered in spices, the grasshoppers are a deep brick-red. A dried red chili among the bodies assures a fiery flavor.

    Here goes. Between index finger and thumb, I pinch one and pop it in my mouth. It’s the exact texture of soggy popcorn, and stinging hot. I know they’re full of protein and healthy minerals, and no guts are palatable. Only one leg gets snagged at the corner of my husband’s mouth. Overall they taste fine, so…I’m into it.

    The bad news: My five-year-old daughter really wants to try one. We’d been hyping up the insect portion of our meal all day. And I’m fairly certain in her lifetime our food system will collapse and bugs will plug the role now occupied by cows and pigs. So start ’em young. But they are just too spicy. I didn’t expect the news to crush her. “I really wanted to try one,” she sobs, burying her face into my husband’s arm. Luckily, an oozy quesadilla arrives, softening her disappointment. Then a clothes-ripping, passionate make-out scene on the telenovela renders the grasshoppers a suddenly forgotten chapter of this dinner. Despite my many animated efforts to avert my daughter’s attention, those blue-hazel eyes swerve back to the screen for sights so far unseen in her young life.

    We don’t finish the whole bowl of grasshoppers, but we experiment: bug on chip with guacamole, bug in my soup, bug mixed with rice and beans. This delicacy of Oaxaca may not suit those seeking standard Mexican fare, but La Lupita serves it all. Bonus: Most dishes cost less than $13. Enjoying La Lupita doesn’t require an adventurous eater, just one willing to head for southern Indiana.

    This originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine as the Dish. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

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