Thursday, April 7, 2011

Insect.

Every country has its offbeat delicacies and Mexico is no exception.  For Mexicans, it's all about insects!

I munched on scorpions when I was in Beijing and they were actually quite tasty.  I definitely want to sample what Mexico has to offer.

Considered a delicacy by Mexicans, chapulines or grasshoppers are available only in certain parts of Mexico, the state and city of Oaxaca being best known.  High in protein and low in fat, chapulines are a cheap form of nutrition and have been on the Mexican menu for over 3000 years. Oaxacans, typically from ethnic minorities like the Zapotec,  consume 85 different insects including 15 varieties of grasshoppers (Orthoptera).  I didn't know there were that many different varieties to choose from.

Chapulines consumed are harvested primarily from corn (maize) and alfalfa fields. Chapulines are harvested only at certain times of year - from their hatching in early May through the late summer/early autumn.  We'll be in Mexico in late July at the height of the season. Woohoo ?!?!

Chapulines are collected early in the morning when the ground is cool and the chapulines are dormant.  The harvesting is typically done by men and younger boys using nets to catch them and bags to collect them in.  The harvested chapulines are then left in a cool dark place for 2-3 days so they can clean themselves.  Nothing worse than munching down on a dirty chapulin :-)

After they’re cleaned and washed, the bugs are toasted on a comal (clay cooking surface) with lemon juice, garlic and sal de gusano to create a sour-spicy-salty taste. Chapulines are often fried in chilies, salted and served with lime. From what I've read, chapulines are a common street food in Oaxaca where they are eaten as snacks or as part of a main dish, stuffed into a taco for example. 

Photo by Sara Bonisteel
Escamoles are the larvae of giant black ants the genus Liometopum which makes its home in the roots of the agave (tequila) or maguey (mezcal) plant in.  Escamoles are considered a delicacy and are sometimes referred to as "insect caviar". They have a cottage cheese like consistency and taste buttery, yet slightly nutty.  Collecting the eggs must be done with extreme care since the ants are highly venom.  Some poor farmer must have been really, really hungry to go through all this effort!

The most popular way to eat them is in a taco with guacamole though I have seen them served with eggs.  Escamoles for breakfast or maybe I can down my chapulines taco with an escamoles tacos?

However I get to eat them,  if I have a chance to try both these insect delicacies, I will.  But, I think I better bring along the Pepto Bismol just in case they don't agree with my stomach!