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Edible Insects in Mexico

MEXICO | Friday, 21 September 2012 | Views [1629]

It was about six months ago now when I made one of my most exciting trips of my life: a 3 month volunteer programme in Mexico. This was such an important and exciting trip for me as I had wanted to visit Mexico ever since I could remember and somehow felt a strange affinity with the place, despite the fact that I am from the other end of the world and have absolutely no ancestral or other connection to Mexico. Out of the two accommodation options available through the volunteer company I chose to live with a “real Mexican family”, as opposed to option two which was to share an apartment with the other volunteers. I arrived in Xalapa, Mexico heading on evening time and was the last of the volunteers to arrive. The volunteer coordinators and the group of volunteers kindly had a welcome party on my behalf, which was a proper Mexican affair that lasted until the wee hours of the morning.

The late night combined with my jet lag led me to indulge in a little sleep-in the following morning which caused me to be late for breakfast. Now, no one had told me that there was a specific time for breakfast; it was in fact at 8 O’ Clock sharp every morning and I wandered up the dining area heading on 9 O’ Clock. I was met up with extreme disapproval by the mother of my host family, who had to reheat everything for me. She made it very clear that I had upset her and even though I barely knew a word of Spanish I definitely received the message loud and clear. She then pointed to a seat at the table, beside which lay a plate of various fruits. Upon sitting down at the table, I noticed that the plate of fruit was covered in the biggest black ants I had ever seen in my life. At this point one of my fellow volunteers came up the stars and the mother of the house said something to him in Spanish which I didn’t understand but assumed was about me. He then turned to me and explained how I was to eat the fruit, ants and all, as that is what they did in Mexico and not to worry, the ants were perfectly edible if not entirely delicious.

Not wanting to upset my host any further, I took up a piece of apple with two massive ants parading across it and gobbled it down. As I reluctantly swallowed the ant-apple combo with what must have been a look of terror on my face, the two burst out laughing. My house-mate explained to me that although they do in fact eat ants in Mexico, they were not the variety that were on my plate and that they were just trying to teach me a lesson for being late for breakfast. Never was I so much as a second late for breakfast again and when I arrived the following morning my plate of fruit was covered with a tea-towel so as to protect from common house ants.

Throughout my three months in Mexico I discovered that ants were not the only insect consumed by the people there. I had a bag of chocolate covered grasshoppers from a street vendor in Oaxaca and during a week-long kite surfing trip on the Riviera Maya I tried a type of water fly that had been cooked and served as a type of tamales.

So with my fellow world explorers in mind I took the liberty of making the following list of legitimate edible insects so that no one else makes the same mistake I did:        

Gourmet Waterfly (Axayácatl): Both this waterfly itself and its eggs can be eaten. The insect is referred to as axayácatl and the eggs are known as ahuautle. The later was eaten by the famous Aztec Emperor, Montezuma for his breakfast every morning. Nowadays people usually fry them or use them in tamales, tortas and mixiotes.

Giant Ants (Chicatanas): These are a type of large black ant, typical to Guerrero and Oaxaca. The ones from Guerrero are only found during the month of August and can therefore be expensive. During the rain-season of May and June in Oaxaca, these flying ants can be found by the dozen, People head out to collect these in order to make the traditional salsa de chicatanas.

Chocolate Grasshoppers (Chapulines): These are popular all over Mexico, but are particularly common place in Oaxaca. Covered in chocolate is just one way to eat these crunchy critters. They are also sold at bars with a dash of lemon and chilli or sometimes even as a pizza topping.  They are also commonly toasted on a comal, a type of clay cooking device.

Fried Worms (Gusanos de maguay): Although the name translates as worms, these are in fact butterfly larva. They are found under Maguey plants (a similar looking plant to cacti), whose sap is used to make pulque, tequila and mescal and are usually found at the bottom of a bottle of mescal. The “worms” can also be fried and eaten with tortillas and salsa.   

Ant Larvae Caviar (Escamoles): These are also found around the roots of the Maguey plant and are the larvae of giant black ants. They are have a soft, mousse like consistency and are made up of lots of little white balls. These are compared to caviar in Mexico and are considered a delicacy.

Tags: cuisine, food, guerrero, insects, mexico, oaxaca

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