OK – the subject matter I am about to discuss will literally make some people sick, so if you have a delicate stomach, please go no further, because I don’t want to be responsible for anyone becoming anorexic.
A few people, such as my son, and maybe my niece Catherine Butzen, won’t be surprised at what they will read, and the fact that I am fascinated by such things, and could even bring myself to participate out of curiosity. But – if I need to be more specific, this post talks about, and has photographs about, insects in the diet of many areas of Mexico. And – to answer a question that is burning in many people’s minds, yes, I DID try some of them.
So, here goes – you have been warned. Continue at your own risk.
Yesterday was the beginning of a 3-day gastronomia festival at the Casa de la Cultura in Comala. The first two days will be right here at the Casa, and the third day, Sunday, will be in the jardín with many vendors selling their wares.
I went with my friends Richard and Magda, who were selling their produce, as well as chutneys, jams, honey, fresh-cut lavendar, etc. Next to us was a vendor selling knives, and next to him was a table with tee shirts and cookbooks.
Inside was a large room where the lectures would take place. There were many chairs set up for the audience, and a cooking area, where food would be cooked as the lecturer explained the process. After that, some of the food could be tasted by the audience. Before the lectures/demonstrations some volunteer firefighters brought in two fire extinguishers.
The first lecture, now remember everything is in Spanish, seemed to be about what you must consider when preparing food – such as origin of the food, flavor and presentation. Then a dish was prepared of fresh bacalao, veggies and sauce. The speaker took us step-by-step through the process and ended up with a very elegant plate of the prepared food.
There was a short break and then the next lecture began. On the screen were pictures from pre-Colombian times of men and corn. The lecturer started talking about corn and the food created from it, such as tortillas, so I said to myself, “OK, so this will be a class about corn.” THEN he started talking about the agricultural pests that resulted from the corn growing – worms and insects living inside the corn or in the soil. Now I realized that this lecture was about edible insects and worms.
Yes, they are a good source of protein, and like bats, we help to get rid of them by eating them, though that is not the reason people began to eat them. When you are hungry enough, you will eat anything. I remember in my father’s memoirs he talked about one of his uncles who described how, during WW I, he ate locusts. I remember in the movie “Castaway” Tom Hanks’ character crying as he killed and ate a slimy raw creature from the sea before he taught himself how to create fire.
So what types of creatures are we talking about here, you might ask. Well, turns out there is quite a variety. First there is ahuauhtli, or ahuatle – the eggs of water bugs and a few other creature, often referred to as Mexican caviar. It is black and white, and when you think about it, normal caviar is just fish eggs, so there is not much of a difference, no?
Chapulín, or grasshoppers and hormiguitas, tiny black ants are two more sources of protein. There was also a photo of what appeared to be large red ants, or maybe they just turned red after cooking, as lobsters do. Finally, there was the Maguey, or white worm, which is actually the larva of a moth,most famous for being at the bottom of some bottles of tequila. I am sure there were a few other things that, because of my limited spoken Spanish or my unfamiliarity of Mexican cuisine, I did not hear or understand, but I think this list is sufficient for now.
The lecturer started out with the Maguey, and held up a live one (see photo). He invited anyone in the audience to try it, and a woman went up, took hold of it, and swallowed it. Then the cooks on the stage went about frying them and someone passed around a plate of them. I raised my hand to try it, then initially tried to wave them away. But then I said to myself, well, they ARE cooked and tried one. The initial bite into it revealed a slightly soft inside, but the outside was crunchy and surprisingly tasty. I don’t know what oil or spices they used, but I am sure that is what I was tasting, rather than the larva. They were also squashed flat and blackened from frying, so they didn’t look as they did when alive, and that helped a bit.
The other thing I tasted was a quesadilla of crickets and cheese. There was a little linen bag of something also on the plate, and I have no idea what was in it. I only took one bite of the quesadilla, as the crickets were very dry and the cooks had put hot sauce on it, so the hot sauce alone prevented any further tasting.
There was another class about traditional bread which I did not attend. At that point I REALLY needed to go to the bank to replenish my heavily dwindled supply of pesos, and then to keep Richard company at his table. I first went to the ATM, and then to the window to get all my 500-peso notes changed into smaller bills. I told the cashier what I wanted, and she automatically said they do not change U.S. dollars. I replied that I was changing pesos, so everything was OK. About 90% of the people here automatically recognize me for what I am and make assumptions, but I guess that is normal, while some people do start speaking to me in Spanish. I suppose I will always stand out, but that is OK, too. But then, some do speak to me in English just to practice their English and that is also OK. I am very flexible like that.
So there you have it, possibly, but not definitely, the only post that has the capacity to induce illness. There will be suitable warnings if this should be necessary in the future, so with that thought in mind – I wish all my readers a Happy Remainder of their Weekend!!!