One of the supposed delicacies of Mexico is ant eggs and grasshoppers. This seems bizarre, considering Mexican cuisine is one of the world’s treasures and there’s plenty of other weird things to eat, like goat face. So why, of all the wonderful creations to consume, have bugs emerged as a “must-try” in Mexico?
When the Aztecs migrated from the north of Mexico’s present-day boundaries to the central Valley of Mexico, they discovered a place devoid of adequate quantities of food we might consider essential for a large civilization. There were insects and some grains, but a serious lack of large animals and necessary nutrients.
However they worked with the ingredients they had. They ingeniously invented tortillas, they ate mosquito larva and consumed ants and grasshoppers. Tortillas were made by adding lime (from limestone) to mashed corn, which chemically altered the proteins and injected nutritional and caloric value into the staple food.
Side note: we could help end world hunger if we ate more bugs. They have ten times more protein than mammals on a per pound basis and they produce more food per unit of input than cows or chickens do. In any case, we don’t eat bus because basically that’s weird. That’s not a particularly sound reason.
So, essentially out of necessity, the Aztecs ate what they had. Mosquitos, because CDMX was once extensive wetlands. Grasshoppers, as the valley is a vast expense of nothingness. Ant eggs because, well, ants are everywhere.
When I went to the market and saw some grasshoppers, I figured, well of course I need to eat them. I am admittedly pretty reluctant to throw back insects.
On the one hand, I understand that bugs aren’t fundamentally different than animals. Although mosquitoes are the largest killer of humans, it’s mainly because of the human blood inside them. Insects are chromosomally, genetically, biologically very different from humans and actually carry human-susceptible diseases much less readily than say mammals or birds. Swine flu and avian flu is much scarier for human populations than any disease an ant could deliver
Further, insects aren’t any dirtier than, say, a pig. Pigs are a super dirty animal. They like mud and have gross hairs on their chinny chin chins. Further, when you cook anything, all the external germs are killed off. Using ground beef for a medium-rare cheeseburger is actually pretty risky. All the bacteria is on the outside of the piece of meat; ground up the chunk and the bacteria is on the inside. Pink burgers have bacteria.
Lastly, bugs are known to be pretty tasty. Chicken isn’t naturally delicious. Virtually anything needs some love before it’s delicious. Go throw chicken in a pot of water without any salt or pepper and tell me bland chicken is scrumptious. No. You need to have the Maillard reaction kick in and the spices impart their flavor on the meat. Duh. Bug recipes abound with flavorful variations, so taste shouldn’t be a concern.
On the other hand. Bugs.
I’ve consumed some funky things: pig brain, chicken heart, fish eye, snake meat. But save for trace amounts of scorpion tail I managed to eat, in addition to the buckets of bugs I’ve probably unknowingly consumed, I still balk at bugs.
Hesitant at first, I simply stared at a bagful of grasshoppers. I didn’t think I could do it and needed to psyche myself up. Then I saw Clemente throwing a few back, and peer pressure trumped all. Down the hatch they went. They were spiced up and fried, and anything spicy and fried tastes good. Go to your local grocer and pound some grasshoppers.
Some people claim that the only reason vegetables and bugs taste delicious is because of heavy spices and fine techniques. And as stated above with chicken, that’s probably true. But in any case, the dish was tasty even so.
Grasshoppers were more than delicious and I hit my protein goals for the day. They were so good I eagerly inquired about ant eggs. My brother had been to Mexico City a few years back for work and was raving about ant eggs, so of course I had to try them. Apparently, ant eggs are seasonal and I didn’t come during the right time of year. One can’t farm ant eggs, so wild ones are best. Gives me an excuse to come back to Mexico some day.
It bears attention that the vast majority of Mexicans do not eat insects regularly. It’s been said ad nauseum that Mexican food is delightful. They have countless choices when it comes to cuisine, and grasshoppers aren’t topping the totem pole.
They are a slightly vestigial aspect of the culinary history. At the same time, they are part of the Mexican identity in a very specific way. People don’t go out for grasshopper dinners every night. But they are, in fact, delicious and still take up a corner of Mexican markets.
It’s just another cross section of culture.
Let me know what you think in the comments below! Have you ever tried ant eggs before? Am I missing out horribly?