Chapulines and chicatanas – Oaxacan traditions
It was difficult to decide which foods to include in this third instalment of Oaxacan Food from A to Z – since my initial list for the letter C included over a dozen food items. This is also complicated by the fact that the letter ch (che) no longer exists in the Spanish alphabet. I expect that the letter C will involve a number of instalments, making up for more difficult letters such as the letter K. Today I will focus on one intriguing aspect of Oaxacan gastronomy and history – eating bugs.
Afton Halloran, a friend of mine from my days at UBC now works for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome. She participated in a research project about how the consumption of edible insects can contribute to world food security. Insects have been eaten in Southern Mexico since before the arrival of the Spanish and they are an influential part of the local economical and gastronomical culture.
From the FAO’s report Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security:
This small grasshopper has been a part of local diets for centuries and is still eaten in several parts of Mexico. The valleys of Oaxaca state are especially famous for the consumption of chapulines. Cleaned and toasted in a little oil with garlic, lemon and salt for flavour, they are a common food ingredient among not only indigenous communities but also the urban population in Oaxaca city (Cohen et al., 2009). Chapulines are brachypterous, which means they have reduced, non-functional wings. Sphenarium purpurascens is a pest of alfalfa but also one of the most important edible insects in Mexico. Harvesters use conical nets (about 80 cm in diameter and 90 cm deep) without handles to lightly beat the alfalfa plants, allowing each local family to obtain about 50–70 kilograms (kg) of grasshoppers weekly (Cerritos and Cano-Santana, 2008). Chapulines play a significant role in local small-scale markets as well as in restaurants and export markets.
Chicatanas are flying ants that come out with the first rains around the end of June. The insects are collected and cooked on a comal to then be ground in a molcajete with garlic, chile and salt to make the famous salsa de chicatana.
Interestingly enough my wife, native to Oaxaca and accustomed to grabbing chicatanas by their wings has never tried the salsa. She remembers that every time that her aunt made the salsa it was all eaten up by the time she got to Tlacolula. Hmmm we might have to go in June to collect some and make salsa for ourselves.