When I first arrived in Oaxaca, the thought of eating grasshoppers made me feel a little queasy. However, now I buy a little bag of them on every trip to the market. I sprinkle them on guacamole, on top of a crispy tostada, or just eat them like chips straight from the bag. They make for a delicious, chilli-infused, salty snack and they are full of protein to boot.
Known in English by the very appealing name of corn smut, Huitlacoche (pronounced weet-la-ko-tcheh) is essentially a grey fungus that grows on corn. Mmmm…are you tempted yet? Although it sounds pretty disgusting, it is actually a delicacy and is served in quesadillas and some soups. It definitely has a unique, almost sweet, fermented flavour, but you’ll find yourself wanting more.
3. Fruit with chilli
Like the grasshoppers, when I first saw fruit in the street being sold covered in lime and chilli, the idea wasn’t hugely enticing. Now, however, I love it. There is something about the spice that offsets the sweetness of the fruit, making for a taste sensation…Oh, and the lime? Well that is nature’s antibacterial agent, so I know the fruit is bug free.
4. Flying ant salsa
Every year after the first rains, flying ants called chicatanas swarm upon Oaxaca. I spent my first year here battling them as hundreds swarmed into my apartment. Having swatted a great number of them, I then discovered they are a delicacy and people collect them to sell or to make a special salsa. All you need to do is catch them (ok, that bit is not so easy), cook them on a comal, grind them up and add salt, garlic, water, and of course chilli. Spread the salsa onto a tortilla and you are good to go!
5. Savoury chocolate sauce
Mole negro (pronounced mol-ay) is famously made with chocolate. While chocolate is only one of 30 or more ingredients, it has a vital place in the dish. Ever thought you would enjoy chocolate sauce poured over your chicken? Try it, there has to be a reason why this dish has been popular for hundreds of years.
6. Cactus flower ice cream
The cactus flower in Mexico is called tuna, making for some confused faces at the ice cream stand as English-speaking foreigners imagine what a tuna fish ice cream might taste like. While not quite as unusual as tuna fish flavour, cactus flower ice cream is still rather exotic. It has a delicious, sweet taste with an almost cucumber-like texture, and as ice cream it is refreshing and delightful on a hot summer’s day.
7. Worm salt
Ok, so this isn’t a food as such, but this salt made from crushed worms and chilli always accompanies mezcal. Dab a slice of orange into the worm salt, suck on the juice, and then take a shot of mezcal. Delicious! Most people eat the salt without realizing that it is made from the little critters that hang out on the agave plant. I’ve seen a few shocked faces when people finally work out what that word gusano means.
I saved the most unusual until last: ant larvae, or as it is often lovingly described, insect caviar. The larvae are harvested from the maguey plant and are sold at a price deserving of its caviar-like description. If the thought of what it is bothers you, since they look pretty similar, just imagine you have pine nuts wrapped in your tortilla. Its taste is nutty but its texture is more akin to cottage cheese. Give it a go. You just might like it!