Grasshoppers or Chapulines Food in Mexico
OAXACA, Mexico- There were thousands of them piled in great bins and overflowing from platters held by dark skinned women in long Indian dresses. They were small and red and dead and amassed in huge mounds all around the south entrance of the market. The women selling them on platters called them chapulines. I call them grasshoppers. They were being sold for consumption, and from the way the vendors continuously chanted, “Chapulines! Chapulines! Chapulines!” out loud for all passerbys to hear, it is my impression that these grasshoppers are an oft sought snack in this part of Mexico.
As I walked through the gauntlet of grasshopper piles, one of the Indian women pushed a crispy little critter before my nose and asked me if I would like to try it. I, of course, obliged her. There were two types being sold: chapulines with chili, and chapulines without. I bought a 10 peso bag of the spicy ones.
This was the first time that I have had the opportunity to eat grasshoppers since the last time I was in Southeast Asia in 2006. I must say that I grew use to getting a bowl of deep fried grasshoppers as a tapa to accompany my beer there, and the novelty of eating these insects wore off pretty quick. Honestly, grasshoppers make a decent snack — they are crispy, light weight, and fill the social compulsion to continuously scoop and chomp rather well.
Though the chapulines in Mexico are a little different than the ones that I have sampled in Southeast Asia. The Thai preparation of grasshoppers consists of frying them, while in Oaxaca it is common for them to be cooked on a comal, which is a clay roaster. The Thai grasshoppers are also vastly larger, and I have noticed that people sometimes remove the heads before eating; while in Mexico, the critters are smaller — I would actually call them crickets, not grasshoppers — and you eat them in handfuls like popcorn, heads and all.
As I walked away from the market, I peered into my bag and gave the crispy grasshoppers a closer inspection. They were covered in chili spices, where shiny, and oily to the touch. There were also a few chili peppers in the bag with them — perhaps to make sure that if the excessive quantity of chili powder wore off, there would be backup. I tried a handful, and a crunching sensation emitted from my mouth. As I ate them, remnants of the massive amount of little legs that I was ingesting needed to be continuously wiped clean from my teeth with my tongue. I occasionally needed to remove stray appendages from a nether regions of my mouth by hand.
When it comes to eating these grasshoppers, think of popcorn mixed with small twigs that was first bathed in chili powder and lime juice.
The taste of these chapulines was totally chili/ lime — a popular flavor combination in Mexico. I cannot say that grasshoppers, on their own, possess much of a taste: they just crunch and that is about it — which is probably a good thing. The flavor comes almost completely from whatever spice is applied to them during the roasting process.
Chapulines are not available in all the states of Mexico, and Oaxaca seems to be the heartland for this snack. It is said that people in Oaxaca eat these grasshoppers as a daily snack, and judging from the piles of them being sold in the market, it is not my impression that this is too great of an exaggeration.
How to cook chapulines
The grasshoppers are collected from fields at night with large nets and are then soaked in vats of water. After this, there are various ways that they can be prepared, from sun drying to boiling, frying, baking, or even eating raw. It is my impression that cooking them on large clay stoves is common in Oaxaca.
As far as flavoring goes, there seems to be a world of options that encompass almost the entire liturgy of Mexican flavors. Though it is my impression that they are mostly flavored with chili, lime, garlic, and onions. If you like other Mexican snacks that use these flavor combinations, then you would probably like chapulines — well, as soon as you get over the fact that you are eating bugs.
Chapulines can be eating on their own as a snack or as an addition to other foods. They can be put in soups, made into tacos, spread on sandwiches, or, as Chris Christensen reports, layed into a bed of guacamole and cheese.
Grasshopper great Mexican food conclusion
Eating grasshoppers here in Oaxaca is not something strange. The people of this region have been stout entomophagists since well before the 16th century. These chapulines are are a normal snack that people eat here without reaction. Though the tourists in the market often squeal when they realize what the women with the platters of red things are not selling chili peppers. But these vendors seem to get a kick out of foreigners getting a kick out of their grasshoppers, and seem to use the shock element as a jumping off point for making sales. It works.
I passed my bag of grasshoppers over to my wife. She declined.
“But they’re a Oaxacan delicacy,” I urged.
“I think I’ll stick to mango. That’s my Oaxacan delicacy.”