1: When I was 12 or 13, I read somewhere that ants taste sour. For some reason, I got mighty curious as to whether or not that was true. We had a great big huge anthill in the scrub area at the back of our property, so after a day or two of wondering if ants really did taste sour, I went out and did the field research --that is, I caught six ants (we had the kind with a red head and middle and a black butt, about 1/3rd of an inch long), pinched their little heads so they wouldn’t be able to bite my tongue, and taste tested the backyard pismire.
Yep, sour! Sour and a little bit hot. It was the formic acid, no doubt.
I soon found out that not only had I learned a neato nature fact, I’d also found a great trick with which to freak the next-door neighbors’ obnoxious kids right the Hell out for hours!
- Flash forward to 1999, and the first time I was ever in the delightful, weird and friendly city of Oaxaca. They have chapulines there, which is the word for “grasshoppers” in one of the Native languages. Specifically, grasshoppers prepared for human consumption and sold all over town by hundreds of very polite older ladies who haul these exoskeletal edibles around by the bushel basketload. In a variety of sizes, too (both bug and batch – natch).
Now, I’m a brave and curious eater from way back (see #1 above), and one of the things I’d planned all along for this trip to Mexico was to try as many of the local and regional food specialties as I got the chance to. And there’d been more than one guidebook which mentioned the popularity of grasshoppers as snackfood in Oaxaca state. So of course I had resolved to try them the first chance I got.
That chance came no more than an hour after my two traveling buddies and myself arrived in Ciudad Oaxaca – we went to a cafe on the central plaza and sat outside enjoying the scene and some cool bevs, and then there were two middle-aged ladies trying to sell us these little bricky-red things, with legs. Chapulines, yep – ranging from the size of Rice Krispies to as long as my little finger. The latter ones were frankly somewhat frightening – they resembled the evil dead Martian locust-men in the movie Quatermas And The Pit --so I bought a half peso’s worth of petites instead.
Choff choff, smack choff. Gulp. My two buddies watched, with dubious looks on their faces, and waited.
What a letdown! There was a crunch. It tasted like…cooking oil and mild chile powder, mostly. Not only did they look like Rice Krispies, they tasted like them too – slightly greasy, slightly spicy Rice Krispies. I ate a popcorn-size handful just to be fair, wrapped the rest in a napkin and slipped it into my belly bag. Later I think I fed them to pigeons.
A couple-three nights later we went out drinking. Another locust-lady came into the bar while we merrily got ourselves beered up in a foreign language, and I was two-thirds lit and a tad-bit hungry, and…this time I bought the big ones – intimidatingly insectile to look at, with their pointy back-jumpers and compound eyebuds. Much to the glee of our audience (locals of about the same age we were, also drinking hard and happily), I popped the biggest and buggiest chapuline in the batch into my mouth and CHOMPED!
Meh. Like a *really big *slightly spicy and greasy Rice Krispie. It simply had no detectable taste of its own.
Needless to say, someone else ended up with most of my second-ever, and last-ever, batch of chapulines.