Monday, July 6, 2009

GUANAJUATO - Escamoles (ant eggs) and other Mexican delicacies


Cindi Bower


The other day as I was flipping through the six channels we are able to receive in Guanajuato without cable, I saw an announcement for an upcoming cooking show on the educational channel. As I'm interested in Mexican cuisine and love watching cooking shows, I made a point to tune in. Was I in for a surprise! The subject of that day's program was "Insectos y salsas" (insects and sauces).

I knew that grasshoppers (chapulines), ants (hormigas) and ant eggs (escamoles) were just of few of the more exotic foods eaten by the Aztecs and Mayans from my research into Mexican cuisine. Before moving to Mexico six years ago, I happened to catch Anthony Bourdain's show, "A Cook's Tour," on the Food Channel. One of the episodes featured a trip to a restaurant in Tlaxcala where he tried escamoles and gusanos de maguey (worms that burrow into the maguey cactus).

Of the escamoles, he said, “They’re perfectly good, with a slightly aromatic, woody background, almost fungal.” ( His driver, Martin, said the worms give men lots of power with the women and taste “Very special. They fry the worms golden brown and when you first bite in it’s crispy, like pork skin. Then you chew and…” (

A Mexican friend here in Guanajuato was telling me about a trip he and his family made to Mexico City. One of the foods they sampled were chapulines colorados, red grasshoppers. His five-year-old son described how they pinched the heads off, then chomped down the body, legs and all. He and his father claimed they were delicious, but his mother and sister could not bring themselves to try them. His sister said she wanted to vomit when she saw her brother and father eating grasshoppers with evident delight. They all drew the line at gusanos, though.

These descriptions did not make me want to sample any of these "delicacies," but I was interested in watching the show just to see how they were prepared. Also, I wanted to watch the cook sample the finished products so I could watch her face to see if she really enjoyed eating worms and bugs as appetizers. Alas, she merely presented the final results, but did not pop any into her mouth.

First, the chef demonstrated how to make various salsas…pico de gallo, verde, roja and guacamole. All looked simple to make and looked delicious. I'll be sharing recipes for these salsas in future Blog postings.

Then, she moved on to the protein part of the appetizers. She went to the local market to buy the gusanos and chapulines. However, the escamoles required a trip to a field of cactus plants with the farmer. He looked for ants, followed a line of them back to the nest at the base of a cactus plant, and dug up about two cups of ant eggs. After he stood up with his prize, he was covered with ants, which I've read viciously sting whoever or whatever disturbs the nest. He didn't act like the ants bothered him, though.

Back at the studio, the cook washed the dirt off the escamoles. She commented that sometimes one finds a few larvae mixed in with the eggs. Don't discard them, she said, as they are high in protein and quite delicious. Yeah, right I thought! Yuck!

She melted some butter in a skillet, added some chopped garlic, and cooked it until it was brown. She added the escamoles to the skillet and cooked for about a minute. She added a little epazote (a common herb used in Mexican cooking) and allowed the mixture to cool a bit. To serve, she spread some guacamole on a small, crisp corn tortilla about the size of Ritz cracker and topped it with a spoonful of the escamoles.

The gusanos de maguey and the chapulines colorados were fried in oil (in separate skillets) with a little chopped parsley until they were browned. The cook drained them on paper towels to remove the excess oil. She spread pico de gallo on one crispy tortilla round and topped it with a few of the fried gusanos. On another tortilla round, she spread a little salsa verde and topped it with a few fried chapulines.

To me, it was a waste of tortillas and salsa to top the appetizers with worms, ant eggs (and larvae!) and grasshoppers, but that's just me. Many people love these delicacies and rave about how wonderful they are.

I'll take their word for it, but no insect or worm or ant egg will ever enter my mouth by my hand. I'll eat grass or flowers or leaves first (of course, only after being carefully examined for creepy crawlies!).


A Walk Through Mexico's Crown Jewel: A Guanajuato Travelogue

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