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Corn Smut and Insect Caviar

August 3, 2018

 

Mexicans have been enjoying culinary oddities for thousands of years. It is part of their mystique, their colourful character and zest for living. The fact that some brave souls enjoy crunching down on fried grasshoppers takes nothing away from the vast and world-renowned array of delectable mouth-watering food that has come out of that Spanish-speaking Paradise.

 

Provocatively titled ‘Get Ready To Try These Daring Mexican Foods’, the article in Culture Trip on-line magazine challenges foodies to step out of their comfort zone. Even with assurances from the writer that these delicacies in Mexico will surprise diners with their awesome flavours, it is hard to get past their slimy nature and origins – infections, fungus, larvae, insects, worms, and cow’s eyes – or their stomach-turning resemblance to seagull turds, plump worms and sausages floating in a bowl of blood. However, as imaginary visitors to Mexico City, let’s cover our eyes and noses and let our taste buds do the reconnaissance work.

 

The Mexican people are very industrious and practical, making full use of both a culturally important and multifunctional plant and the pests that attack it! The ‘maguey’ wonder plant, also known as agave, is a hearty succulent from Southern Mexico that is distilled to make tequila and mescal, is used as food, and to make clothes – and even houses. (‘Mexico’s Wonder Plant’, Archaeology) ‘Chinicuiles’ are tiny worms that are readily harvested as a  delicacy and given an elevated status in Mexican society, despite the fact that they also infest the root of the maguey plant that locals depend on. Served on a warm tortilla and seasoned with salt, lime, and chili, these little red caterpillars are known to be delicious. So, wash them down with a margarita and forget where they came from, just like the tie-dyed underwear you bought in a fit of shopping madness.

 

Why are Mexicans obsessed with making delicacies from insects that threaten the very survival of the maguey plant and production of their beloved liquor, mescal? Maybe it is within the warm-hearted and convivial nature of Mexico’s natives to love what they have reason to despise. Another blight to the maguey plants are ‘escamoles’, which derive from the Mexican word for ant larvae. The locals call them ‘insect caviar’ and are a Mexican foodie favourite and classic. Considered a delicacy since the Aztec era, they are found everywhere in Mexico City. Perhaps if visitors did not know what they were, their creamy mild taste might turn them into fans. Pass the guacamole and hot sauce!

 

Grasshoppers are taking over Mexico. Dead ones, that is, and they are toasted, spiced – and yummy! ‘Chapulines’, fried grasshoppers, are found in all corners of Mexico in indoor and outdoor markets. They are reputed to be wonderfully crunchy and scrumptious. Seasoned liberally with salt, lime, and chili, they could be zesty tortilla chips. But, alas, the legs give them away!

 

Lastly, we bring you “corn smut”, although Mexicans would rather refer to it with a more exotic name, ‘Huitlacoche’. Even though it is a pest that infects and grows on cobs of corn, it sometimes commands a higher price than the vegetable itself. Mexicans seem to have a special knack for finding beauty in things that would repulse most people. Considering that the delicacy actually tastes very much like a savoury mushroom – earthy, nutty, and sweet – maybe our comparably bland Western diet could use a few jolts of this kind of pure culinary weirdness.

 

Looking at this list of just a few of Mexico’s outlandish and peculiar food choices, it becomes apparent as to why people love Mexican food the world over – precisely because it breaks all the rules. Mexico has given humanity an incredible gift – cuisine that is wildly different, that caters to every sense of taste we have, and those we didn’t know we had. It teases us with a rainbow of vibrant flavours and wickedly wonderful spices that leave us breathless.

 

Viva la Mexican cuisine!

 

 

Sources:

 

https://www.ctvnews.ca/lifestyle/mexican-regional-cuisine-drives-booming-food-scene-1.3842330

 

https://archive.archaeology.org/0209/abstracts/mexico.html

 

https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/mexico/articles/8-daring-mexican-foods/

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