One of my favorite things about being an expat is all the opportunities I have to try new and different foods wherever I go. So on a recent visit to Mexico City I went to my favorite restaurant and tested my limits.
On the plate in front of me, surrounded by dots of pureed chili, was a small herd of toasted, black beetles. They were dinner.
Well, actually they were the appetizer, and I only ordered a half-portion (because hey, beetles). To my surprise, the toasty critters, called cocopaches, have a crunchy, nutty flavor that is surprisingly pleasant. I ate two, on the theory that any chicken-hearted foodie can manage one.
It’s not the first time I’ve tried insects in Mexico. Chapulines, a type of small grasshopper, is a popular dish in Oaxaca, and I’ve eaten those, too (they’re mostly salt and crunch). Chapulines are also frequently ground up and mixed with chili to serve beside mescal and tequila. So if you’ve ever tried these drinks with chili on the side, you may have tried chapulines, too. I’ve never tried ant eggs—the third food rarity I know of in Mexico—but I figure they’ll be easy.
After all, I’m happy to pound down high-quality caviar whenever I can get it, and they’re just fish eggs.
Don’t get the idea that all down-home Mexican food has this “eek” factor, though. Plenty of Mexicans recoil at the thought of eating bugs. And they stick with the tried-and-true favorites like tacos, enchiladas, and tamales that we’re all familiar with. So rest easy.
But if you do want a walk on the culinary wild side, you definitely can in Mexico.
Pre-Hispanic dishes like cocopaches and chapulines…appropriately sanitized, of course…are all the rage in Mexico’s high-end gourmet restaurants. As a result, there’s a whole business chain to supply the critters to consumers. My beetles, for instance, were farm-raised in a village in Puebla state. (As a friend on Facebook wrote after I posted a photo of my beetle, “Farm-raised beetles? Who knew they were a thing?” Precisely.)
Come to think of it, they could be a business opportunity…I can imagine some bug-loving expat setting up business in Puebla or Oaxaca (both are beautiful colonial cities with temperate climates) and making a fortune raising food-grade bugs. You don’t need much space, either: I bet you can almost raise them in a shoebox.
For me, I’m happy to challenge my culinary limits by tasting them now and again.
Most expats embrace a more traditional challenge, like learning a new language or settling into a new culture, when they move abroad. And that’s great. For keeping you mentally agile, these are better than Sudoku any day, in my book. Plus, in countries like Mexico, you get the additional perk of a lower cost of living (expats report living well for as little as $1,200 a month).
But if eating strange foods is how you want to push your own personal limits, then just let me know. I have plenty of tips.
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