There is a saying here, that if you eat chapulines you are sure to return to Oaxaca. I mean, you could just buy a return bus ticket or airline ticket instead – have you seen those things? However I seem to be in the minority with locals and visitors alike buying quantities of chapulines from vendors in the markets to snack on throughout the day.
Chapulines (cha-poo-le-nes) are collected only at certain times of year (from their hatching in early May through the late summer/early autumn). After being thoroughly cleaned and washed, they are toasted to crispy on a comal (clay plate used to cook on). After cooling the seasoning is added: garlic, lime juice, chili and salt (sometimes also containing ground agave worms) which gives a sour/spicy/salty taste to the finished product. Different vendors use different spice mixes (like those secret 11 herbs and spices) so people have their preferred sellers to buy from in the market.
Chapulines can be eaten by the handful on their own much the same way you might eat peanuts or popcorn, however they can also be used as a filling with soft tortillas wrapped around them, or included on tacos with avocado and tomato. Oaxaquenos eat chapulines as a matter of course, and it is not surprising to find them offered as a snack at local football and baseball games.
I will admit that I have eaten chapulines, however they were teeny ones, and I certainly did not look at them as I ate them. I made the mistake when I first arrived in Oaxaca of looking at the chapulines as if I were an entomologist, and seriously? Those eyes? Nope, can’t do the big ones.
For many families in Oaxaca, preparing chapulines for food has been performed for generations. Eating insects has found favour again with a lot of chefs and top restaurants around the world, and even Rick Bayless includes chapulines in his restaurants. Chapulines have been found to be very high in protein and low in fat, so are actually a healthy food to include in our diet… if you can get over the eyes…
Compare the nutritional value of insects to beef and even fish and it’s pretty clear which one is the smart food. While having protein levels on par with caterpillars, lean ground beef and cod come up short in iron and vitamin levels. Crickets also contain a lot of calcium, which we know is good for bone development. Besides nutritional value, insects are also abundant and environmentally sustainable. Farming and harvesting insects takes very little water and transport fuel compared to livestock, grains and even vegetables. It’s also more efficient than raising cattle. One hundred pounds of feed produces 10 pounds of beef. The same amount of feed would produce more than four times that amount in crickets
So, when you come to Oaxaca, my advice is to try chapulines (they are actually crunchy and taste of the spice mix) but maybe don’t look at them first. And if all else fails, you can wrap them inside a tortilla. Just don’t ask me to join you.