For some, eating bugs is an icky dare best left to contestants on ’90s reality TV shows. But for a growing number of chefs, food scientists and environmentally conscious consumers, edible insects are the future. In addition to being a sustainable source of protein, in many cultures, including Mexico, insects are an important part of the culinary heritage. Bichos (bugs) were integral to the diet of the Aztecs, who consumed dozens of different types of insects and their larvae, from grasshoppers to scorpions.
Five hundred years later, snacking on insects is coming back in style. Celebrated chefs like Pujol’s Enrique Olvera craft haute-cuisine based on heritage ingredients, and one restaurant,Los Danzantes, even throws a whole insect festival during “bug season” in June. Today, around 550 species of edible insects have been catalogued in Mexico. Here are a few of the most commonly served insect dishes and tips on where to find them in Mexico City.
Escamoles (ant larvae)
Escamoles, tender ant eggs that resemble small white beans and have a mildly nutty flavor, sell for upwards of 800 pesos per kilo at the gourmet Mercado San Juan, a must-see for any food lover visiting Mexico City. You can also sample this “Mexican caviar” in smaller doses at restaurants like Limosneros, which turns escamoles into an excellent appetizer with epazote, ayocote beans and cinnamon smoke. Escamol season starts in March and peaks around Easter.
A staple of Oaxacan cuisine, chapulines are often fried and seasoned with salt, lime and chile. Served on their own, they have an earthy flavor and make a crunchy accompaniment to a glass of good sipping mezcal at bars like La Clandestina . (Check your grill in a mirror before leaving the bar: their little grasshopper legs can get stuck in your teeth.) At Las Tlayudas, a tiny Oaxacan restaurant in la Roma, you can slurp a savory, creamy chapulín soup.
Polanco’s Pujol, routinely named one of Latin America’s top restaurants, is dedicated to reviving forgotten recipes from Mexico’s indigenous past. On its multi-course tasting menu you can sample a fascinating dish made from mini corn cobs dipped in a coffee-ant mayonnaise, the ants adding a subtle low note to the symphony of flavors. Ants also get the sweet treatment at chocolatier Xbalanque, which occasionally makes a delicate milk-chocolate bonbon topped with an hormiga mielera, a small ant with a big, spherical belly filled with sweet, honey-like liquid.
Gusanos de Maguey (maguey worms)
You’ve probably seen maguey worms hanging out at the bottom of a bottle of tequila or mezcal, but these protein-packed crawlers also make their way onto your dinner plate. With a flavor that’s been compared to anything from French fries to chicharrón, the worms make an appearance on the menu at Tlacoytitlán, a restaurant specializing in traditional dishes such astlacoyos (thick, oval-shaped tortillas topped with various ingredients), sopes and quesadillas, garnished with a number of different edible insects.