Eat Your Grasshoppers

Emily Chaplin‘s Mexican homestay involved a peculiar yet crunchy snack.

Photo: Dried Crickets in OaxacaI had been duly warned. But somehow, when relaxing outdoors admiring a serene mountain view, the offer of a handful of roasted grasshoppers still managed to catch me off guard. Eyes closed, I reached out my hand, threw the selected victim into my mouth, and crunched.

So began my initiation into the distinctive food culture of Oaxaca, Mexico, where I spent four days this past week living with a family in the rural village of Santa Catarina Minas.  

During my stay, I experienced the joy of being served a steaming bowl of hot chocolate accompanied by sweet breads for dipping–as an appetizer, for breakfast. Delicious, freshly squeezed fruit juices accompanied each lunch, the largest meal of the day. And with every meal, local ingredients were employed in abundance–from the crumbled goat cheese to the handmade (and hand-milled) soft corn tortillas to the avocados I picked myself.  

Shots of locally produced mezcal also proliferated. The Maguey plant (akin to the Agave) is revered in Oaxaca, and the resulting fermented beverage is believed to offer numerous health benefits, including serving as a digestive aid. “Just a little bit, every day,” encouraged one of the brothers in my family, likely noting my uneasy smile as I confronted the glass placed before me at 9 a.m.  “A little bit,” in this case, was a decidedly relative characterization.

Photo: Cricket PhotoAnd of course there were the grasshoppers, or chapulines (cha-poo-leen-ez), which my host family members would reliably toss back like popcorn at most any time of day. The insects, as it turns out, are prolific in Oaxaca, and incredibly diverse and beautiful in appearance (at least in their live state). In prepared form, their flavor was sharp and savory and only slightly off-putting to my American palate.

Life in Oaxaca centers around food and family. One can visit the region and have a wonderful food experience perusing the markets, dining in the restaurants, and sampling street stand offerings. But to really gain insight into the culture (and to give your taste buds and stomach an invigorating challenge), staying with a family is the way to go.

PEI (Programas Educativos Interculturales), a non-profit organization based in Mexico City, can arrange rural homestays for international visitors.  

You will just need to go in with an open mind, extensive patience, and the willingness to say “yes,” to the roasted grasshoppers, and to that glass of mezcal for breakfast. Don’t worry … they’re likely to take pity on you (particularly if you are a petite gringa like me) and pour you a small one.

When she is not eating grasshoppers for lunch, Emily Chaplin travels and writes and photographs. View her work at www.emilychaplinphoto.com.

[Mexico Travel Guide]

Comments

  1. Dax the cover letter expert
    November 18, 2010, 12:23 am

    Grasshoppers are also very common in Thailand. I tried some garlic fried grasshoppers there and it is actually quite nice. A bit like those crunchy fried small shrimps you get at some Japanese restaurants. I can’t remember what they are called. Very nice.

  2. Beach Spa Resorts
    November 18, 2010, 7:37 am

    Oh my! How can anyone read this article and not get hungry? For everything mentioned ‘except’ the grasshoppers that is. I have always considered myself to be world adventure traveler and open to new and unique experiences. Okay so I have my boundaries and limits too, and apprently I just found out where I draw the line.
    So while I delight in the drinking of the mezcal, I will know you are enjoying those nice crunchy grasshoppers. I will still feel I had the full Oaxaca experience without any crispy crunchy critters. I’m teasing you of course, as it takes some real guts to want to experience a culture as the locals do. My hat is off to you, great post too!

  3. tifany74
    December 13, 2010, 4:53 pm

    I spent a couple weeks in Oaxaca with NW Medical teams a few years ago and LOVE the cuisine there. It’s interesting to see the baskets heaped with fried grasshoppers in the markets. I tried them too, but they were served with guacamole and fresh corn tortillas. A bit peppery, they aren’t bad. It’s just the legs tickling your throat on the way down that gives me chills.

  4. Kelly Salasin
    Brattleboro, Vermont
    July 22, 2011, 3:48 pm

    I’ll pass on the grasshoppers, but I am glad to see that you recognize PEI (Programas Educativos Interculturales), a non-profit organization based in Mexico City which arranges rural homestays for international visitors.

    Homestays are one of the defining features of VIP (Volunteers for International Partnership) of which PEI is a member.

    Readers interested in homestays abroad can find out more here: http://www.partnershipvolunteers.org/volunteer-in-mexico/