My first encounter with edible grasshoppers was in NYC in 2014, when we visited a modern Mexican restaurant called ‘The Black Ant’. They had been fried and ground to a powder as a coating for prawns. Delicious but not really discernible as grasshopper or any other insect. A visit to Mexico gave me the opportunity to get up close to a Mexican Grasshopper or Chapulin in their native format.
Borne out of necessity when resources were scarce, there are many cultures who have been eating protein rich insects or ‘bugs’ for 1000’s of years. The Spanish word for grasshopper is actually saltamontes however in Mexico and Central America, they use the word chapulin. Like many words of the region, it comes from the Aztec Nahuatl language – in this case chapolin.
Mexican Grasshopper Eaters
In Mexico, Chapulines (plural) are considered both a local delicacy at and the same time, an old fashioned country cousin food. They are enormously popular in the city of Oaxaca where the locals are derisively referred to as ‘insect eaters’. A Mexican grasshopper is small and closer in size and appearance to a cricket.
They are caught, cleaned and washed then toasted on a flat comal. Whilst being dry toasted, they are seasoned with salt and lime juice and sometimes garlic. When cool, the chapulines are piled into large baskets for display in markets. In places such as Puebla and Mexico City, I found it more common to see women walking around parks or fiestas selling small cups of chapulines from a stainless steel bucket or tray carried on their shoulder.
Despite what you may have read, most of Mexico is very much a 21st century kind of country. They have Pop Up Festivals and Uber and super fast WiFi leaves Australia standing still. It is a country that is steeped in tradition but is firmly looking forward. Eating chapulines doesn’t fit in with the modern aesthetic but it’s obviously a guilty pleasure. I watched in Puebla as families and couples walked past the chapulin seller, doubling back to enquire of the price, then standing for a minute to ponder before finally succumbing. Chapulines are much more expensive than other Mexican street foods, coming in at nearly $2 AUD or $30 MXN for a cup. In comparison, a taco will set you back 40c AUD or 5c MXN. Proof that despite themselves, modern Mexicans love chapulines.
Everyone was very impressed when a pair of gringos boldly walked over to buy a cup for themselves. I was expecting a nutty flavour but the chapulines were fairly tasteless. It was the addition of salt and lime that turned them into a crunchy antojito or snack, to be enjoyed on a hot afternoon with a glass of cold beer. A Mexican tapas. They certainly need to be consumed with a drink, otherwise it’s like trying to eat a mouthful of dry popcorn kernels that stick in your throat. For me, a Mexican Grasshopper was not so much an acquired taste but more a case of there being plenty of other tastier snacks on offer.