Ever since cicadas invaded Oak Park and my friend Catherine Lambrecht and I developed recipes for Chicago Tonight and Good Morning America, I've been an unabashed insectivore. I prefer meat and vegetables, but for fun, and sometimes for breakfast, I have no problem hunkering down a few hundred bugs.
Last week, at Secrets Resort in Huatulco, Oaxaca, Hurricane Carlotta was tearing up real estate, the black flag was raised on the beach, and I was thinking Thailand, Japan, maybe we were next. It was awesome, in the basic sense of the word; I was struck dumb by the energy of angry nature and the incredible power of the water.
The next morning, as the storm dissipated and the sun rose, I tucked into a plate of chapulines over cheesy potatoes. The grasshoppers were smoky, earthy, crunchy. I was pleased that at this all-inclusive, that could easily have stuck to the basics, decided to take a chance and serve guests a food that I'm sure 98% considered inedible (there were bacon, eggs, etc., available, too).
Oaxaca is a tremendously bio-diverse region (probably why Cortez decided this was the hunk of the New World he wanted to make his own personal kingdom), and with the range of good things to eat, it might seem odd to go for the bugs. But they're not filling…and they're quite traditional to Oaxacan cuisine, so I was way in.
One morning, we walked through Copalita, an archaeological zone unlike any I'd visited around Mexico City or up in Yucatan: it's on the water, and canals lead the water into areas around the temple structures. Of the 20 buried citizens of this ancient city, 19 have been determined to be female. A lot of fertility figurines have been unearthed, and after the hurricane, the water washed away the ground to reveal even more stuff. There's a lot to discover here, and here I was introduced to the chicatana, an edible bug that Alberto, our guide, told us is frequently eaten raw (though like chapulines, it's often roasted, too).
Getting back to the hotel, and taking into account that we'd been warned by hotel literature to stay away from local food vendors, we went directly to a local food vendor. As we ate, a most excellent child, Carmet, showed us a chicatana she'd caught. Here was a kid who had very little, but she entertained us, and herself, throughout lunch, as she played with her bug. She said it was too small to eat, so she put it in a coche, and tooled it around, then she built a house for it out of shell, later the bug piloted a helicopter on a hunk of coral. Carmet put this edible bug in a variety of playful environments, much to our major amusement. She could tell we were being real with her, and when we laughed, she laughed.
Anyway, as much as I was awed by the hurricane, and intrigued by Copalita, I was touched by this kid, as I am by all kids, who are the best people in the world, my favorite forces of nature.