Week 1 in Oaxaca
It’s amazing how things fall into place here. I commented on that to a new friend and she smiled and said, “That’s Oaxaca.”
She didn’t say anything further, but the look on her face spoke volumes about her love for this place. How it brims with a reliable magic that is always appreciated, never taken for granted.
It’s not perfect, her expression said, but it’s wonderful.
For my part, I feel way beyond lucky to live here.
One thing that has fallen into place in the last ten days is my new apartment.
It’s got a sweet rooftop terrace and an avocado tree in the yard.
If I need to do laundry, there is a lavandería a few steps away.
If, come winter, I want to go to the beach, there is a transportes company right next door with vans leaving for destinations all over the state.
If I’m hungry, there is an asadero in the same compound. I don’t even have to go out onto the street and I can be eating delicious marinated pork grilled to perfection. Or steak, or chicken. Luis also makes a tasty tlayuda, among other options.
(A tlayuda is sort of like Oaxaca´s version of a quesadilla. I’m still wrapping my head around Oaxacan cuisine, not to mention trying to eat all of it, so I’ll get into tlayudas in a later post.)
If I want tacos…I mean, when I want tacos, I head up the street toward the Zócalo (central plaza) to a great little taco cart for tacos al pastor (marinated, rotisserie grilled pork). It’s half a block past the comedor that serves tasty comida típica (everyday food).
If, instead, I hook a left and walk one block, I can grab tacos de surtido (mixed pork cuts).
In other words, I’ve got everything I need close to home. Which is a real blessing, because the idea is to keep my butt in my chair writing stories.
However, when my butt gets sore or I get stuck on a story, I wander the city. It’s beautiful and full of wonderful people, so I always return refreshed and inspired.
On a recent walk, I picked up a bag of chapulines (grasshoppers).
Chapulines are a common food item here in Oaxaca, even a delicacy. Before being sold, they are toasted on a comal (smooth, flat griddle) and seasoned. The three flavors I’ve seen are chili, garlic and natural (salt and lime).
According to Wikipedia, they have a higher protein content than beef, which is about 55% protein. Chapulines, in comparison, range from 62 to 75% protein and cost about half as much.
The lady selling the chapulines let me sample all three flavors. I almost went with the garlic, but in the end I took home the chili flavored. That aluminum scoop you see in the top left photo holds about a double handful. One of those dumped into a plastic bag set me back a buck.
I could have got a kilo for $12 USD, but I wasn’t that hungry.
I headed for home, thinking I’d eat my hoppers on a tostada with refried beans and avocado.
When I got though, I decided I’d try them with some of the Oaxacan chocolate I’d also purchased. That worked out well. So well, in fact, that I ate all the chocolate and most of the grasshoppers and put off the tostadas til the next day.
I’m not a food critic, but to me, chapulines taste like whatever they’re seasoned with. The exoskeleton imparts a slight crunch, and the insides of the bugs are soft. The antennae don’t seem to make it through the toasting process, and only very rarely did a leg get stuck in my teeth. I definitely enjoy them, and will be eating more chapulines.
In fact, a tour guide I met while sampling mezcal the other day told me that here in the city chapulines are featured as ingredients in pizza, ice cream, tacos, tamales, and mezcal. So I’m planning on a day of eating almost nothing but chapulines.
If there’s a Mexican market in your town, you could pick up a bag and try them yourself. If you do, let me know what you think.
Chapulines in a market (from Wikipedia).
PS–Funnily enough, Mexico isn’t the first place I’ve eaten grasshoppers. That honor goes to Uganda, where I spent 6 months working on a chimp project after graduating from UC Davis.
One morning much like any other I woke to find camp abuzz. The grasshoppers had arrived, from wherever they came from, and the Ugandans were excited. They rushed to gather baskets and sacks and head out to the savannah.
The grasshoppers were clinging to the tops of the tall grass, waiting for sun to dry their wings, which were wet with dew, so they could fly.
An hour later, the sacks and baskets full, the Ugandans returned to camp and an impromptu feast of grasshoppers sautéed with tomato, garlic, and onion broke out.
As with the chapulines, the seasonings dominated the taste of the Ugandan hoppers. I’m starting to suspect that isn’t an accident.
Drop a note in the comments or hit me up on Instagram–more_than_tacos-oaxaca.