Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bugs à la Oaxaca

There are two kinds of insects here in Oaxaca.

There's the picture-perfect pretty variety. And then there's the nightmare-inducing kind. I've included photos of both for your reference.

I snapped the picture of the former while camping at a canyon called El Boquerón a couple of weekends ago. The canyon's just a quick hour-long drive from my apartment, and comes complete with calendar-ready views of gurgling rivers, rolling green mountains, dramatic cacti....and butterflies. Lots and lots of butterflies. It's a beautiful place that I plan to return to regularly.

The picture of the latter comes courtesy of Google, but I could just as easily have taken it in my apartment. Every night, when the sun goes down and the lights go off, the creepy crawlers emerge from the hidden crevices of my home. Larger-than-life cockroaches. Hairy spiders. Huge furry centipedes.

They hide behind my shampoo bottles when I take a shower. They scurry out when I open a door. They hang out on walls and ceilings, just out of my reach. They mock me. It's like they know I'm so scared that I won't kill them. And I swear that they surround my bed at night, watching me sleep. I wake up in the morning, sit straight up, and look around before I'll tentatively put my bare foot on the floor, for fear of stepping on something creepy.


I could go on and on about the creepy bugs here. Oaxaca seems to be a breeding ground for over-the-top insects. So much so that the local folks have figured out a way to capitalize on the surplus of critters here: They actually EAT the bugs.

So I guess there are actually three kinds of bugs: the beautiful, the creepy, and the edible. Chapulines (grasshoppers) are a local delicacy. They're hawked all over the streets of Huajuapan, sold right alongside the tomatoes and tortillas and doorknobs and God-knows-what-else in the road-side markets and food stalls. Apparently, chapulines are "harvested" in the summer, stock-piled, roasted with salt, lemon and garlic, and then consumed by oaxaqueños and the daring gringo looking for the photo opp.

Um, yum?

I apparently don't fall into the category of "daring gringo," at least not gastronomically speaking. I tried chapulines once -- by accident -- back in 2001 when I was visiting Oaxaca City with a friend. The little grasshoppers adorned a salad I'd ordered, and I'd mistaken them for croutons. It took just one bite for me to realize that there was something awry with the "crouton," namely that it was an insect. I tried to slyly brush the chapulines off my salad. I remember the waiter shooting me a knowing look when he came to collect my otherwise-clean plate.

It's not that I'm against trying the local fare. It's just that Oaxaca has so many more delicious-to-me things to eat. Like to-die-for chocolate. And cheese. And mole (no, people, not "mole," the rodent, but mole, a sauce painstakingly made with dozens and dozens of different ingredients). I'm definitely eating well here, even if I am keeping insects of out my day-to-day diet.

But, my peso salary only stretches so far, and I will be needing some holiday cash here in a few weeks. Looks like I may have to start collecting some of those insects that share my apartment and set up shop in the food market. I'd make a killing, if only I could bring myself to kill them...

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