Also known by the name gusano de maguey, chinicuiles are tiny worms that infest the root of the maguey plant and are harvested due to their elevated status as a Mexican delicacy. You’ll probably be familiar with them if you’ve ever tried mezcal, where they’re often found lurking at the bottom of the bottle. If you don’t fancy eating them, wash them down with the mezcal; however, these can be easily found in Oaxaca State on market stalls. Served in a warm tortilla and well-seasoned with the Mexican holy trinity of salt, lime and chili these little red caterpillars are delicious.
Another blight to the maguey plants are escamoles, which come from the Nahuatl word ascomolli, or ant larvae. Mexico seems to love making anything that threatens production of their beloved liquor, mezcal, into a delicacy to be devoured and that’s exactly what happened with escamoles. Considered a delicacy since the Aztec period, they are found all over Mexico City. iWhile the idea of what they are might put you off, perhaps their creamy, mild taste could win you over. Shove them in a taco and have done with it!
Perhaps the most quintessentially ‘weird’ food from Mexico, chapulines are grasshoppers and can be found pretty much anywhere in the country. Your best places to find them will be in large indoor markets, outdoor tianguis (another word for market), and Oaxaca City. Served in plastic cups or bags, they’re toasted, crispy and surprisingly delicious. Seeing as they’re seasoned liberally with salt, lime and chili, you barely even realize you’re eating a grasshopper.
Don’t be deceived by this slightly exotic sounding food, as this Mexican delicacy is known by the rather less appealing English name of ‘corn smut.’ Although in most other Northern American and European countries it’s considered a pest that infects and grows on cobs of corn, in Mexico this sometimes commands a higher price than the corn itself. Not the most appetizing sounding (or looking, it’s grey and rather grim), it tastes very much like a mushroom; earthy, nutty and sweet. But, if you still aren’t put off, try it out on a quesadillas. Most market stalls in Mexico City will have huitlacoche on the menu.
Tacos de Ojos, Lengua or Labio
Thought you’d be safe with a taco, did you? While they may be the most prolific of all the Mexican foodstuffs, they can also be some of the most daring, especially for sheltered travelers who’ve never been to Mexico! We’ve included three variations on the taco which you should check out at almost any taco stand countrywide on your next visit: de lengua, de ojos, or de labio, which mean tongue, eye and lip, respectively. Of the three, start with the tongue and move onto the lip and then enjoy the cow’s eye taco for dessert. You might be put off at first, but these underrated parts of the animal are honestly tender and amazing.
While we’re on the topic of unusual parts of the cow that are unexpectedly delicious, why not enjoy a hearty bowl of menudo? This spicy broth is made from tripe; in other words, cow’s stomach. Sometimes known by the name pancita, meaning ‘little stomach’, this is an insanely popular dish that can be found anywhere in Mexico and works great as a hangover cure. However, to many it seems like a daring dish. Be careful when ordering this, though, as in certain regions of Mexico menudo is actually sheep stomach soup and pancita is made from beef tongue.
Sal de Gusano
Not strictly a food, this is a delicious spicy, salty treat that goes great with an orange to chase down a sip of mezcal. Made from a killer combination of crushed gusanos de maguey (which we saw earlier on), they’re mixed with chili and are the perfect bedfellow of the potent mezcal, yet work great with the sweetness of an orange. Perhaps the most accessible of all the daring foods, you won’t even know you’re being risqué. Find it in any decent mezcal bar across the country.
We started with insects, so let’s end with them, too. Chicatanas are flying ants that are common in Oaxaca. In order to combat this infestation problem, some genius came up with the idea to make them into a salsa and so salsa de chicatana was born. Easily available in the aforementioned Oaxaca area, these make the perfect addition to a quesadilla, or even just spread on top of a plain tortilla. Show them who’s boss and literally eat them for dinner.