México City, (March 12, 2021).-A great way to reconnect with our roots is through food since food is a representation and a link with the cultures that made Mexico what it is today. For this reason, the following analysis, more than a brief gastronomic guide, is a tribute to pre-Hispanic civilizations, whose knowledge is still alive in each of these foods.
Slimy … but tasty
Entomophagy – consumption of insects, arachnids or arthropods – was common in the daily diet of all Mesoamerica. Today, in many regions of Mexico it is preserved, even as part of its most sacred rituals.
Grasshoppers: From the Orthoptera order, they are collected and then fried or roasted on the comal, and seasoned.
Bees, wasps, guachichiles, bumblebees: They are captured with everything and their honeycomb; the latter is roasted on the comal after having removed the honey.
Chicatan ants: From the Nahuatl tzícatl, ‘big ant’, they can be eaten dry, roasted on the comal, fried, in broth, with egg, with potato, molcajeteado in sauce, or raw —even alive.
Escamoles : Azcamolli, an ant whose eggs and larvae can be eaten on the comal, in mixiote, in broth or fried with epazote in quesadillas, such as those that are still usually prepared in the towns of Chapa de Mota and Jilotepec, in the State of Mexico.
Jumiles : There are several species that are included in this section of the menu; There are the sacred jumiles —xomilli—, which are eaten roasted, molcajeteado or stewed with chili, and which are venerated in some Guerrero towns for their curative properties; the xamues, which are shaken off the huizaches and mesquites, are roasted on the comal or in a morita chili sauce; and the ahuautle, whose eggs are eaten dry, boiled, roasted, in tamales or cakes topped with romeritos for the Lenten mess – “Mexican caviar!” shouted one of the conquerors.
Beetles : From the order Coleoptera, a large number of larvae and adult beetles are consumed. Most of them are distinguished by the place from which they are extracted: nopal, palm, soil, trunks and, of course, the manure. They can be roasted on the comal or on a skewer, boiled or fried in sauce.
Dragonflies and cicadas: The former are eaten both in larval and adult stages; they are fished in fresh water and then boiled in salt water or put on the griddle. The latter are caught at night, their wings are removed, and they are baked or roasted.
Nopal worm : Citlalocuili or nopal worm. The larvae are roasted, fried or prepared in broth.
White maguey worm : Chilocuil or meocuil. It is extracted from the leaves of the pulquero maguey. It was served as an exclusive delicacy for the tlatoanis of Anahuac. It is accompanied by tortillas and guacamole.
Red maguey worm: Better known as chinicuil. The larvae are found, particularly, in the hearts of young plants of the pulquero maguey – all the stalks have to be removed to reach them. They are eaten roasted, fried, dried, ground or stewed with sauce.
In the milpa pigs or quelites were also harvested – from the Nahuatl qulitl, ‘verdura’ -, names by which the edible herbs with which the stews were seasoned were generically known. Although today many of them are considered a simple weed or plague, others are still common in Mexican gastronomy:
Pápalo or papaloquelite: Distributed throughout almost all of America, it is one of the most popular in Mexico. Its leaves, similar to the wings of a butterfly —papalotl, in Nahuatl—, are edible as a vegetable, used as a condiment and as an ingredient in traditional medicine remedies. They are consumed raw in tacos, tlacoyos and poblano cemitas.
Verdolagas: From Nahuatl itzmiquílitl, they usually accompany pork in green tomato sauce and, due to their large amount of mucilage, are a natural thickener for sauces and stews.
Holy leaf : Also known as acuyo, momo, tlanepa or tlanepaquelite – from the Nahuatl tlanecpahquílitl, “fragrant medicinal herb”. It is deeply rooted in the daily cuisine of Veracruz, Tabasco, Chiapas and Oaxaca as a condiment in tamales and stews such as red barbecue, pilte, tapixte and other typical dishes of the Papaloapan basin. It also serves as an ingredient in various remedies in traditional medicine.
Chipilín or chepil: It is highly consumed in traditional gastronomy and medicine, both in Central America and in the Mexican southeast. The tamales and the soup with corn dough balls prepared with this quelite are famous.
Chaya: From the Mayan chay, it is native to the Yucatan peninsula and used as a seasoning for various stews. It is mixed raw with mango, pineapple or lemon juice; and cooked, it is used in traditional Mayan dishes such as the dzotobichay tamale and its chontal varieties. The chaya soup and the chaya tacos with green male banana are traditional in Tabasco gastronomy.
Quintonil, huauzontle and epazote: Belonging to the Amaranthaceae family, they are an indispensable part of the quelites since time immemorial. Quintonil, from the Nahuatl quiltonilli, is the tender leaves of amaranth —huautli, ‘bledo’—, and is used as a dressing in many stews. Huauzontle, huautzontli, “piglet with hair”, is a delicacy topped with eggs, stuffed with cheese and bathed in mole, pasilla chili sauce or tomato sauce. Finally, there is the epazote, a culinary delight that aromatizes and gives flavor to a myriad of dishes deeply rooted throughout the country such as black beans, mushroom soup, chileatole, chilpachole, esquites and chilaquiles. It is also used to flavor a variety of tamales, quesadillas, and some fish, shellfish, and insects.
The pumpkin —ayotli, in Nahuatl— and the chilacayote —tzilacáyotli — are species of the genus Cucurbita, a plant cultivated in the milpa and domesticated in Mexico for approximately 10,000 years. Cousin of the chayote and a distant relative of the cucumber, melon and watermelon, the pumpkin has served the human being for various uses. Its ripe shell —xicalli, in Nahuatl, from which it derives «jícara» – can be used as a container; the seed, rich in nutritional value, is used in different ways for stews, moles, pipianes, snacks and desserts; Not to mention the flower, a delicacy that is still widely consumed, especially in the center of the country. In addition to the pumpkin pipiana – from which the seeds are extracted – and the chilacayote, there is the pumpkin from Castilla, named for being the first that was brought by the Spanish to Europe.
The fungi and mushrooms that are edible in these lands were known as nanácatl, from the Nahuatl nácatl, ‘meat’, since that is what they seem – without stems, bones, shells or skin-; most of them are named for where they grow or for some physical characteristic. Such is the case of the Chimalnanácatl —chimalli, ‘shield’—, which are wide and round; or the tzontecomananácatl, “meat with the head of a tecomate.”
Very famous and consumed is the huitlacoche – from cuitlacochi, “sleeping dirt” -, a fungus that attacks the ear of corn but which, far from causing concern in the ancients, turned out to be a delight to the palate. And just as well known – although not so much for its gastronomic qualities as for its hallucinogenic ones – is teonanácatl, “sacred meat”; They say that when you look for it, it is the fungus that finds you, and not the other way around … That’s how powerful the “flesh of the gods” is.
Source: El Financiero
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