At the start of the rainy season in late spring, families in Oaxaca venture outside with pails and plastic containers. As storms roll in, flying ants known as chicatanas will flee their nests, filling the sky with swarms. Making for the ultimate foraging experience, the bugs are plentiful, free, and a short-lived seasonal delicacy.
The first step in turning the ants into a meal is to toast them on a comal, a large, flat griddle traditionally fueled by a wood fire. The chicatanas turn crispy and at this point make a portable snack or a crunchy flourish to be sprinkled on top of tortilla-based street foods such as memelas, tlayudas, or tacos. The most popular preparation, however, is salsa de chicatanas. To make the salsa, chefs cook musky avocado leaves and fiery chile de arbol peppers in the comal, then pound them with a mortar and pestle alongside the ants, raw garlic, and salt. The smoky, complex mixture can be scattered over eggs, folded inside a quesadilla, or stirred into a soup.
Recently, high-end chefs have turned their attention to chicatanas. At his smoothly stylish Oaxaca City spot Origen, local chef Rodolfo Castellanos blends the ants into a dark mole sauce that he serves under roasted pork loin, while chef Enrique Olvera of the upscale Mexico City restaurant Pujol binds them into an eggy mayonnaise used as a dip for steamed baby heritage corn.
Need to Know
The fleshy abdomen is the most prized part of the ant, and can be made into a variety of rich soups and stews.
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Corn, Cactus, and Chile: Exploring the Building Blocks of Mexican Cuisine
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Where to Try It
Tlacolula Market70400 de, Galeana 2, Tercera Secc, Tlacolula de Matamoros, Mexico
This open-air Oaxacan market takes over the street on Sundays.
Mercado de San JuanCalle de Ernesto Pugibet No. 21, Mexico City, 06000, Mexico
The stalls in this market are filled with fresh produce and local specialties.