tagged france and Mexico
Reading history section of each country in our guide book can sometimes be boring. And I will admit, I have been known to skip it entirely. But the one part of the travel guide that I never skip is the food chapter. Mostly I highlight and take notes on what I’d like to try while in said country. For Mexico, I actually made a list of things not to eat. I wrote down the Spanish name so I wouldn’t order it by mistake. My list was chapulines (grasshoppers), gusanos (worms), huitlacoche (black fungus grown on corn). Seems easy enough to avoid…
Oaxaca is known for its culinary traditions, and I wanted to learn more about it. So I signed us up for two different classes. Our first class was with Pilar at La Casa de los Sabores. Before we started cooking we headed to Mercado Democracia to buy our fresh ingredients…mangos and watercress for our salad, yerbasanta leaves, corn husks, banana leaves, squash blossoms, huitlacoche, and corn masa to make tamales.
Going to the market is one of my favorite things. I love to look at local fruits and vegetables, the cheeses and meats. But going to the market with an expert like Pilar makes the experience even better. It also makes it easier to taste foods you may normally not eat–after all if the chef is eating it, it can’t be that bad. Pilar seemed pretty excited that chapuline/ grasshopper season had just started. Grasshoppers are sold in a variety of sizes, but the baby ones are the freshest and taste the beat. The grasshoppers are boiled then mixed in a salty concoction and eaten like any other snack, by the handful. To me, it tasted like dried salted shrimp, kind of like smelly fish.
After our market experience, we headed back to the kitchen to get working on our menu–a fresh jicama/mango watercress salad, three types of tamales, spicy salsa, and a mango mousse. There were eight of us in the class, and we worked as a group on each of the courses. The tamales were chicken with black mole, bean with yerbasanta leaf, and squash blossom with huitlacoche (black fungus). I love mushrooms, but I was weary of the corn fungus. But mixed into our corn tamales, it was actually hard to detect much of a taste.
Lastly, we made spicy salsa with gusano worms crushed in for added flavor. It turns out Mexicans have a long history of eating insects, mostly because they did not have many domesticated animals, so as an alternate source of protein they ate insects. The gusano worm is the same worm found at the bottom of a bottle of Mezcal. They are white, pinkish or red in color. We ground up the worms in a mortar and pestle along with the rest of the ingredients for the salsa. I can’t exactly describe the flavor of the worms–smokey?? But I didn’t like the flavor of the salsa. Maybe it was because I knew there were worms in it.
I fully enjoyed learning to cook from Pilar, it was a great experience. Somehow she had my secret list of things not to eat, and I tried them all. When in Rome…