*Our visit to the Riviera Maya was hosted in part by the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba, and we are grateful for the experience. As always, the content and thoughts expressed here are our own.
On a great family vacation to the Riviera Maya recently, we had the opportunity to try something out of our comfort zone. One evening our hosts at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba asked us to an insect dinner party. That’s right, we eat insects. Well more precisely, Triton and Jon ate insects while Sophia and Ava gagged at the thought. We did get to wash this feast down with a healthy tasting of Mezcal, so we learned, tasted, laughed and grimaced. Turns out eating insects and tasting Mezcal in Mexico is pretty darn fun – and delicious!
Now let’s correct any of your pre-conceived notions right up front. We did not eat live, slithering bugs like some twisted episode of Fear Factor. These insects are a delicacy in Mexico, thoughtfully prepared by the Fairmont’s Chef Fernando in very artful presentations. Although maybe not for the squeamish, we were game. We sat down inside La Laguna restaurant, ready for anything.
Eating Insects and Tasting Mezcal in Mexico
In Mexico, people have been consuming insects throughout history, first as an important source of protein since meat was scarce. Now in many nice restaurants, insects have become a delicacy prepared carefully with other tasty ingredients. Honestly if you can get past what you are actually eating, the overall combinations are really quite good.
The Fairmont Mayakoba has become well known for their culinary masterpieces created with insects. The experience is available for $75 per person, and pairs three dishes with a sampling of Mezcals.
Chapulines – Grasshoppers
These are the largest and probably hardest to overlook as actual insects, with little legs clearly visible. Prepared by boiling and then frying, they crunch in your mouth like a tortilla chip but softer. These little grasshoppers are fairly common, and are organically raised on farms feeding on only the best alfalfa.
At the Fairmont Mayakoba, chapulines (cha-poo-lee-nays) were served atop a blue corn tortilla, dotted with sour cream, avocado puree and crumbly white cheese. The crunch of the insects is complemented by the creamy sauces and the rich corn flavor. It was really quite good. We each ate the entire serving, while the girls squirmed. (They were served cheese quesadillas).
Escamoles – Ant Eggs
Tiny white capsules, escamoles are look much like risotto in appearance. Difficult to harvest and only available a short time during the year, the ant eggs are considered a true delicacy. Escamoles (es-cah-moe-lays) are often called “Mexican Caviar” for their appearance and expense.
Our tasting experience had the Fairmont serving them up atop a savory cheese pudding-like concoction. Meant to be consumed at room temperature, this one had a consistency some might find difficult. Triton found it unappealing and did not taste it more than once, but I liked it. The escamoles tasted buttery and soft, blending with the cheese for a pleasant bite.
Hormigas Chicatanas – Ants
These little guys are actually leafcutter ants that are found in the wild all over the Yucatan. They are pretty large in comparison to American house ants. To prepare the chicatanas (chee-kah-tah-nahs), they pull off the legs, heads and such. Although toasted to a crunchy crisp, their bodies still delicious for eating.
Our servings at the Fairmont started with a blue corn sopapilla (soft, thick tortilla-like), with a crema and cheese. The chicatanas were placed on top, and then garnished with pickled something – I think they were diced radishes. This one was my favorite and I scarfed it right down. Of course, we ate this one last and had been tasting several bottles of mezcal, so that might have helped!
While we were working up the nerve to eat the insect concoctions, a very nice gentleman from the bar was instructing us on the finer points of Mezcal. Tequila is a type of mezcal, made only from a certain type of blue agave plant only grown in the Jalisco region of Mexico. Anything else in this family of liquor is called Mezcal, and there are hundreds upon hundreds of varieties made in Oaxaca and all over Mexico.
I always thought ALL mezcals have a strong smokey taste, but I was corrected. All mezcal is created by torching the hearts of agave plants in pits dug in the ground. This process condenses the juices and adds a smokey flavor. Some mezcal is left to ferment with the smoke intact, resulting in a bottle tasting of the fiery way it was processed. Other mezcals begin the same, but are processed, filtered and distilled differently in a way that removes the smoke flavor.
Colors and Nuances
Mezcal comes in many colors, just like tequila. It can be crystal clear, honey colored or even dark amber in tone. Not unlike fine wines, each distillery has its own special touches that add flavor tones, nuances and other tastes to their mezcals. Our instructor helped us pick up tones of cherry, chocolate, cinnamon and even juniper among others. The process of tasting five different liquors was hugely enlightening. And delicious.
My favorite mezcal in the tasting was bottled by Gracias a Dios, and was called Tobalá. Triton like the bottle of Gracias a Dios Cuixe. Either way, we left happy!