It is funny that when you live in another country there comes a time when things that were once unusual are so part of your everyday life that they become normalised. Recently, a friend from England came to stay and looked in my fridge and was asking me what all the unusual foods were that she saw inside. I realised, then how much my diet has changed. Here are just a few things that now make a regular part of my weekly shop.
When I first got to Oaxaca I was a bit unsure about grasshoppers or chapulines as they are called here. I tried them here and there but was never that into them. Nowadays, however, I love them and see them as a great source of protein. My favourite way to eat them is sprinkled on guacamole. They add a crunchy saltiness, which offsets the limey avocado flavour nicely.
It took me a couple of years until I started buying cactus or nopales here but now they are part of my regular market shop. Some people don’t like the slimy texture but if you cook them right you don’t have to deal with too much slime. My favourite way is just to boil them for a short while and mix them with boiled eggs and beans. They are high in dietary fibre and rich in anti-oxidants so definitely a great addition to any diet.
Cactus Fruit (Tuna)
The cactus fruit also makes an appearance in my kitchen when it is in season. These kiwi-shaped fruits grow on the cactus plant and have a refreshing flavour that I like to describe as being like a sweet cucumber. Sorbet made with this fruit, which is rather confusingly called ‘tuna’ here, is so great on hot days.
Courgette Flowers/ Squash Blossoms
While I remember buying squash blossoms once when I was in England and trying to stuff them with cheese and deep-fry them, they certainly weren’t a regular part of my diet. Now, whenever I see them at the market I buy them because they make a great addition to a quesadilla. They are used often in gourmet Mexican cooking too. I once ate them wrapped around a type of ricotta cheese and accompanied by big bugs called cocopaches.
Countless jokes have been had with visiting friends when they see mole on a menu. Pronounced mol-ay, it isn’t a burrowing animal but a delicious, multi-ingredient salsa that comes in a variety of colours and flavours. I always have some mole paste in my fridge, ready to whip up into a delicious chicken mole the way I would have whipped up a curry in England.
Corn corn corn
While England is wheat heavy, Mexico is all about corn. I used to eat Mexican food in England with flour tortillas and when I arrived in Mexico I took a while to get used to corn ones. Now, I am all about the corn and the smell of fresh corn tortillas is up there with my favourite things.
Ketchup was my staple sauce in England, now my fridge is stocked with spicy salsas. Scrambled eggs get topped with a hot salsa, quesadillas are never without a sprinkle of spicy sauce and I even like a bit of chipotle mixed into mashed potato.
Where once there were abundant lemons now there are a whole lot of limes in my life. Limes, like spicy salsa, are an essential addition to many dishes. I still make pancakes often and while in England I would sprinkle them with sugar and cover them in lemon juice, mine now come topped with lime juice, which actually gives quite a creamy but zingy flavour!
And if you want to see what those bugs I ate were like, here they are… (I later read that cocopaches are a type of cockroach!)
Susannah Rigg is a freelance writer and Mexico specialist. Her work has been featured in Condé Nast Traveler, CNN Travel, BBC Travel, The Independent UK, Afar and The New Worlder among others. Check out her portfolio here. Contact Susannah by email, info [at] mexicoretold [dot] com and join her on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.