Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Eat and Drink Like an Aztec (or Inca)

Guinea Pig
The thought of eating your child's classroom pet, like this adorable guinea pig, is bound to be upsetting.  Yet guinea pigs were and remain a popular protein source in Peru and elsewhere in the Andean area that was once home to the Incas and other Quechua-speaking peoples.  At least by local standards they are delectably prepared, skewered with rosemary and baked in wood-burning ovens. Crispy and succulent when roasted,  live guinea roam the kitchens of Andean homes awaiting their turn in the oven.

Roasted Guinea Pigs, Pisac, Peru

Roasted Guinea Pigs, Pisac, Peru

 Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican protein sources were different from ours, because our food animals like cows, sheep, goats and pigs were not native to the Americas, only arriving from Europe with the Spanish Conquest. Mexico has more edible insects than any other place in the world and good use is made of them.  Insect-eating is rooted deep in its Pre-columbian past and is very much alive today.

 if you find bugs in your guacamole in Oaxaca, don't send it back- they are supposed to be there and you are probably paying extra for them. These fried grasshoppers give crunch and texture to the dish and guacamole with chapulines is a signature dish of the region.

Insects, typically fried and dusted with various flavorings such as chile, lime or garlic are sold in markets in throughout Mexico.  People buy them by the bag to munch on and they are a healthy snack because they are almost pure protein.  They also show up in tacos and incorporated into various dishes.  

Assorted Fried Insects, Oaxaca, MX
Fried Grasshoppers with Chile, Oaxaca, MX

Fried Insects at Market, Cholula, Puebla MX
Fried Grasshoppers, Cholula, Puebla MX                
Mexico has some 300-550 edible insects according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, all sustainable sources of protein. These include grasshoppers 
(chapulines), flying ants (chicatanas), honeypot ants (hormigas de miel), ant larvae (escamotes or ahuatle), dragonflies (libĂ©lulas), crickets (grillos).    And don't forget about the crawlers because worms and caterpillars are also popular. 

Pictured below are the popular gusanos, maguey worms, that are an important ingredient in some moles and are also eaten fried on tacos.                         

Gusanos, Mexico City MX

Pulque, a low-alcohol drink made from the fermented sap of the agave (maguey) plant, has a history in Mexico that is longer than a millennium.  Originally, it was a sacred drink and its use limited to certain classes of people.  After the conquest it became a popular drink 
for all.   Pulque is low alcohol, about the same percentage as beer, and has health, even medicinal, benefits and is used in hospitals with anemic patients to raise their red blood counts.  It is my personal favorite, as well.

Production of pulque is labor and time-intensive, with the slow-growing agave plants needing twelve years to mature.  The fermentation process of pulque is on-going so it must be consumed soon after it is produced, which is why it is not exported.  

From my experience, there is a regional variance in pulque.  Pulques in Oaxaca 
tend to be clear and slightly fizzy, whereas in the state of Mexico, the pulque is cloudy, 
more viscous and comes with different flavorings. 

Pulqeria,Mexico City, MX
The photo above is from a popular pulqueria in Mexico City.  As can be seen, their 
pulques are offered in several flavors- oatmeal, peanut, pineapple, pine nut, guava  and others. Consuming pulque is a leisurely pursuit and people come to pulquerias to sit, visit and enjoy the snacks offered.

Pulqueria, Mexico City MX
Pulqueria, Mexico City ,,MX

Below are typical presentations of pulque in Oaxaca, where it often is sold at weekly markets in small towns around the city. The second container labelled tepache is another drink, low alcohol,  made form the fermented rinds of pineapples.  The process is much faster than that of pulque, taking only a few days. Its origins are pre-Hispanic, but it never had the significance of pulque.    

Typical Pulque and Tepache container, Oaxaca MX

Pulque vendor, O

Pulque vendor, Oaxaca MX

Atole, seen being made below, is another popular Mexican beverage with pre-Hispanic origins.  It is made from ground corn (masa), sugar, cinnamon, with other flavorings such as chocolate sometimes added. It is stirred with bare hands and served to customers in small bowls.

Atole in process in market, Oaxaca, MX
Buen Provecho!                       

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