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Chapulines in Oaxaca: Collecting, Cooking and More

Mexican Grasshoppers: Snack Food is Popular and Healthy

Grasshoppers, more popularly known as chapulines here in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca, are one of the most popular snack foods enjoyed by residents. Although they are available year round, in particular throughout the central valleys and in the city of Oaxaca, chapulines are best eaten when they are in season during the summer and autumn months when crops and grasses are tall as a result of the rains, thus providing ample nourishment for the insect.

Chapulines are frequently consumed on the street when purchased from vendors in or near Oaxaca’s markets, or from itinerate saleswomen plying their product to passersby on the sidewalks and pedestrian corridors in downtown Oaxaca. However they are also a popular menu items in both middle-of-the-road and high end restaurants not only in Oaxaca but in other parts of Mexico.

Chapulines are usually served in Oaxacan restaurants as part of a mixed appetizer plate along with one or two locally produced cheeses, Oaxacan sausage (chorizo), spiced peanuts and crackling pork fat (chicharrón). At fiestas, from the most humble rural function to the most lavish high class event, a mixed botana plate which includes chapulines is commonplace, often expected, and always enjoyed. The high protein high jumper has also become popular as an ingredient in more upscale Oaxacan recipes, such as in dips and stuffing.

Harvesting Chapulines in Oaxaca, Mexico

Grasshoppers tend to be harvested in the fields of Oaxaca either early morning or late afternoon. While more sophisticated operations call for the use of nets, small-scale family collecting is usually done by swooping a wicker or synthetic basket over the fields of green. Early in the season they are gathered from areas where herbs and grasses grow, then later or once the little critters have grown a bit bigger they are found nourishing themselves around crops such as corn and squash. Commercial production often uses alfalfa as a feeding ground for chapulines.

With the large operations there is less likelihood that insects other than grasshoppers, and unwanted grasses and small leaves will find their way into the nets. The same holds true of small scale production later in the season when they are harvested from amongst vegetable crops. It’s small scale early season harvesting of chapulines which results in the occasional trapping of other small creatures such as larvae, locusts and other unwanted guests as well as thistle, small weeds and leaves. When this does in fact occur more attention is required when preparing a chapulín recipe.

Recipe for Chapulines in Oaxaca: One of the Most Popular and Healthy Snack Foods in Mexico

Insofar as a picture is worth a thousand words, the following recipe is best supplemented with viewing the photo gallery at this link – harvesting chapulines in Oaxaca, and their preparation:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150329999553921.372282.651578920&type=3

This is particularly important so as to enable the cook to have a better idea of quantities, since this recipe, as is the case with many others which have been formulated in Oaxaca, is based on local tradition which pays little attention to exacting measurements.

Ingredients:

• 1 pound of live chapulines, any size, or small local grasshoppers
• Several garlic teeth, ground in processor or molcajete with a couple of tbsp of course salt
• Juice from a few good size limes
• A half bunch of (preferably) fresh epazote

Preparation:

1. Bring water to a boil, then add chapulines
2. Return to a boil, then simmer a few minutes at least until the chapulines are red
3. Drain chapulines without adding additional water to the sieve
4. Lay out on a large platter and remove any grasses, and foreign insects and what not
5. Place drained chapulines in saucepan over medium heat, stirring for a minute or two
6. Add garlic mixture and lime juice, returning to a low simmer
7. Add epazote leaves and thin stems
8. Continue over low heat until epazote is no longer green
9. Drain and place in bowl
10. Serve with tortillas or use as an ingredient in other recipe

NOTE: Since I have never tried this recipe with any insect other than chapulines from Oaxaca, Mexico, I’m uncertain as to whether small Canadian or American grasshoppers will turn red or have as agreeable a flavor. Regarding the latter, it all depends on the chapulín’s diet, climatic conditions and other environmental factors.

Posted by titosarah 13:19 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Bargaining While Shopping in Oaxaca & Throughout Mexico

The new reality in the southern Mexican state

Change has been in the air for years, if not decades. It’s now a well-established fact that hard bargaining while shopping in Mexico, especially in the poorer southern states such as Oaxaca, is neither the norm nor should it be considered accepted practice. While there’s often leeway in prices, that should not be a signal to tourists that they should play tough and try to get the lowest price possible for handicrafts in stores, markets or workshops throughout southern Mexico.

Throughout the poorer states such as Oaxaca and Chiapas in most cases markups are not all that lofty on products such as textiles, pottery and wooden carvings relative to the time spent in production or for resale; craftspeople and retailers alike want to get by and maintain a lifestyle rather than being intent upon raising socio-economic status at the expense of their patrons. The latter aspiration is the exception rather than the norm.

Prices asked of Canadian and American tourists are not as inflated as they perhaps were three or four decades ago. And the same tends to hold true for Mexican consumers in the marketplace. For example, at the corner store products are often marked up not by 100%, but rather only 25%. By contrast, at your hometown 7-11 you know that you’re paying dearly for the luxury of being able to walk to the corner for necessities. Not so in Oaxaca. Here the difference between corner store prices and supermarket prices is often negligible ---- because the corner store operator is likely not paying tax, because he is content with making an average wage of perhaps 200 pesos (16 USD) a day, and because that's what the market will bear.

Oaxacans are aware that many tourists aren't as wealthy as they used to be. Media reports of America’s recent financial woes filter down to Mexicans of virtually every rank. They have a greater respect for and understanding of their northern neighbors than used to be the case. Thus, since vendors don't want to lose a sale, in most cases their starting prices do not tend to be grossly exaggerated.

Regarding crafts in particular, with a local economy suffering from slow tourism resulting from people's misguided perception of danger and drug wars throughout all of Mexico, these days in Oaxaca craftspeople and market vendors can't afford to start off too high; saving face dictates not dropping the price dramatically, and accordingly it cannot be too inflated to begin with.

I agree that the idea of looking at a product and asking yourself what it's worth to you and what you think it should cost is a good way to approach buying. If the asking price is too high based on this evaluation, it may be appropriate to re-evaluate whether or not to proceed with the ultimate purchase. The objective should not be, in my personal opinion, to get something for as little as possible, at least not in 21st century southern Mexico. What I often do is consider whether paying 20 pesos more will affect my life in any way, and the corollary of whether paying 20 pesos more will help the vendor to get by.

There’s value in considering the concept of helping others with much less, who are truly suffering because of weak tourism or a more generalized anemic local economy, versus getting the lowest price possible. Do you want to feel better about yourself? Or would you prefer that at the end of the bargaining session you sense a bit of personal guilt for squeezing the vendor to the limit? Do you want to take advantage of unequal bargaining power?

Notwithstanding reports about Mexico’s economic growth, there’s a new reality in Oaxaca and elsewhere throughout the southern part of the country. Embrace it and do the right thing.

Posted by titosarah 11:43 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico in shopping oaxaca bargaining Comments (0)

What to Wear to a Church Service in Mexico

Heeding Useful Advice Avoids Embarracement

Almost any type of clothing is acceptable when attending a church service in Mexico, be it for a wedding, funeral, baptism, quince años, or any other mass. One key, however, is knowing the tradition of the city, town or village in the interior of the country, and being sensitive to the cultural class of the Mexican individual or family extending the invitation.

The Tourist or Expatriot as Invited Guest to a Mexican Mass in a Church

Tourists vacationing in Mexico, and to a lesser extent expat residents in the country, can generally “get away with” wearing what they like. The issue is whether you want to be considered a gringo who doesn’t know any better, or respected as someone who is making a conscious effort to fit in and be sensitive the particular cultural norms.

In most cases anything goes, even for foreigners. However, shorts for both sexes and sandals for men should be shunned. Otherwise, just know the location where the church is, and something about the family asking you to attend mass.

Class of the Family Extending the Church Invitation in Mexico

In first world countries generally class is a combination of culture and financial resources. The middle class in Canada, for example, has middle class values and lifestyle, and income. On the other hand, at least in certain parts of a developing nation such as Mexico, the state of Oaxaca as an example, one’s material wealth does not necessarily mean that one lives a middle class lifestyle. A family can be monetarily upwardly mobile and thus be deemed by Canadian and American standards middle or upper class or somewhere in between, but culturally it may be what we might (ethnocentrically) consider working or within the lower classes. Be cognizant of the difference, if there is one, before dressing for a church mass.

For the upper classes in Mexico, culture more so than material wealth will dictate their dress and what they expect of invitees at urban and rural church services. For men, trousers and a cotton collared shirt is the minimum, and completely acceptable without a jacket and tie. Many Oaxacan men, for example, wear either a guayabera, or a shirt, usually without a tie, with a windbreaker. A jacket and tie is rarely if ever required or expected at a mass. For women, pants, a dress or a skirt are all acceptable, and tops can be strapless or sleeveless, with or without a shawl.

For Mexican church services sponsored by families who have significant financial resources but are not seemingly middle or upper class by Western cultural standards, dress is the same for both urban and rural functions, as for attending mass in small cities, towns and villages regardless of the culture of the family.

The Small Mexican City, Town and Village Church Environment as a Determinant of Dress

Let’s start with the exception. In some cases, culturally and financially upper middle and upper class families celebrate rites of passage in semi-urban and rural locales. In such instances the minimum dress for men is trousers or finer blue jeans. A suit and tie is still not required. For women there is no difference between attending mass here, and in an urban setting at a function held by the culturally upwardly mobile classes.

In most cases, however, when attending church in a small city, town or village, regardless of monetary or cultural class, the most important piece of advice which can be provided is to not overdress. Since there will usually be attendees of modest financial means and of campesino culture, in reality anything goes for the locals, including regular jeans and t – shirts for men and skirt, dress or jeans for women. Younger women frequently attend church services in jeans, while women in their twenties and older tend to shed their jeans in favor of a dress or skirt. Regional clothing is often worn by women of all ages.

For foreigners, no ties for men and more muted attire for women is a good rule to follow. While regular blue jeans for both sexes is certainly acceptable, it is suggested that non – Mexicans attending this type of church service will themselves feel more comfortable not wearing “jeans and a t – shirt.”

While the foregoing is intended to provide guidance for foreigners attending church services in Mexico, the best advice is to simply ask your Mexican hosts what’s appropriate to wear. And in all cases, if your invitation includes being honored with being a godparent, dress up two notches, for men meaning consider that tie or a guayabera, and a dress or skirt for women.

Alvin Starkman and his wife Arlene operate Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast (http://www.casamachaya.com). The Starkmans have been attending church services in both urban and rural Oaxaca on a regular basis for in excess of 20 years. Alvin writes articles about life and cultural traditions in Oaxaca, and helps visitors to plan their vacations in the state.

Posted by titosarah 16:22 Archived in Mexico Tagged church mexico in to for weddings what dress mexican wear Comments (0)

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