As you may know by now, I’m crazy about markets. For a long time I had been insisting with one of the Mexican cousins to take me to San Juan Market. I had read and even seen a BBC news video about it. Plus almost all of the great chefs in Mexico city claimed to do their shopping there.
Finally, after a fair amount of blackmail mixed with a handful of threats and a pinch of announced self-pity, I finally managed to convince him. I loved it of course!
From the pre-hispanic strange-looking insects that you are offered to try (and I did!) , or the wild meat like crocodile, armadillo, iguana and snake, passing through the unique fruits and vegetables as well as the wonderful smell emanating from all the spices and chilies, you can spend hours exploring.
First, I was offered the Gusanos de Maguey, these are caterpillars of a butterfly found in the Agave type of plants. These plants are the ones used to do Tequilla and Mezcal. The caterpillars usually eat the stems and roots of the plant and it is quite difficult to harvest them. For this reason, it is a very expensive but highly appreciated delicacy here in Mexico.
Many years ago, when the pueblos or villages still didn’t have electricity, there were much more plants and going to find the Gusanos was a family affair. My hairdresser told me her father used to take her, her brothers and sisters on a Gusanos expedition while their mother would start the wooden fire to prepare lunch. They took baskets and a metal hook and they inspected each plant very carefully until they found signs of their presence. Then they cut the leaves and with the hook got them out alive, one by one. When they had enough, they would go back home where their mother had already prepared and cooked the blue tortillas and a sauce to go with the Gusanos. She would then put the Gusanos in a comal or clay pan with salt and a bit of olive oil. Covered it for a few minutes and they would be ready to eat as tacos with the sauce and blue tortillas. The children loved it and it was a good source of protein and calcium for them.
You can have them in their natural state, braised or fried. I tried both natural and fried.
The taste is not bad at all, although for me the fried variety was tastier. A lot of protein packed in such a small body!
Then I was challenged to try the famous ants called Chicatanas. It is another delicacy used in a variety of dishes. It can be fried or boiled, used in salads, soups, stews, as an appetizer and even in cakes, cookies and sometimes just covered in chocolate. I must say that when I looked at them, I hesitated…
My friend Carmen insisted I should eat it as she was also going to try it. We breathed deeply, ate it and then she made the mistake of saying it didn’t taste like much. The sellers were shocked and said that probably we hadn’t chewed it enough (you bet we hadn’t!) and should therefore try it again, this time just the belly which is supposed to be tastier! They wouldn’t take no for an answer and before the amused faces of my husband and her cousin, we ate it again and this time made sure we said it was great, the best ant belly we ever had! They are extremely expensive, about 80 USD per kilo but it still didn’t make me a fan, I’m afraid!
The ants were followed by these wonderful looking creatures, the Chapulines which are grasshoppers and highly appreciated in Mexico, particularly in Oaxaca. They are usually toasted with garlic, salt and lime juice, which give them a spicy and salty taste.
They do look bigger in the previous picture than they actually are, this is me holding the one I was going to taste. After the ants I could have eaten almost anything!
I must admit these were tastier with a spicy bite to them that I quite appreciated.
Finally, we had the Acociles which are a species of river crayfish. They are used in soups, seafood cocktails and also in Tacos.
They taste just like shrimp but a bit too salty for my taste. You can also buy the Acociles in powder.
I was glad when there was nothing left to taste since with all the insect protein I was feeling already full. My smart husband and Carmen’s cousin, avoided it by saying it was too early for them to eat insects and other things, like we were talking about some kind of alcoholic beverage! Not very adventurous at all, didn’t stop them from trying all the fruits they were then presented with!
The nice thing about going to a market is of course being able to buy everything fresh and know exactly what you are buying. I needed to buy minced lamb meat so just chose a nice leg and they minced it for me.
As well as fish and seafood which since I’m Portuguese, constitute a very important part of my diet.
I love Huachinango or Red Snapper which is a favorite among Mexicans. Decided to buy two whole and a few filets as well. You can check the recipe I adapted of Red Snapper Veracruz style if you are interested.
The only species I never cooked from this section is the cazon or shark, I wonder what you could do with it…
I spent a lot of time at the Spices section, smelled a lot and bought saffron, cardamom in powder, dried jalapeño chilies, Chipotle seeds, white and black sesame seeds and also tasted several home-made moles or sauces with different levels of spiciness.
We finished at the vegetables and fruit section where we tasted a lot of fruits, including Zapote which I had heard of and have a recipe I always wanted to try. Taste was great and so much better compared to the same fruit you can buy at the supermarket.
If you are ever in Mexico city and you enjoy markets like me, I strongly recommend San Juan Market. It is not very big but it is nice to visit and a very safe place. If you are like me, you can even try the pre hispanic delicacies I did, who knows you may even enjoy them!