Dispatch, Mexico City: Bug cuisine

By Gay Nagle Myers
Avocado pizzaMexico editor Gay Nagle Myers had three days to explore sprawling Mexico City. It was her first visit, her itinerary was jam-packed and her walking shoes got a workout. Here is her second dispatch. Click to read Gay’s first dispatch.

Chef Maycoll Calderon picked up the ball of dough, tossed it into the air a couple of times, folded it over his fists and used his knuckles to stretch and shape it into a thin circle.

“Don’t use your fingers to do this. Your nails will cut the dough and make holes in it,” he said.

He then slapped the perfect circle of thin dough onto a big paddle-like device and stuck it in the oven.

I was in the midst of a cooking class, trying my hand at making an avocado pizza under the tutelage of Calderon, executive chef and director at the J&G Grill at the St. Regis Mexico City.

That morning, we’d already been to the Mercado de San Juan, a visually stunning market piled high with colorful displays of cheeses, vegetables and fruits. Music from strolling accordion players filled the air.

I bypassed the meat aisles, having caught a view of the skinning process of animals I sometimes eat.

Calderon stopped in front of a stall filled with bins filled with what looked like candy. He dropped a couple of dark little tidbits in my hand. “Try these. They’re good.”

Chef Maycoll CalderonI chewed and swallowed. Sort of crunchy and spicy.

“You like? I use them a lot in my recipes. They’re chicatana ants,” he said.

I’m glad I didn’t know that beforehand. I declined his next offering because I recognized the fried grasshopper for what it was.

What I liked much better was mamey, a fruit that tasted like a mix of pineapple and mango.

The avocado pizza, which I did master and did eat, and the market visit were part of a three-day food blitz in Mexico’s capital city.

Street food was everywhere. Burners, griddles and bubbling pots were set up on street corners, in parks, under tarps and in the Zocalo — Mexico City’s enormous square, said to be the largest in the world.

Calderon pointed out a small hole-in-the-wall serving tortas, which are delicious sandwiches served on big, crusty rolls stuffed with steak, chicken, ham, pinto beans, avocados and vegetables.

“If you can finish a torta in there in 15 minutes, it’s free,” he said.

I didn’t try. The ants filled me up.

I couldn’t seem to escape the insects. That night in the residential Polanco neighborhood, I dined at Pujol, a 44-seat restaurant rated as the top restaurant in Mexico.

One of the many appetizers in the eight-course dinner was charred baby corn cobs spread with coffee-flavored mayonnaise and rolled in powdered chicatana ants.

For the third course, the waiter set down a small piece of roasted leek topped with escamoles. It looked like a spoonful of mushy pine nuts, but actually was ant larvae.

GrasshoppersOne afternoon at the St. Regis, I had a ginger margarita in a frosted glass rimmed with worm salt.

Insects have more protein than meat, I was told. If that’s true, I was a señora on protein overload by the time I left.

My final taste treat also was a surprise. On the last night, I found a little black bag on my bedside table when I returned to my room at the St. Regis.

Thinking it was another wonderful nighttime treat left by my butler, I untied the cloth bag and popped the two orange goodies into my mouth.

It registered pretty fast. What I was chewing on were rubber ear plugs, left for hotel guests on Saturday nights to drown out the revelry on the Paseo de la Reforma, transformed into a pedestrian-only area on Sunday mornings outside the hotel.

It was probably time to leave.
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Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.
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