When I was a little girl, my family would take monthly trips to Tijuana, and my mouth would water the entire trip in anticipation of the culinary treat I was about to enjoy. As soon as we crossed the border, the Salcido family would be in an eating frenzy over the best carne asada tacos in the world marinated steak cooked over a mesquite wood fire, handmade corn tortillas and a selection of condiments including diced onions, cilantro, tomato and guacamole. The owner, Pepe, knew all of us by name and made sure that my tacos had extra guacamole, just the way I liked them. To this day, I still have not found a better taco.
On a later trip, we found that Pepe's taco stand had disappeared. After the shock wore off, we found a decent replacement called Los Panchos. Still, my young heart ached for Pepe's tacos.
But I'll never forget how my mother turned ghostly white when she heard the reason that Pepe's had gone away. "He got closed down for serving dog meat," a cousin who lived just around the corner told us. Mom actually became ill to her stomach.
Me? I just shrugged. Fido had sure tasted good.
The Mexican culture has made use of exotic meats for centuries. TheXoloitzcuintle is a dog that was used by the ancient Mexican people for many things: food, sacrifice, companionship, hunting, protection and also for medicinal and curative purposes. The yummy flesh of the Xolo was consumed for food and also in the hope that it would aid in the cure of various physical problems. The Xolo nearly became extinct and today is a very rare breed costing thousands of dollars.
In the state of Oaxaca, I spent a month with a Zapotec family hunting, killing and cooking iguanas. This custom, although illegal now, has been observed for more than a thousand years. Grasshoppers are also popular in this region, sautéed and served on a corn tortilla with a nice spicy salsa or lightly sprinkled over some black beans. Yet another regional treat are the chiniquitles, the worm found on the maguey plant, served fried in a taco or dried and made into a salsa. All are expensive delicacies that will leave you licking your fingers. I can't vouch for the flavor of other unusual foods I haven't tried monkey brains from the Tampico coast or corn-fed rats from Zacatecas. But I'm sure a little hot salsa and a corn tortilla will make everything go down fine.
In Phoenix, you might be hard-pressed to find iguana or monkey brains, but you can find a succulent worm salsa at El Tlacoyo in Tempe or wonderful grasshoppers at Mini Mercado Oaxaca in northern Phoenix. But don't worry your pooch is safe from local Mexican butchers. Just don't bring him too close to my house when my grill is heating up.
The author is a local chef and restaurant owner.
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