Tacos may very well be the perfect food, but let's face it, the standard Meximerican fare can get a bit stale after a while. Taco the Town is here to highlight some of the more unusual Mexican finds in the valley.
This week: Chapulines from Oaxaca Restaurant
¿Como se dice?: Depending on how adventurous an eater you are, chapulines are either the next notch on your bizarre foods belt, or the next creature to be featured in your nightmares. Chapulines are edible grasshoppers that have been boiled to a deep red color and fried to a crisp. While Andrew Zimmer wouldn't flinch at the thought of picking insect legs out of his teeth, we can see where you might be a bit skeptical.
But if you're willing to withhold your judgment of these humble six-legged creatures until you've tasted 'em in a taco (or popped 'em solo by the handful), you might be pleasantly surprised. Hit up the corner of 12th Street and Dunlap to find out. Within the Let It Roll Bowl is Oaxaca Restaurant, which Oaxaqueños will know as the new front of the old Mini Mercado Oaxaca. They're still serving outstanding Oaxacan food (in addition to bowling alley favorites like pizza and hot dogs), and they still have a little marketplace where you can grab mole bases, exotic spice blends, and yes, chapulines.
La Comida: The Oaxaqueños of Mexico have been popping chapulines as a snack for centuries, along with all sorts of other edible insects like beetles (chahuis), ant larvae (escamoles), and worms (chinicuil). Here in the heart of Phoenix, you need look no further than Oaxaca Restaurant for a bag of these crispy little critters. Ask the cashier for chapulines, and a fresh bag of pre-cooked grasshoppers is yours for only seven bucks. What you do with those edible insects is then up to you. We recommend tacos with some guacamole to "glue" the grasshoppers in place. While you're there, you may want to snag some mole, tlayudas, or empanadas to-go too. You know, as a back-up plan, so you don't go hungry should actually consuming the insect tacos get your stomach roiling.
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El Sabor: If it helps any, just close your eyes when eating these bugs, and you may be rewarded with a flavor you probably wouldn't expect. Chapulines taste almost like salt and vinegar potato chips, but a bit wetter. There's a satisfying crunch from the exoskeleton throughout, with a bit of tangy softness at the abdomen. And the entire chapulin is salty, tangy, and not at all what you would expect flavor-wise. The only downside are the twig-like back legs that you may end up picking out of your molars. Just close your eyes and get to popping.
Bring a bit of México to your kitchen: Your chapulines are good to go after you pick them up from Oaxaca Restaurant. If you end up with a bag of bigger grasshoppers, sometimes it's better to spend a few minutes picking off the legs before cooking. We rustled up a photo tutorial of how to prep and cook chapulines. We suggest you use them as a filling for quesadillas and tacos, but your imagination is the limit when dealing with this protein-packed "meat."
Know of any Mexican gems in the valley? Reveal your family secrets in the comment section.