The rainy season has definitely arrived in the city, bringing several hours of lluvia every night for the past five nights. The first rains of the season also bring (drum roll, please) chicatanas! Early this morning, I went out onto the terrace with my coffee to be greeted with these not-so-little insects. Flying (into my hair, eeek!) and crawling all over the place!
What, you may ask are chicatanas? They are giant flying ants that emerge with the first rains of the season — and by giant, I mean about 4 cm from the head to the tip of the wings for the females. (As in much of the insect world, males are smaller and wingless.)
This occurs early one morning each year and lasts only a few hours. My first experience with them was a couple of years ago, when I arrived at Oaxaca’s airport for my 8:30 AM flight one May morning, to find, yikes(!) an infestation of insects. I had no idea what they were, but nobody seemed to mind, and kids were running around collecting them. The answer came after I boarded the plane and began talking with a Oaxaqueña across the aisle. She explained that the arrival of the chicatanas was a much-anticipated event because they are a delicacy. As the video below documents, they are soaked, cleaned, toasted on a comal, ground, seasoned, and made into a salsa.
According to this post in a Chicago based culinary chat site, it has been almost “500 years since Bernardino de Sahagun reported to Europe on the tzicatana [chicatana in Nahuatl] in his Nueva Historia, from its divine associations to its swarm ethology (mirroring the movements of the Aztecan armies) to its apparent deliciousness to the Nahuan-speaking people in the region.” And, long before that, tzicatanas were mentioned in the Florentine Codex.
By 9:30 this morning, they were gone. However, should you find yourself in Oaxaca during a brief visit by the chicatanas, here is a recipe for Chicatana Salsa.