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Posts Tagged ‘tzicatana’

Along with much-needed rain and sparkling green cantera, tropical storm Beatriz also brought the one-day-a-year appearance of chicatanas (aka, tzicatana, tzicatl).

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What, you might 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.)  Known by the Nahuatl long before the arrival of the Spanish, they were mentioned in the 16th-century Florentine Codex which talked about the tzicatana living below ground and cultivating fungus to eat.

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By this morning, the rain had stopped and when I returned from an early errand, I found chicatanas — queens (wings) and soldiers (wingless with vicious front pincers) — crawling around on my terrace and balcony.  There were probably many more earlier, but I had been in a hurry and hadn’t noticed.  By 10:30 AM they were gone.

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Oh, and have I mentioned that they are a delicacy and a great source of protein?  I’ve had chicatana salsa and chicatana mole several times.  Below is Mole de Chicatanas I sampled during the Mole Festival in 2014.  It’s from the Sierra Sur region of Oaxaca and made with chicatanas, pork ribs or loin, chile costeño, peanuts, and much more.  It was yummy (and I was a picky eater as a child!), so I had it again at last year’s festival.

If you won’t take my word, check out this Bizarre Foods episode set in Oaxaca.  (Chicatanas start at 1 min. 40 sec.)  By the way, these are the dreaded leaf-cutter ants.  However, it is the much smaller workers who can strip a tree overnight and are the bane of gardeners here.  At least their queens and soldiers are good for something!

Post script:  On a somber note, tropical storm Beatriz also brought flooding, mudslides, more downed trees, collapsed roads, and a current death toll of three.

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The rainy season has come and with it, the emergence of chicatanas (also known as, tzicatanas) — a pre hispanic insect delicacy in this corner of the world.  My first experience with these giant “flying ants” was at the Oaxaca airport five or six years ago, where I was greeted with, what can only be characterized as, an infestation.  They were flying through the terminal, crawling on the floor, and being chased by toddlers to teens, as adults watched in amusement.  Since then, I’ve come to know and even love these little critters — especially in salsas and mole.

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Two years ago, I awoke to my own infestation on the terrace.  However, yesterday morning only a lone female chicatana put in an appearance.  Darn, just when I’d actually considered gathering them up like these children and attempting to make chicatana salsa!

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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!

Female chicatana on blue oilcloth

Female chicatana on a very wet table.

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.)

Male chicatana on wood deck

Male chicatana on the deck.

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.

Female chicatana on her back

Female chicatana doing the back stroke on the table.

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.

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