Chicatanas

Joy is everywhere: Chicatanas are back!

When the first rain takes place in Oaxaca, the flying ants called Chicatanas leave their nests and people of all ages collect them in order to elaborate the well known "salsa de chicatanas".

The first rains of the year are always welcomed and celebrated because the warm weather of May and June. It is supposed that the day of Saint John, June 24th, the chicatana ants leave their nests at the first rain of the year. Children love to collect these insects, they sometimes organize fights among collected ants just for fun.

The real value of chicatana ants is related to gastronomy; In Oaxaca people really like to eat salsa of chicatana. After the ants are collected they are washed and grilled on a comal, a metal or clay dish, in this first step they lose their wings. Then chicatanas are ground in the molcajete as if were guacamole. After that, garlic, salt and chili are added and everything is ground until getting a consistent salsa.

Chicatanas are mentioned in the codex Florentino, the encyclopedia of Mexican knowledge from the century 16th, where they are named as Tzicatana. Today, it is an important ingredient of Oaxaca's traditional food. Chicatanas are a little expensive, one kilo costs about 400 pesos.

People have to be very careful when catching these ants; they are very aggressive and their bites are painful. The have small but strong pincers and, no matter their size, cause certain level of pain.

It is at dawn when chicatanas leave their nests, maybe running away from the flooding of the first and abundant rain. They leave their nests only to be captured by many people who have patiently awaited the right moment, which is a little hard to predict because it could happen at any of the first rains. It is close to streetlights a good place to catch the flying ants, they are attracted by light and heat. Then, joyful and movement begin and many people could be seen gathering and putting ants in plastic bags.

If you ask any person in Oaxaca what chicatanas taste like, nobody could answer; people would say that flavour of chicatana salsa is a little hard to describe, they just say that they taste like chicatana.
The salsa is spread on a freshly hand-made corn tortilla, it tastes a little spicy, salty, it has the flavour of something roasted, it is truly a particular flavour.

Chicatanas, an insect that adds flavour and flocklore to Oaxaca's traditional and milenary gastronomy, something different to try on, another particular flavour of Oaxaca.

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