Thursday, October 11, 2007

Escamoles and a Terrifying Drive

OK. I'm back. Dropped Jorge back at the airport at about 5 pm and I've been home long enough to change into my comfies and wash my face so I'm ready to continue with the story of Mexico.

Wednesday Jorge B, who also happens to be the project manager for the Santiago start up, and who I worked with in Tokyo, told us he was taking us out to a great dinner at a great restaurant.

We ended up at a place called la Valentina in a section of town that for the life of me I can't remember the name of but it starts with a "P" and is where the Maserati dealership is and where you can shop all day in places like Dolce and Gabanna, Chanel, Gucci, etc. Before this dinner we had been going from the airport hotel to the office about a mile away and back and honestly I thought that was what Mexico City was - narrow crowded pot-hole-lined streets with street vendors. There was even one median island by the office with actual cow skulls piled up on it. I kid you not. The Mexico City we saw Wednesday night was an entirely different world, even though we went from the office to the restaurant and back.

When we were seated at the restaurant Jorge was telling us about two Mexican delicacies - one is worms which are fried until they are crispy and hollow and they are supposedly quite delicious. Unfortunately the restaurant did not have them. The other dish they did have. Escamoles. Escamoles are considered the caviar of Mexico. Do you want to google it or shall I tell you? THEY ARE ANT EGGS!!!!

Now before you get thoroughly grossed out let me remind you that Jorge told us they were wonderful and a real treat. Then he asked me point blank if I wanted him to order some. Well, DUH!! Of course I did. In the spirit of trying something totally different that I would never have a chance to try anywhere else I told him I absolutely wanted him to order them. I thought Sam and Michael looked a little green at that point.

Escamoles are the eggs from the big black ants that live at the base of the agave plant. They are harvested in the spring and that's pretty much the only time of year it is possible to get them fresh but thanks to modern miracles it is possible to enjoy them year round in frozen form. They are white, and roughly the size and shape of rice crispies, although far more delicious. They are cooked (I suppose sauteed) in butter and/or olive oil and spices. One eats them on a small tortilla spread with guacamole and green chili sauce. The guacamole serves as both a condiment and a "glue" to hold the escamoles so they don't slip out because my gosh but they are slippery little suckers.

I don't think I can begin to describe the flavor. Kind of like the best steak you have ever eaten but also a bit like shrimp. Buttery, and cooked with the savory and understated spices the sensory pleasure was amazing. I was so proud of both Sam and Michael. They both tried it, which just amazed me since Michael especially is hands down the pickiest eater I have ever known. I don't lie. He has to inspect and sniff his food before he attempts to taste it and this is with boiled chicken breast. If it looks or smells off to him he will pass it around the table so everyone can inspect and sniff and provide an opinion. No lie. Maybe an exaggeration but not a lie essentially. But they did try it and I totally have a new found respect for them both because of this. I actually hated to eat my entree because I wanted that flavor to stay in my mouth forever. I don't think I'll ever forget it.

After dinner it was a bit late and so Jorge drove us back to the hotel. We were on the loop expressway around the City. I preface this by saying two things. First, I have never seen driving as crazy as in Mexico City. Lines marking lanes are an informal suggestion. Traffic lights are to be obeyed or not. Whatever. People cut in front of you and even directly on top of you. Horns honk constantly. Second, Jorge's driving quite frankly sucks. It sucked in Tokyo and scared us all about half to death but that was nothing compared with his driving on his own turf! Michael and I made Sam sit in the front seat with him. The death seat. Love you Sam!!! Kisses!!!

On the way TO the restaurant Jorge was speeding, weaving in and out of various lanes, having an intensive conversation on his cell phone and fiddling with interior lights all at the same time. He was only missing a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a burger. On the way FROM the restaurant he was driving 120 km/hour in the lane directly beside a concrete median wall. He would go over bumps in the road that made us airborne. I know I gasped audibly several times and spent the ride working the invisible brake pedal in the backseat while gripping the backseat handle. I gripped it so hard that by the time he let us out at the hotel my hand was sore and temporarily paralysed into a gripping position.

Please promise me that if you ever make it to Mexico you will try the escamoles and stay the hell out of Jorge's car.

Tomorrow: Mexican sushi experience and Friday with photos and video.

No comments: