Sunday, May 30, 2010

Ants and Rats - Tropical Delicacies

The heat has finally set in. Yes, I'm sure it's here to stay. You know how I know? The ants. Little sugar ants have started crawling across the kitchen counter. It reminds me of something...oh, the Berenstain Bears "A" book. "Ants. Ants advance. Ants advance across all Arizona and Otehlia's kitchen."

Today my husband threatened poison.
"They get in my sandwiches," he said.
"What?" I cried. "They're just sugar ants, they're harmless."
And then I threw in for extra measure, "And if you cleaned the counters more often, the ants wouldn't have anything to eat."

He asked if I would like to eat them, and I assured him I already have.

Living in Guyana, Africa and Brazil and traveling in Australia, I have ingested a fair number of ants. And as a kid I ate them as a dare, but that's another story (like the beginning of my culinary prowess?).

The thatched roofs and open-air environments in the tropics allow all sorts of wildlife in. Ants were just one of many. At night after cleaning the kitchen, and dishes, a towel was thrown over the leftover food and just-cleaned dishes to prevent ants from throwing late night parties. But they made their way in, nevertheless, and enjoyed the powdered milk, and of course the sugar. Those small crunches were the involuntary ingestions.

In Australia, however, eating ants can be voluntary. There is one species of ant, the green ant, that is actually favored for it's burst of "citrus" flavor that comes from it voluptuous behind. I tried those, too--once.

That got me thinking about some of the other weird food I have eaten. Here are some of my top picks:

Cameroon: After traveling for many hours to visit a friend's mother in the bush, we gave her the fish we had bought from the market that day. I love Cameroonian fish and was looking forward to a delicious meal. But as the honored guest, the local village men went out to hunt for me--and came back with a forest rat (I just realized it is probably a cane rat). I had to try to be polite and chew some of the stringy rat meat. Not yum.

Mali: Again, after traveling for hours, by bus, donkey cart and foot, to visit a friend's family in a remote village, we were treated a meal of goat's meat. The goat stew was delicious, but I noticed the next day that the legs and head of the goat were laying on a mat inside an empty hut. I wondered if the were going to bury it, or offer it as a sacrifice. On the third day it finally disappeared from the hut--and showed up that evening as the most foul smelling dinner I have ever been offered. I tried to, but couldn't, eat it. Rotten goat's head must be loaded with B vitamins and protein, but I couldn't get it past my lips. They forgave me because I am a foreigner. I think.

Cameroon: (Again?) Cows stomach and snails. Tough and chewy. Enough said.

Guyana: I was always hungry for protein (read "meat") during the two months I lived among the Makushi tribe in Guyana, and one of the most readily available meat was fish. Villagers dried the fish and brought it around to sell. Since I was no fisherwoman (the women killed the fish by biting the heads of the fish--I am not that brave!), I eagerly bought what I could. I remember cutting into one hunk of dried fish to find it crawling with worms. When I showed it to my friends there, they told me to just cut the worms out. So I did. No point in wasting good meat!

Husband, ants are a treat. Just try them with chocolate! It could be worse...

What is the weirdest food you've ever eaten?


RCakeWalk said...


I have not been as brave as you, but confess that I desperately want to try crickets, after seeing them crispy and baked onto a "pizza" type thing in Mexico (I saw this on television, and I wish I could remember where since I never really wanted to try an insect before!). You have a real way with words Otelia, and an exciting past!

Otehlia said...

Mmm. I wonder if it was Rick Bayless? Isn't it funny when bugs become a delicacy? Come to Mexico with me in January, and we can seek them out:)

RCakeWalk said...

Oh, I wish I could! Hopefully, in another year... I am currently learning Spanish, and will work a trip into my goals!

Carolyn Jung said...

Oh no about the ants. We get them, too,when the weather changes. I guess they hate being outdoors when it's too hot or cold, too, just like the rest of us. I wish they'd build their own house, though. Hah.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

I believe it is a cultural thing. When you are used to eating such animals/things/insects it is not a problem. I could eat rats, but insects repulse me... I love blood sausages, though.



Kush said...

Hey O!
Over the years of traveling around the globe, I've had the fortune of trying out some interesting delicacies. Some that come to mind: Goat brains, testicles, bone marrow, kidneys, heart 'n liver, Ox tail and tongue, Guinea pig, Dog, Snake, Sting Ray (which are delicious!), Llama rare cuts, live baby octopus, a variety of bugs in Bangkok, Snails, Pig intestines, Lutefisk, and Durian.
I have a long list of strange foods that I'd like to try still. I could see myself do Andrew Zimmern's job :)

lisa said...

I'm definitely not very adventurous by comparison! Luckily, we don't have any ants in our kitchen right now, but there is the occasional gnat or two.

Otehlia said...

Now that we have chickens, they will eat more bugs that we will, I hope! Yes, I agree it's a cultural thing. Anyway, eating processed, hormone-injected meat might seem gross to some people, too!

Leslie said...

Weirdest food I've eaten: ant eggs and deep fried beetles! Great writing Otehlia and I'm jealous of your travels.

I.M. said...

Alligator. Tastes like conch.