Escamoles, or ant eggs, is a traditional Mexican ingredient that tastes like nothing you’ve ever eaten. If you can imagine seeing a new color for the first time, escamoles do the same thing for your taste buds. Often served in omelets, tacos, or on their own, escamoles are hard to describe and totally delicious. To know the history of the dish, you have to go way back. Before the Spanish came to the Americas, Central Mexican cuisine lacked a wide variety of protein sources. As a result, insects became a vital part of the indigenous peoples’ diets. Escamoles earned a special distinction because they were originally reserved for kings, and they’ve been considered a delicacy ever since.
Like many edible insects, escamoles remain largely misunderstood in other parts of the world. So chef José Meza wanted to bring attention to the ingredient in his own way. After training at world-class restaurants like Copenhagen’s Noma and Mexico City’s Pujol, he became the chef at Ramona at the Nizuc Resort and Spa in Cancún. There Meza prepares escamoles with onion, garlic, and epazote, and serves them atop an avocado puree and buries them in an edible “soil.” He says he’s recreating the way in which escamoles are harvested—dug out from the roots of agave plants. He cooks black beans, blends them into a puree, and dries them for up to 24 hours. Then he blends them again until the beans become a fine, dirt-like dust. The plate is then finished with herbs, onion, serrano chile, and tlayudas.
“For me, since I know the ingredient, I felt this duty to use it, so other people will know our ingredients from many, many years ago,” Meza says. “I believe it’s very important, not just for me as a cook, but for us as a culture.”