Caviar is typically associated with sturgeon in the Caspian Sea. What’s known as Mexican caviar is made from the tiny eggs of an aquatic insect of the corixidae family, also known as the “bird fly”.
For thousands of years, the eggs of this evasive insect have been consumed as a “food of the Gods”.
Lake Texcoco, a shallow body of water on the outskirts of Mexico City, is home to this aquatic insect, which is technically a water fly that most locals refer to as a mosquito.
However that confusion is less important as it’s the insect’s eggs that people are interested in.
Known as ahuautle, roughly translated as ‘seeds of joy’, the tiny delicacies are about the size of quinoa seeds and have a pale golden color.
They have been consumed at least since the days of the Aztec Empire, but today only a handful of fishermen are known to still be harvesting the eggs, and few young people even know about the existence of this unusual caviar.
Farmers harvest ahuautle by placing hand-woven reed nets just under the water’s surface for up to three weeks.
During this time, the water flies lay thousands of their eggs on the reed, which are then extracted and left out to dry in the sun until all the moisture is gone.
Ahuautle is usually served as croquettes, mixed with flour and eggs and fried in hot oil.
It seems they are delicious, but few restaurants in Mexico City still have them on the menu, for a variety of reasons.
For example, insect eggs aren’t as popular with younger generations, and most young people don’t even know such a thing as an edible water fly exists.
And then there is the growing problems in sourcing the raw ingredients that restaurants are struggling with.
Either way harvesting ahuautle is a dying tradition in Mexico, with only a few farmers still practicing it on the Lake Texcoco.
This scarcity has caused its price to skyrocket in recent years, even though the demand for insect eggs hasn’t exactly been going up.
In 2019, the BBC reported that the price of a small jar of ahuautle started at 400 Mexican pesos ($20), while a kilo of beef cost four times less. And that only made the nickname “Mexican caviar” even more popular.
So how does this unusual food taste?
Well, ahuautle is said to have a strong fishy taste reminiscent of the tiny dried shrimp used in East Asian cuisine.
Interestingly, ahuautle isn’t the only dish known as “the caviar of Mexico”.
In fact, It shares that nickname with “escamol”, a mix of larvae and pupae of two different species of ants. But this is another story….
Images from web – Google Research