Monday, September 12, 2005

Chapulin colorado:

Another adventure in entomophagy for me. This time it was a conscious decision and not a mid-stride inhaling of a fly, or a mid-night swallowing of an errant spider.

I was in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, last week (work, not play), and we went out to a restaurant called "El Arrayán," which had dishes from various regions of Mexico on the menu, prepared by a chef trained at a Swiss cooking school. So there were all sorts of shi-shi variations on the menu, but not so far from traditional that it could not be called Mexican.

One of the things on the menu were chapulines, or grasshoppers. Now I had seen these on various TV shows, and knew that they were eaten in Mexico, and I was in just the right mood to dare ordering them.

They were yummy. Let me rephrase that: THEY WERE YUMMY. Here are the requisite photos:

They were a lot smaller than I expected. The salsa was a avocado-poblano sauce with lime (quite yummy by itself). The best way to describe the taste is roasted black tea leaves.

I ate two of the little tacos, and my boss ate the other (and she greatly enjoyed it too). Out other dining companion dared to taste a single chapulin, and was gracious to say it was nice.

My son and my wife were completely grossed out by the photos, when I returned - I have to say that the photo of course only leaves you with that uneasy feeling you get when faced with an unfamiliar food. I couldn't tempt them with the smell and taste, which were very un-insectlike. When eating insects, one has to consider that they are very similar to shrimp. Still, whoever ate the first shrimp, lobster or grasshopper was brave, in any case. They are all ugleeee.

A little more on the restaurant - they have a website. Carmen, the owner, is a spunky little elf of a girl, who has taken on a tough business. The location and the decor are great - it reminded me very much of old houses in hot country in Colombia - thick, whitewashed adobe walls that are painted in color on their lower halves, narrow shuttered and barred windows overlooking the street. Plenty of old terra cotta tiles, and lots of hanging potted plants.

  • El Arrayán
  • Allende #344 Colonia El Cerro
  • +52 (322) 222 71 95

The interior was also decorated with some amazing Huichol art - brightly colored yarn is laid down into beeswax-coated wood in intricate patterns that are said to have their origins in peyote-indiced visions. The set displayed in the restaurant are Carmen's inheritance from her grandmother, and are in amazing condition after having been in storage in Mexico DF for over 25 years. Here's one of them:


 Friday, September 09, 2005

Another Crescent City:

This beautiful image by Stephen S. Young of Salem State is of the Mississippi delta area. Much of it has been changed by Katrina. The outer barrier islands have been altered tremendously, and of course the city of New Orleans, visible as the grey area between the river and the dark waters of Lake Pontchartrain, would show up differently since it is full of water now.

This image shows quite clearly that the levees stopped the deposition of sediments in the proximal distributary area, and allowed them to drop out only at the far end of the river - the crows foot extending ever-further into the Gulf. That, of course, was one of the ingredients in the disaster - river deltas depend on an equilibrium between the sinking sediments and the yearly piling on by floods to maintain a constant height above sea-level. As soon as you stop delivering sediment, the surface will slowly start to drop, and you will eventually be below sea-level, and you will have to start building dykes, or levees.

I am in Mexico this week, in the town of Puerto Vallarta. A much smaller version, but many of the same ingredients - the shore is built on a set of sandy dunes that buffer the wetlands behind from many of the storms that weep in off the Pacific. The river deposits sediments in the wetlands, and the sea delivers sand to the dunes, and there was a slow dance back and forth as the shoreline moved back and forth over thousands of years. Until modern man, that is.

With the construction of spillways to control the meandering of the river, sediments are no longer delivered to the wetlands, and they are slowly sinking. Large housing developments are being put into these wetland areas, replacing the farms. With the construction of beach front resorts and sea walls, beach erosion results. The end result: a large storm will eventually come through here, and there will be no beach dunes to stop the storm surge from flooding the housing developments.

Mexico does have environmental laws that prohibit exactly this kind of situation. But the Federal laws have very little weight here, where the Mayor and the town's workers are interested in the money injected into the local economy by real estate development on the shore and in the wetlands. As always, it is the social context that makes it a very complicated situation - the environmental economic costs of this pattern of development are not expressed in any tangible way, and won't be until disaster strikes.