I almost couldn’t believe it when I saw catzos con tostado for sale at the local Killa Raymi food festival in Peguche, Ecuador. I was drawn to the table like a moth to a flame. A new food, a new window into Andean culture, and a new experience. What more could I ask for?
I am glad that my Ecuadorian friends had already posted pictures and shared how tasty this snack food could be because it helped me get past my pre-conceived notion that bugs should not be eaten.
Yes, catzos are beetles, specifically Coprinisphaera ecuadoriensis, a member of the dung beetle family. I know that doesn’t help you understand why these are a tasty treat but bear with me.
The young lady at the table was more than willing to answer dozens of my questions and was so nice that when she offered me a beetle to taste (I still wasn’t sure I was going to try any at this point), I didn’t dare say no.
As I popped one of the little critters in my mouth, I prepared to swallow no matter what the flavor. I didn’t want to be rude. But the truth is, my mouth filled with a deliciousness that surprised me. The flavor of a catzo is rich and buttery but the texture is crunchy. Almost a perfect combination – like popcorn with butter but better and slightly more crunchy. I immediately offered to buy a serving of catzo con tostado to share with my husband. And he had the same reaction as myself – surprise and then we just kept popping those beetles into our mouths until they were quickly all gone.
Harvesting and Preparing Catzos
In late October or early November, when the first rains of winter start, catzos begin to mate. They are early risers, generally taking flight around 4:30am and staying aloft for a single half hour. This is the time to catch them, while they are flitting around in search for a better half. They are generally harvested in the high paramo though I have heard that some locals pick them up in the parks around Quito.
Though there are four different kinds of catzo, only two are generally eaten, the white and the brown. The white ones are the most popular and some people say the most tasty.
But Ecuadorians don’t just eat catzo fresh from the wild. They first need to be prepared. The beetles are brought home and placed in a container with harina de castilla, a very fine white wheat flour. I’m afraid prepared catzos are not completely gluten-free. Supposedly, the beetles ingest the flour and it forces all other particles from their stomachs. Since these are dung beetles, I was very grateful to learn this.
After spending some time in the flour, their wings and legs are removed. I have no idea if the bugs are alive at this point or not… maybe they die by flour poisoning. Maybe they die by having their wings and legs ripped off. These are the questions that even a good reporter can forget to ask in the heat of the moment.
This is probably a good time to remember that most Americans, Europeans, and Asians eat strange creatures that are insect-like and have shells, heads, and legs that must be removed before they are tasty. We call them shrimp. If you had never seen shrimp before, you might be a little learry to put one in your mouth as well.
Next, the catzos are soaked in cold water with salt. Finally, they are removed from the water and fried in butter or lard until crunchy. The most traditional way to serve catzos is with a side of tostado, toasted corn.
I have to say, if you see a street corner vendor with a tray of catzos, you should give them a try. They are Not Your Average Snack but they are ever so tasty.