Sampopos de Mayo (or A Once-A-Year Snack)

I don’t eat insects, but that may change next May, when the sampopos de Mayo return. A harbinger of winter, these giant queen ants (one shown above, next to the smaller [dead] ant) crawl out of the ground following the first rains of May to find homes for new sampopo colonies.

They appear just one day a year, and in Panajachel, that day was yesterday. Early in the morning, Shon and I walked into the center of town and did our best not to squash sampopo after sampopo underfoot. This was an impossible task, as they blanketed the streets, looking prehistoric in size, with large, translucent wings and red, meaty bodies. And then by noon, they were gone.

It turns out, this wasn’t a fluke. The sampopo’s visit is always fleeting–a few hours, from dawn to mid-morning, just enough time for them to find a suitable new home before burrowing back underground until next year.

Older generations of Guatemalans make predictions about when the sampopos de Mayo will appear, and not just because they signify the arrival of the rainy and winter seasons. Their appearance also means that a tasty snack is on the  horizon. In many rural areas of Guatemala, children race around, collecting as many sampopos as possible before depositing their catch in the kitchen. There, the fat bottom ends of the sampopos are removed, roasted, seasoned with lime and salt, and then eaten as a snack with corn tortillas.

I’ve heard that they taste like toasted pepitas, butter, and chicharrones (pork rinds). I can’t comment on their flavor because the sampopos were long gone by the time that I learned of their tasty potential. There’s always next year, though. And I do like pork rinds.

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