Tag Archives: Travel & Tourism

Mexico’s Six and Eight Legged Edibles

By Kary Vannice

Mexico is renowned worldwide for its diverse and flavorful cuisine. However, there are some traditional foods in Mexico that you’re more likely to find on the end of a fly swatter or squished under a shoe in other countries. Insects and arachnids have long been a part of Mexican cuisine, adding unique textures and flavors to traditional dishes for those brave enough to try “entomophagy” – basically, eating bugs. And worms. And their babies.

Chapulines – Crunchy Grasshoppers: Perhaps the most famous insect in Mexican cuisine is the chapulín, a type of grasshopper. Native to the southern state of Oaxaca, chapulines are widely enjoyed for their crispy texture and savory taste. Often toasted or fried with garlic, lime, and salt, these delectable critters are commonly served as a snack or used as a flavorful garnish for dishes like tacos and quesadillas.

Escamoles – the Caviar of Ants: Considered a gourmet delight, escamoles are the edible larvae of the black ant species known as Liometopum apiculatum. Found primarily in the central region of Mexico, these ant eggs are often referred to as “insect caviar” due to their delicate flavor and creamy consistency. Typically sautéed with butter, garlic, and spices, escamoles are enjoyed in various dishes, including omelets, tacos, and even served on their own as a luxurious delicacy.

Ahuatle – More Mexican Caviar: In central Mexico, a few farmers still cultivate ahuautle, the egg of a rare flying bug (similar to a mosquito), to preserve a culinary tradition that dates back to the Aztec Empire. Said to have a “rich but delicate flavor,” ahuautle can be found on the menus of restaurants that strive to stay connected to their ancestors’ way of life. One chef serves a version of fried pancakes made with ahuautle, eggs, and breadcrumbs, accompanied by a green sauce comprised of tomatillo, nopales, and squash blossoms. Its name derives from the Náhuatl language, where “atl” means water and “huauhtli”, amaranth, so it translates as “water amaranth.”

Jumiles – Zesty Stink Bugs: Hailing from the southern state of Guerrero, jumiles are small, shiny beetles that possess a pungent aroma. Despite their unique scent, jumiles are highly esteemed for their tangy and slightly minty taste. They are often incorporated into salsas, moles, and other traditional sauces, adding a distinctive and bold flavor profile to the dishes.

Chinicuiles – Vibrant Maguey Worms: Known as the “red mezcal worm,” chinicuiles are bright red caterpillars (the larvae of the Comadia redtenbacheri moth) found on maguey plants, which are used to produce the renowned Mexican spirit, mezcal. These worms are harvested, washed, and traditionally pan-fried with garlic and spices; you can find them in glass bottles at a good mercado. They are sometimes consumed straight from the bottle alongside a shot of mezcal, providing an intriguing combination of flavors and textures.

Gusanos de Maguey – Spirited Treats: While not technically insects, the presence of mezcal worms, usually white, in the popular spirit’s bottles is worth mentioning. These larvae typically come from the Hypopta agavis moth, and their inclusion in mezcal bottles adds a touch of novelty. Although not traditionally consumed, some adventurous individuals choose to taste the worms, which have a smoky flavor and a slightly crunchy texture.

Chicatanas – Seasonal Flying Ants: When the rainy season arrives, so do the chicatanas – the large, winged ants that take flight in southern Mexico. These seasonal delicacies are collected, toasted, and ground into a paste or incorporated into sauces. With a distinctive flavor reminiscent of roasted peanuts, chicatanas lend a unique taste to dishes like tamales and moles.

Tarántulas – Arachnid Delicacies: Venturing into the realm of arachnids, certain regions in Mexico are known for their consumption of tarántulas, also called, like the stink bug, jumiles. Particularly popular in the state of Hidalgo, these giant spiders are cooked in various ways, including frying, grilling, or stewing. Despite their intimidating appearance, tarántulas are said to have a delicate, slightly nutty taste, making them a sought-after treat for the brave gastronomic explorer.

Scorpiones – Stingers on Sticks: Scorpions are typically deep-fried or grilled to ensure their venom is neutralized during the cooking process. The crispy, crunchy texture of the cooked scorpions provides an intriguing contrast to their delicate flavor. In certain regions, particularly in the state of Durango, scorpions are enjoyed as a snack, often dipped in chili powder or served with lime.

Mexico is famous for its culinary landscape, which thrives on diversity and incorporates unique ingredients that captivate the senses. From the crunch of chapulines to the creamy texture of escamoles and the bold flavors of jumiles, the country’s culinary traditions celebrate the richness of insects and arachnids. By embracing the gastronomic adventure of entomophagy, one can embark on a culinary journey through the fascinating realm of strange insects and arachnids, savoring the exotic flavors that have become an integral part of Mexican cuisine.

Seven Regions of Mexican Flavors

By Brooke O’Connor

When someone asks about Mexican food, the iconic taco springs to mind (see the article by the Chaikens elsewhere in this issue). While tortillas are served everywhere throughout Mexico, and provide the basis of some dishes, Mexican cuisine itself varies sharply by region, and offers much more. The regions vary – there might in fact be a dozen distinct Mexican cuisines. When we see a dish described as a la Veracruzana or Oaxaqueña, what does that mean?

With each cuisine comes history and culture – another example of how diverse and colorful Mexico is.


Starting close to home, the state of Oaxaca offers a unique cuisine that can’t be mistaken for any other region. Apart from being known as “The Land of Seven Moles” (more on mole later), Oaxaca produces cheese, chocolate and mezcal.

Because of the diversity of Oaxaca’s climates, and 17 different indigenous groups with their own cooking traditions, Oaxaqueños are proud of their cultural cuisine. They represent the most pre-Hispanic traditions in Mexico, and many families cherish recipes handed down for thousands of years.

What Is Mole, Anyway?

Mole comes from the Náhuatl word mōlli meaning “sauce.” It refers to a family of sauces and not one recipe. There are hundreds of mole recipes throughout Mexico. In Oaxaca alone, there are over 200 known mole preparations. Some are quite complicated, made with over two dozen ingredients like chili peppers, fruits, nuts, seeds, cacao beans, and spices.

It should be noted that the next-door state of Puebla also claims to be the birthplace of mole. Here are seven well-known moles oaxaqueños.

Mole negro (black), perhaps the most popular mole, contains 20-30 ingredients – including chocolate – and is sweet, savory and very rich. Mole Rojo (red) is sweet, savory, and rich like mole negro, but has other flavors like guajillo and pasillo chiles, tomatoes, almonds, peanuts, sesame seeds, and spices. Mole amarillo (yellow) is much lighter, less rich and contains things like green tomatoes, ancho and guajillo chili peppers, hoja santa, and spices. Mole verde (green) includes green chili peppers, tomatillos, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), hoja santa, epazote, and other leafy greens.

Mole coloradito (reddish) includes ancho chili peppers, garlic, tomatoes, sesame seeds, and spices. Mole manchamanteles (tablecloth stainer) is named because of the bright red chorizo grease and ancho chili peppers used in the recipe, but also includes tomatoes, onions, garlic, almonds, plantains, and fresh pineapple. Mole chichilo (made from chilhuacle chile peppers) is also rare; it is similar in color to black mole but not quite as thick, and it’s the only mole among the seven that’s flavored with beef.

Oaxaca is famous for some other dishes. Tlayudas are large, thin, crunchy, partially fried or toasted tortillas, covered with a spread of asiento (lard melted to grease), refried beans, lettuce or cabbage, avocado, meat, Oaxacan cheese, and salsa. Memelas are fried or toasted cakes made of masa topped with different fresh ingredients. An empanada de amarillo is a handmade corn tortilla folded over and stuffed with chicken and yellow mole. Enmoladas are essentially enchiladas covered in mole sauce. A tetela is a triangular empanada or quesadilla that predates the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Garnachas istmeñas, coming from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, are crispy, thin masa cakes with finely ground beef and pickled cabbage. Caldo de piedra is a famous soup of fish and shrimp soup, heated with hot river rocks. (Don’t eat the rock). Tamales oaxaqueños are filled with cornmeal encasing shredded meat and mole sauce, then wrapped with banana leaves and cooked.

Some miscellaneous Oaxacan specialties include chapulines, grasshoppers of the genus Sphenarium, toasted on a comal with or without spices (see the article by Kary Vannice elsewhere in this issue). Nicuatole is a pre-Columbian gelatinous dessert made from ground maize and sugar. Pan de yema is a rich, sugar-coated egg bread; and Oaxaca’s coffee and chocolate are both highly prized.


After Oaxaca, the cuisine of the Yucatán Peninsula is recognized for the variety and originality of its cuisine. There are culinary influences from Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East; Yucateco cuisine is unique in its use of spices like cumin and allspice, and herbs like large-leafed Yucatecan oregano. They also make seasoning pastes with ingredients unique to the Yucatán.

It’s interesting to note that the people of Yucatán Peninsula, which comprises the states of Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán, consider themselves a bit set apart from the rest of Mexico. Probably due to geographic position, they have been culturally isolated and have their own unique ways and beliefs. Many locals consider themselves “Yucateco” as readily as “Mexicano.”

This is where we get cochinita pibil (roast pork marinated in achiote and orange, cooked in an underground oven called a píib), panuchos and salbutes (types of tostadas), sopa de lima (tortilla soup with lime), tzik de venado (shredded venison salad), and pavo en escabeche (pickled turkey).


Nearly half of Mexico is considered northern territory, and Tex Mex border food got its inspiration from this region. States considered norteño are Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Nuevo Leon, all on the border; Sinaloa is on the lower Sea of Cortez, and Durango is landlocked right next door.

We find meat, particularly beef, with very large white flour tortillas and rice everywhere. Pinto beans and Spanish rice are common side dishes. There is also some seafood near the coast, and roast cabrito (baby goat). Nachos and burritos originated here, as well as caldo de queso (simple soup featuring potatoes, green chiles, chicken broth, and cheese) and aguachile (a type of ceviche of fresh raw shrimp, cucumber, red onion, lime juice, and water-pulverized chilis).

Sonora produces coyotas, which are traditional cookies made from flour dough and filled with piloncillo, an unrefined brown sugar. The coyota is named for a female coyote; the term is also slang for a female of mixed Indian and Spanish heritage.


The state of Veracruz lies along the Gulf of Mexico, where the port city of Veracruz is located; the state capital, Jalapa/Xalapa, is high in the mountains. Veracruzano cuisine gives seafood a leading role. There are heavy Caribbean, Mediterranean, and African influences in the traditional dishes. This is also the home of the beloved jalapeño pepper; it is believed that vanilla originated here as well.

In many veracruzano dishes, you can find capers and olives, which rarely appear in the rest of Mexico. Pescado a la veracruzana is fish, particularly huachinango – red snapper – with tomatoes, capers, and olives. Other Veracruzano seafood dishes are arroz a la tumbada (a type of thick saucy paella), chilpachole (thick seafood soup), and acamayas (a shrimplike river crustacean often prepared al mojo de ajo).

Not to be missed if you see it on a menu in Veracruz is mole de Xico – Xico is a city in central Veracruz, the mole from Xico is very rich and sweet.


The state of Puebla produces two of Mexico’s most iconic dishes: mole poblano (an especially complex sauce of dried chiles, chocolate, nuts and seeds) and chiles en nogada (picadillo-stuffed chiles with a walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds – see Julie Etra’s article elsewhere in this issue). There are also cemitas and chanclas (Poblano tortas, or cakes, the latter soaked in salsa), chiles capones (simple cheese-stuffed chiles). Puebla also gives the U.S. one of its most popular Mexican dishes, chiles rellenos (again, see Julie Etra’s article).

Puebla is also famous for its soups: sopa poblano (a smoky chili soup), chileatole verde (broth and chiles thickened with masa), and sopa de hongos y poblano (made with mushrooms, roasted and diced poblano chili peppers, corn, tomatoes, chipotles, epazote, onions, garlic, and zucchini flowers)


The state of Jalisco is particularly proud. They have a saying that translates to “Jalisco is Mexico,” because many things we would recognize as traditional Mexican culture originate here – tequila, the rodeo and mariachi bands.

The variety of geography from coastline, snow covered peaks, and the largest freshwater lake in the country allow for a variety of foods. The most well known may be birria (chile-stewed goat or lamb), torta ahogada (the Mexican style French dip – ahogado means drowned), caldo michi (a fish soup), pacholas (a ground meat patty with chili), pozole rojo de Jalisco (a broth-based soup with posole [white corn or hominy], vegetables and a variety of meat and condiments).


Last but not least, let’s not forget that the state of California was Mexican land until 1848. So much of what is considered Cali-Mex cuisine is in actuality a fusion of norteño and Baja traditional cuisine.

There are unexpected influences here of Russian and Chinese immigrants. Moreover, Japanese colonies established the fishing industry in Ensenada and even today, fish and shellfish from these waters are sold to Japan’s global auction market.

Caesar salad and margaritas originated here. Seafood is all around you, so you’ll find an abundance of tacos of tempura fish and shrimp, ceviches, grilled lobster, and seafood cocktails. This area now also boasts vineyards, cheese and olives.

Wherever you travel in Mexico there are bound to be delicious food, hearty smiles and gregarious hospitality. However, I’ve found making a point of eating the traditional food, in the areas where it originated, is particularly satisfying.

There is one caveat. Unless you are a connoisseur of salsas, and have a craving for surprises, it is better to ask how spicy hot the salsa or sauce is. Some salsas are made to be used in very small quantities, while others are to be used liberally all over the plate. I often ask, Este nivel de picante es adecuado para los niños? (Is this spice level ok for kids?) Asked with a smile, people are happy to guide me in the right direction.

The Inexplicable, Unaccountable, Ambiguous Taco

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

People on every continent and in essentially every major city in the world are likely to be able to tell you what a taco is, but they won’t have the same item in mind. The only taco characteristic on which everyone agrees is that a taco is a folded tortilla with some content in the middle. The nature of the tortilla and the quantity and quality of the “something in the middle” are subjects of ongoing, everlasting debate.

the etymology of the word “taco” is in dispute. Some contend that it is derived from the Aztec language, Náhautl; the Náhautl word tlahco means in the middle. Others say that in Spain taco means “light lunch.” Yet others adhere to a fanciful story of Mexican silver miners carrying their lunch meat, usually cheap offal, wrapped in a tortilla. The lunch looked like tacos – paper-wrapped plugs of gun powder used to blast open silver veins in the mine.

Which Tortilla?
No matter what etymology you accept, there are still scores of variations in what people think the tortillas look like. In Mexico, the original wrapping was probably made from white corn masa – a kind of tortilla that is still ubiquitous here. The northern Mexican states, where wheat is grown more abundantly than corn, likely introduced flour tortillas as expedient taco wrappers. Today many kinds of tortillas are used to make tacos.

Given the abundance of yellow corn north of the border, tortillas used to make tacos in the US are not white, and often are intensely colored. Flour tortillas used for tacos can be whole wheat or flavored with spinach, nopales (cactus), tomato, basil or many other vegetables. The flour used for the tortillas might even be made from ingredients other than wheat – cauliflower-flour tortillas have recently hit the market. Such tortillas are currently being produced to meet the latest diet crazes: high fiber, gluten free, keto, carb-balanced, sugar-free and so on. Of course, the original handmade white corn tortilla pretty well met all those dietary requirements.

Some say that the corn tortilla is the only type of tortilla that should be use for a taco, but there remains an international dispute about whether the corn tortilla should be soft or a crunchy shell. Soft tortillas predominate in Mexico. But thanks (or maybe, no thanks) to the American entrepreneur Glen Bell, who founded his now multinational chain of Taco Bell fast food restaurants in 1962 (he called them
“Tay-Kohs”), some people around the world think that the crunchy taco shell must be used for an authentic taco.

Although Bell reportedly claims to have invented the hard taco shell, in 1960 we were munching down tacos made with hard shells in Los Angeles, at a bar oh-so-creatively named La Cantina, before Bell switched from selling hamburgers to tacos. The shell there was filled with ground beef flavored with onions, cumin, chili powder and other spices, topped with lettuce and fresh chopped tomato salsa; liquids ran down your arm when you raised the taco shell to take a bite. That’s how you knew it was the “real deal.”

What about the Filling?

Today, when people dispute the best filling for a taco, they rarely suggest ground beef, lettuce, and tomato salsa. Nor do they generally suggest the auténtico “real deal” offal such as entrails and lungs that would have been eaten by the Mexican workers who were using the other tacos to blow up areas in silver mines.

The driving force behind nominations for the best taco filling seems to be individual and regional tastes. In coastal regions shrimp or fresh fish – batter-fried, pan-seared, or grilled – are popular, especially when topped with shredded cabbage and a special sauce, ingredients often held as top secret by the taco maker.

In states of Mexico noted for their moles, the main ingredient of the filling – the selection of chicken, beef or pork – seems less important than the sauce that coats the main ingredient – mole poblano, coloradito, verde, amarillo … pick your favorite. Cowboy or vaquero country brings out tacos filled with almost every part of the steer, including one of our favorites – lengua, aka tongue. In areas where pigs predominate, carnitas are a commonly touted filling. And, as Julie Etra pointed out in an article in The Eye (July 2020), pork prepared pastor-style on a spit is emerging as a favorite around the country.

Are Tacos Going Upscale?
Recently, the most upscale and notable restaurants are vying for the most expensive and innovative tacos. Pujol, one of the top-rated restaurants in Mexico City, has leaped into Mexican-Asian fusion tacos on a tasting menu priced at over US$300 per person and sold at a taco bar called Omakase. There you can be served tacos filled with rarified ingredients such as lobster, Brussels sprouts, and macadamia nuts. Perhaps the most expensive taco in the world is reportedly found at the Grand Velas resort in Los Cabos, where a taco presented in a gold-infused tortilla and filled with Kobe beef, caviar and truffled cheese will set you back US$25,000 (not a typo). Our son says, “This is not a taco – it is a statement.”

You need not break the bank to find a really good taco. People who are truly taco connoisseurs vote with their feet, not their credit cards. Find a taco-truck or a hole-in-the-wall taqueria with a long line of hungry patrons waiting to be served. Get on line and listen to the disputes about which of the several tacos being prepared is the best. Order the one whose description makes you salivate the most. Or order one of each type. How many should you order? The number of tacos that can satisfy one for a meal is also a matter of dispute – some say three, some say four, some say more. At a recent taco eating contest the winner swallowed 126 tacos in eight minutes. If he had been downing Grand Velas tacos, that would have set him back US$3,150,000. Everyone would probably agree that that’s excessive. Provecho!

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“When we name an inanimate object, we are intentionally building a relationship, elevating it to a character in our lives. Not only do we feel closer to things that we name, but perhaps we name our things in order to feel closer to them.”
Kathryn Hymes in The Atlantic

Words. Where would we be without them? We marvel at a baby’s first words- usually little more than a gurgle, we learn the names of objects, we learn to read, we learn to manipulate and interpret their meanings and along the way we take them for granted, until the day when we start losing them one by one.

In translation, beyond word substitution, there are gaps of meaning within languages. We’ve all heard about how some tribes in the Arctic have 50 words for snow. There are other languages that have words that give more specific meaning to things, such as the German word Treppenwitz which translates to stairs (treppen) + wit- and means “the perfect retort that comes too late”, what you didn’t respond in the heat of the moment because you only thought of it while you were already leaving. I need at least seven English words to describe what this German word captures with one. By the way it’s a noun, in case you were wondering how to integrate it into your speech. German is full of amazing compound words like Lebensmüde, which means “life-tired”.

In Iceland they have Gluggaveður – which describes when the weather looks pleasant from your window, but is actually really cold and you need a jacket. Gluggaveður literally means “window-weather”.

One of my favorite words is the Japanese Komorebi, which refers to the scattered sunlight that filters through the leaves on the trees. So poetic and gentle feeling. What do you think… noun or adjective? If you are a native English speaker I bet you guessed it is an adjective because it feels so descriptive. It is actually a noun which makes it even cooler because it is a thing, it has form, it’s more than a description- it’s a slice of a moment and the Japanese have captured it with a word, naming it gives it heft.

This month our writers explore the naming of things. On the surface this topic feels flat but it is anything but. Naming is the first act bestowed upon us when we are born. Attaching words to things, people and emotions is how we find our place in the world and give form to our experiences. In fact, naming is such serious business that many countries have regulations regarding naming. In Mexico, in the state of Sonora, the name Hermione is banned, as is the name Robocop. Sarah is a banned name in Morocco, although without the ‘h’ it is permissible. Linda is banned in Saudi Arabia due to its association with Western culture.

Names have so much power. In Harry Potter there is He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Judaism avoids mentioning G-d other than when reading the torah. This is because he is thought to transcend the word as no word can capture the essence of G-d.

And for when you start forgetting the names of things or people, the Hawaiian language has Pana Po’o – the act of scratching your head in an attempt to remember something you’ve forgotten.

See you next month,


Street Names in Mexico City

By Jan Chaiken and Marcia Chaiken

Everywhere in Mexico you will find lengthy street names commemorating historical figures or events, and this is particularly true in Mexico City. Although the persons or occasions commemorated by the names of streets in the nation’s capitol are known to most Mexicanos, those of us who did not attend school here as children are generally clueless. Here we hope to help you get in the know about the background of street names so when sitting in gridlocked traffic you feel as if you are surrounded by history rather than just by hundreds of cars belching noxious fumes.

Nearly every tourist who has been in Mexico City is familiar with the Paseo de la Reforma, the grand wide avenue that transverses the city diagonally and looks as if part of the Champs-Élysées had been lifted up from Paris and transported here. Reforma was originally conceived by the Emperor Maximilian, an Austrian installed as the ruler of Mexico during the French intervention (1862-67); he intended to name it Paseo de la Emperatriz in honor of his wife Carlota, but it was given the name Reforma after Maximilian – who badly miscalculated Mexican sentiment towards him – was executed and Benito Juárez became President of Mexico. The name refers to La Reforma, a series of federal legislative enactments that brought about the separation of church and state in Mexico.

As you walk or drive down Paseo de la Reforma, you inevitably encounter the magnificent memorial The Angel of Independence (commonly called El Ángel) at the intersection of Reforma and Avenida Independencia. These names commemorate the 1821 victory of Mexico over Spain in its War of Independence. The Angel was dedicated by the dictator Porfirio Díaz in 1910, on the centennial of the date that independence was declared.

Another street most visitors to Mexico City encounter is Avenida de Los Insurgentes (aka Insurgentes), the longest street in the city. The 28.8-kilometer (17.9-mile) avenue runs from the southwest Mexico-Cuernavaca Highway to the northeast Mexico-Pachuca highway, connecting numerous neighborhoods, including the famous Roma area. Along this route, there are many restaurants, hotels, museums, monuments and entertainment centers. First known as Avenida Santa Cruz, the current name memorializes the people in the insurgent army that fought in the war of independence from Spain.

If you have traveled into or out of Mexico City’s Benito Juárez International Airport, you may have encountered a much less distinguished nearby street: Calzada Ignacio Zaragoza. Its namesake Zaragoza was actually born in the United States in 1829. His family moved to Mexico, where he attended the National Military College.

He served in the Mexican-American War and later was appointed commander of the Mexican Army in Puebla. In 1862 his army was victorious against the French at the battle of Puebla, an event commemorated as Cinco de Mayo, which in recent years has been celebrated, at least enthusiastically in the United States as in Mexico.

Calle 5 de Mayo (pronounced “Cinco de Mayo”) is a major thoroughfare in the historic center of Mexico City; it begins at the Palacio de Bellas Artes and ends at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City. Calle 5 de Mayo is only one of Mexico City’s many calles de calendario (streets named for dates on the calendar). Avenida Independencia changes its name to 16 de Septiembre as it approaches the historic center of Mexico City to commemorate the date of Mexican Independence. 16 de Septiembre is one block south of Calle 5 de Mayo and runs from the Eje Central, or Avenida Lázaro Cárdenas, to the Zócalo. (Cárdenas was a Mexican army officer and politician who served as president of Mexico from 1934 to 1940; the zócalo is Mexico City’s central square, formally named Plaza de la Constitución). Residents of Mexico would be familiar with the significance of 16 de Septiembre street from their schooling and their experience that the date is a national holiday, with schools, banks and many businesses closed.

One block further south is Calle Articulo 123. This is named after Article 123 of the Mexican Constitution, which is the labor law of Mexico – it guarantees workers the right to fair wages, safe working conditions, and social security benefits. It also ends at Eje Central/Avenida Lázaro Cárdenas. Calle 20 de Noviembre runs south from the Zócalo, perpendicular to the streets already mentioned. November 20th is a national holiday in Mexico that celebrates the beginning of the Mexican Revolution, which ran from 1910 to 1920 and overthrew Porfirio Díaz after he had been president for 35 years.

The 12th of December provides an interesting example of how separation of church and state operates in Mexico. December 12 is the Feast of Guadalupe, a popular national holiday in Mexico; religious processions are held throughout country, including in the Huatulco area, on that date. In Mexico City a very popular tourist attraction is the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe. But there is no calle calendario for December 12 near the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe. Instead, Avenida de Guadalupe is the name of the street that ends at the Basilica. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico, and her image is one of the best known religious symbols in the world, but secular authorities who designate street names in Mexico City do not commemorate the date December 12.

If the average visitor begins to feel overwhelmed by the details of street names rooted in Mexico’s rich history, we suggest a drive through or stroll around the Polanco neighborhood where the streets are named after luminaries enshrined in history studied in most North and South American and European schools. Beginning with ancient Greece and Rome, Homer, Horace, Aristotle and Archimedes lend their names to streets, and there are streets named after 20th-century notables such as Mahatma Gandhi. Block after block of the small Juárez neighborhood remind us that Mexico City is a major urban center of Western civilization, with streets recognizing London, Liverpool, Amsterdam, Genoa, Tokyo, Oslo, Copenhagen, Rome. And overall, Reforma, Insurgentes, and calendar streets remind us of the struggle to achieve this status.

The Nine (More?) Bays of Huatulco

By Julie Etra

Huatulco’s tourism advertising trumpets the “nine bays and thirty-six beaches” of the Bahías de Huatulco resort area. Well, it all depends on how you count them, but the names of the bays and beaches offer a fascinating mix of history, legend, and local flora and fauna.

From east to west – Bahía means “bay” and playa means “beach”

Bahía Conejos. Conejos is a large bay; the name means “rabbit,” as in cottontail. There are bunnies in Huatulco, but they are not abundant nor are they pests, as they are in many places in the U.S. Perhaps once there were bunnies galore? Conejos Bay has four major beaches from east to west: Playa Conejos; Playa Arena (“sand”) and Playa Punta Arenas (“Sand Point”), which are continuous but divided by a rocky point; and Playa Tejoncito (“little badger”).

Bahía Tangolunda. The name means mujer bonita, or “beautiful woman,” in Zapotec. Tangolunda Bay contains more or less accessible beaches from east to west: Playa Mixteca (the Mixtecs are one of Oaxaca’s 16 major indigenous groups); Playa Rincon Sabroso, literally “tasty corner); Playa Tangolunda; and finally, three beaches in front of the Las Brisas resort – Playa Tornillo (“screw” or “vise”), Playa Manzanillo (“chamomile”), and Playa Ventura (“fortune”).

Bahía Arrocito. Not one of the nine major bays, and not always called a bay because it is very small, “Little Rice Bay” is definitely shaped like a bay and hosts a beach of the same name.

Bahía Chahué. The name means “fertile” or “humid land” in Zapotec. Chahue Bay has four beaches from east to west: Playa el Tejón (“badger”); Playa Esperanza (“hope”); and Playa Chahué itself, and Playa San Andrés, at the bottom of Punta Santa Cruz.

Bahía Santa Cruz. The name means “holy cross,” and perhaps is associated with the legend of the origins of Huatulco. The word Huatulco means “place where the wood is worshiped or revered”, and it is said that the Toltecs and the deity Quetzalcoatl arrived in Huatulco and planted a huge and indestructible wooden cross. Given that any number of places claim to have pieces of that cross, maybe not completely indestructible. Santa Cruz bay has four beaches: Sunset Beach, named by northerners and once used for volleyball, it lies east of the Pemex that serves the marina; Santa Cruz, basically the “town beach” for the Santa Cruz area; Playa Yerbabuena (“good herb”), which serves the Naval Base of Huatulco; and Playa Entrega (“delivery” or “surrender”), the most popular beach in Huatulco because it is easy to access and boasts excellent snorkeling. The short version of how it got its name: Vicente Guerrero was the second President of Mexico. He was tricked into boarding a ship in Acapulco, ostensibly as a respected and welcome dinner guest, betrayed by his hosts and taken to Entrega Bay. From there he was “surrendered” by being “given” a horse and escorted by troops to Oaxaca City, where he was promptly assassinated by firing squad.

Bahías de el Órgano y el Maguey. Although these are considered geographically to be one bay, they are lately more often noted as two, bring the official bay count to 10.

Maguey is the eastern bay, and the name means the “agave plant,” mother of mezcal and tequila, among dozens of other things – a keystone plant in ecological speak. There are 157 species of agave in Mexico, 71% of which are endemic (native to Mexico and don’t occur elsewhere).

Órgano (“organ”) is the common Spanish name of a columnar species of cactus that resembles organ pipes. Common in the area, its scientific name is Pachycereus marginatus.

Bahía Cacaluta. The name means “black bird” in Náhuatl (one of the Aztec languages), since the form of the beach is two wings spread out. The black bird is most likely a black vulture. Playa Cacaluta is the beach made famous by Y tu mamá también, the 2001 Mexican film that made the careers of director Alfonso Cuarón and actors Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, major players in the development of Mexico’s currently booming film industry.

Bahía Chachacual. How the name came about is unclear – chachacuales are folkloric festivals, and that word is derived from the Náhuatl chachahuatótotl, also meaning parties or festivals. There are two beaches, Playa la India (“Indian Beach”) on the east and the Playa Chachacual on the west. Given that thatched palm rooves on posts appear regularly on the beaches, providing shade for parties, the name seems appropriate for visiting Chachacual today – which can only be done by boat – the tour boats from Santa Cruz will take you there, or you can hire a boat at San Agustín.

Playa Riscalillo lies between the bays of Chachacual and San Agustín. According to the Océano Spanish/Spanish dictionary, the name would mean a “small area with high pointed rocks,” but that’s not a great description of Riscalillo. Until recently, like Chachacual, Riscalillo was reachable only by boat, but a sandy road has been cut between San Agustín and Riscalillo.

Bahía San Augustín. Presumably the bay is named for the small fishing village of San Agustín, which predates the date that the land was taken to build the Huatulco resort area, but why the village was named for Augustine is lost in history. Saint Augustine was the patron saint of brewers, printers, and theologians. Maybe brewers? Great site for a beer on the beach? If you go, ask a local. The bay has two beaches, Cacalutilla (“tiny black bird” – how about a grackle?) on the east and San Agustín on the west.

Mexico’s Pre-Hispanic Heritage Lives on in Today’s Names

By Brooke O’ Connor

When we think of Mexico and language, most people think of Spanish; certainly, it is the predominant language. However many indigenous languages are still spoken, like sleeper cells waiting to be called back into the mainstream. One way these languages stay relevant is through names. In fact, Mexico was not this great country’s original name. Anahuac (land surrounded by water) was the Náhuatl name given to this land during pre-Hispanic times.

Names for People

In modern times, pre-Hispanic first names are still very popular. They honor indigenous heritage and show pride in these ancestors. Here are some popular female pre-Hispanic names:

Ameli – Water
Citlalli – Star
Erendirani – Happy, happy to awaken
Itzel – Bright Star
Ix Chel – Moon
Malinalli – Goddess of grass
Nayelli – Love
Quetzal – Jewel, beautiful feather
Xochitl – Flower
Yunuen – Half Moon

And some popular male pre-Hispanic names:

Tonatiuh – Sun
Moctezuma – Stern prince
Ikal – Spirit
Nezahualcóyotl – Coyote who fasts
Canek – Black serpent
Cuauhtemoc – Descending eagle

Names for Places

Many towns and cities have maintained their pre-Hispanic names as well.

Oaxaca, comes from the Náhuatl word Huāxyacac (place of the guaje). The guaje is a tree (Leucaena leucocephala) found around the capital city.

The meaning of Huatulco (Guatulco, Coatulco) is “where they worship the tree” or “wood,” which refers to an ancient legend. During the first century A.D. a bearded white man arrived on a small boat to the beach we now call Santa Cruz. The man was carrying a gigantic log, that somewhat resembled the shape of a cross. Once he got to the beach, he found Zapotec and Mixtec people. The white man planted the log upright without any help from the locals. He then spent some time teaching the local people new agricultural techniques and cultural improvements.

At some point, he left in the same boat he came in on, never to be seen again. Some say that this man was Quetzalcoatl (the god of, among other, more fundamental things, learning, reading, writing, and books).

Two hundred years before the Spanish conquered Mexico, the Huatulco area was colonized by the Mexicas, whom we call the Aztecs. When they noticed the locals worshiped the wooden cross, they called the place Cuauhtolco, a Náhuatl word meaning “the place where the wooden log is adored.”

Later, after the Spanish came, Thomas Cavendish looted and pillaged the entire region. This included many failed attempts to destroy the mysterious log that apparently couldn’t be cut, sunk, or burned. Soon Spanish Catholics took this opportunity to call it a Christian cross and gave it the name Santa Cruz (Holy Cross). One more cultural appropriation to lure the submission of the locals.

Coyula, located west of the national park, represents versatility, enthusiasm, agility, and unconventional methods.

Cacaluta, located to the southwest of Santa Cruz, received its name from the Zapotec word cacalote (blackbird, including a variety of crows or ravens). In this case, Cacaluta has also been interpreted to mean vulture (zopilote in Spanish).

Tangolunda is a Zapotec word meaning “pretty woman.”

From Náhuatl to Spanish to English

As English speakers, we constantly use words borrowed from Latin, Greek, French, German, Spanish, and many other languages, but did you know we even have a few words from Nahuatl?

Because Nahuatl is still a living language, English speakers are borrowing various words from Nahuatl. For example:


And last but not least – Shack

The others may seem plausible, but “shack”? Etymologist David Gold traces this word back to the Nahuatl word xacalli, (note that the ‘x’ = ‘sh’), also spelled jacalli, meaning “hut with a straw roof.”

There are other words you probably know that may seem Spanish, but come from pre-Hispanic origins. Thanks to John Pint, a writer from Jalisco, we have the following list:

Amate: the ficus tree, and also paper made in pre-Hispanic times out of the tree’s bark. Still used today by artisans, ancient peoples used it for communication and religious ceremonies. A crumpled piece of amate paper found in the Huitzilapa shaft tomb in Jalisco dates back to the year 70 CE.

Atole: a thick drink made from corn flour and water, then sweetened with piloncillo (brown cane sugar) then flavored with cinnamon, vanilla and maybe chocolate.

Cacahuate: a “peanut.” The ancient Mexica used to refer to this ground nut as a tlacáhuatl or “earth cocoa bean.”

Canica: a “marble,” as in the glass balls kids play with. The word supposedly comes from the Náhuatl expression Ca, nican nican! meaning “This is mine right here!” You would shout this if you thought your marble was the winner.

Cuate: from the Náhuatl, “twin.” Today it is used much like “buddy” or “dude.”

Escuincle: the short form of xoloitzcuintle, the Mexican hairless dog breed. Today, the derivative escuincles refers to children. This is not necessarily pejorative, as xolos were considered protectors from evil spirits and the guides who take our souls to the next life.

Mitote: may originally have referred to dancing and drinking. In modern times it means “a mess” or “chaos.” Armar un mitote is to make a fuss.

Petatearse: a petate is a mat woven from reeds or palm fronds. It was also used to roll up a corpse for burial. From this comes the verb petatearse. So, se petateó means something like, “He kicked the bucket.”

Pochote: also called a ceiba, this is the silk-cotton tree, considered divine in ancient Mexico because its branches, trunk, and roots represent the cosmos’ three levels. Many Pochote varieties can be recognized by their trunk’s thick spikes.

Popote: a “drinking straw,” and is derived from the Náhuatl popotli, referring to the hollow reeds which grew all around the ancient city of Tenochtitlán.

Tejuino: a nonalcoholic beer made from sprouted corn. The ancient Nahua viewed it as the “drink of the gods.” If you drink it regularly, they said it will replace the pathogenic bacteria in your colon with probiotics – great idea for someone looking to add to the local organic market!

Tianguis: a street market, or tianquiz(tli) in Náhuatl. A tianguis is referred to as a mercado if it is enclosed. In that case, the name of the Mercado Orgánico Huatulco, held on Saturdays in Santa Cruz, ought to be Tianguis, although mercado most likely clarifies the event to foreigners.

Tlacuache: a possum. This word comes from tlacuatzin, meaning “little fire-eater.” Why is a possum a fire-eater? Let me tell you!

In pre-Hispanic mythology, the tlacuache stole fire from the gods. He grabbed a piece of burning wood with his tail and gave it to humans. So, that’s why the tail of a possum is hairless.

Tecolote: comes from the Nahuatl word for “owl” and is found in the common Mexican saying, “Cuando el tecolote canta, el indio muere” (When the owl hoots, the Indian dies). It’s interesting to note that Native Americans in the US also think the owl brings death.

Zanate: a bird called the great-tailed grackle in English. Legends say it has seven distinct songs, all of which it stole from the sea turtle. It is thought that in these songs you can hear the seven passions: love, hate, fear, courage, joy, sadness, and anger.

Pre-Hispanic languages are redolent with a rich heritage and deep connection to nature. Names provided descriptions, rather than adornment. We can see today how many Mexican people have several names, yet can go by nicknames that have nothing to do with their official, legal ones. I have yet to understand this phenomenon, but it has something to do with how they feel about themselves and the family names they were given.

In my observation, pre-Hispanic names seem to carry more pride and grounding. Although they are harder for English native speakers to pronounce, I’m sure the people with pre-Hispanic names would be happy if we did our best to (try to) learn!.

What in the World Do Demonyms Name?

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

Back – way back – when Greek was the language of the day, there lots of “nyms,” a suffix that basically means “name.” We all learned about synonyms and antonyms in grade school, and the homonyms were always fun. You remember, different words but pronounced the same? Road/rode, beat/beet, cereal/serial, gate/gait.

It turns out, growing up in Maine, I was also interested in demonyms – the names (nyms) of peoples (demos) – also called “gentilics.” People from Maine were known as “Maineiacs,” and not always in a positive sense. While the World Book Encyclopedia of 1956 did not actually refer to the people of Maine as “Maineiacs,” it did identify us as “hardy fisher folk” who suffered a geographic inferiority complex. Which probably says more about the non-PC world of the nineteen-fifties than anything else.

Understandably, we now go by the more sensible “Mainers,” although the Maine Air National Guard’s 101st Air Refueling Wing is still called the Maineiacs – only right in that one of their talents is air-to-air, high-speed refueling in the Arctic. And Maineiac might well apply to me and my husband personally, in the decade or so we’ve spent driving from the northeast corner of the U.S. to the southeast corner of Mexico – and back again – a path that takes us through 13 of Mexico’s 31 states.

What Are the Demonyms of Mexico?

Of course, over and above the 31 states of Mexico is the Distrito Federal, the Federal District referred to as “Mexico City,” which people used to call “DF” (day-EFF-ay). Since 2016, however, it’s officially been designated “CDMX” (Ciudad de México – City of Mexico); this move was supposed to help devolve power from the federal to the local level, on the path to eventual statehood. Not much progress there to date.

What’s the demonym for residents of CDMX? While residents of the big city can be called mexiqueños/as, defeños/as, or capitalinos/as, they are mostly called chilangos/as, from the Náhuatl chīlān (capital, or “in the center of the moon”). While some travel websites say the demonym is an “affectionate” or “humorous” term, that’s probably a minority view. Originally used to refer to people from the countryside who had migrated to Mexico City, chilango now means those born and bred in CDMX, and specifically contrasts with provinciano – i.e., sophisticated vs. being a hick. However, when chilangos go on vacation, they’re often considered demanding, rude, and generally obnoxious. In vacation areas near CDMX, the saying goes “Haz patria, mata un Chilango” – “Do something for the motherland, murder a Chilango.” Given that Chilangos represent about a sixth of Mexico’s total population, they are largely responsible for Mexico’s domestic tourism. Their lives and limbs are probably pretty safe when they travel!

Here, in alphabetical order, is how to refer to the people you meet in Mexico.

Aguascalientes, capital Aguascalientes: Residents of both the state and the capital city are called aguascalentenses. Notice that the ‘i’ in the “caliente” part of the name drops out.

Baja California, capital Mexicali: State residents are called bajacalifornianos/as. If you live in the capital, you’re a mexicalense.

Baja California Sur, capital La Paz: State residents are also called bajacalifornianos/as, while residents of La Paz are called paceños/as.

Campeche, capital San Francisco Campeche: If you live anywhere in Campeche, you’re a campechano/a.

Chiapas, capital Tuxtla Gutiérrez: A resident of the state is a chiapaneco/a, while a resident of the capital can be called a tuxtleco/a or a tuxtleño/a.

Chihuahua, capital Chihauhua: Both state and capital residents are called chihuahuenses; colloquially, they are norteños/as.

Coahuila, capital Saltillo: Someone from the state of Coahuila is called a coahuilense, while someone from Saltillo is called a saltillense.

Colima, capital Colima: Residents here are called either colimenses or colemeños/as.

Durango, capital Durango: The folks from Durango are referred to as duranguenses or durangueños/as.

Guanajuato, capital Guanajuato: If you’re from Guanajuato, the state or the capital, you are a guanajuatense or a guanajuateño/a. If you come from Moroleón, a large city located in a textile manufacturing area and known for clothes shopping, you’re a moroleonés/esa.

Guerrero, capital Chilpancingo de los Bravo: State residents are called guerrerenses, while residents of the capital are chilpancingueños/as. If you’re from Acapulco, you’re an acapulqueño/a.

Hidalgo, capital Pachuca: Refer to state residents as hidalguenses, and capital city residents as pachuqueños/as.

Jalisco, capital Guadalajara: People from the state of Jalisco are called jaliciences; if you live in Guadalajara, you’re a guadalajarense or a guadalajareño/a. However, if you were born in the city, you’re a tapatío/a.

(Estado de) México, capital Toluca de Lerdo: Live in the state? You’re a mexiquense. In the city of Toluca? Toluqueño/a.

Michoacán, capital Morelia: These people would be michoacanos/as and morelianos/as.

Morelos, capital Cuernavaca: Folks from Morelos are called morelenses, and those living in the capital are called cuernavaquenses. You will also hear them called guayabos or guayabas. One explanation is that there are many guayaba trees in Cuernavaca, often pink, and they scent the streets or even dye them pink.

Nayarit, capital Tepic: State residents – nayaritas (remember, a word ending in ‘a’ can be masculine as well as feminine) or nayaritenses; capital city residents – tepiqueños/as.

Nuevo León, capital Monterrey: If you’re from here, you’re a neoleonés/esa or a nuevoleonés/esa; if you’re from Monterrey, you’re a monterreyense or a regiomontano/a – the latter is related to the name “Monterrey,” which translates as “mountain of the king.”

Oaxaca, capital Oaxaca de Juárez: Both state and city residents are called oaxaqueños/as; however, if you’re from the capital city, you might also becalled a vallisto/a, after the Central Valleys of Oaxaca. If you’re from Huatulco, of course, you’re a huatulqueño/a.

Puebla, capital Puebla de Zaragoza: People from both the state and the city are called poblanos/as, although city residents are also called angelopolitanos/as. At one point the capital city was called “Puebla de los Ángeles,” and is now nicknamed “Ángelópolis” (“City of Angels”), hence the gentilic for people live in the city of Puebla.

Querétaro, capital Santiago de Querétaro: If you live anywhere in Querétaro, you’re a queretano/a.

Quintana Roo, capital Chetumal: People who live in Quintana Roo are called quintanarroenses, while those in the capital are called chetumalenses or chetumaleños/as. If you live in Tulum, you’re a tulumense, and if you’re out on Isla Mujeres, you’re an isleño/a.

San Luis Potosí, capital San Luis Potosí: The demonym for both state and city residents is potosino/a, although if you live in the capital, you might also be called a sanluisino/a.

Sinaloa, capital Culiacán Rosales: State residents – sinaloenses; capital city residents – culiacanenses. If you hail from Mazatlán, you’re a mazatleco/a.

Sonora, capital Hermosilla: State residents – sonorenses; capital city residents – hermosillenses.

Tabasco, capital Villahermosa: State residents – tabasqueños/as; capital city residents are called villahermosinos/as or villermosinos/as.

Tamaulipas, capital Ciudad Victoria: Residents of Tamaulipas are called tamaulipecos/as, while folks from Ciudad Victoria are called victorenses.

Tlaxcala, capital Tlaxcala de Xicohténcatl: Both state and capital city residents are called tlaxcaltecas.

Veracruz, capital Xalapa-Enríquez: If you come from the state of Veracruz, you’re a veracruzano/a, from the city of Veracruz, a porteño/a. If you’re from Xalapa, you’re a xalapeño, which can be spelled with a ‘J’ – just like the pepper. There’s a more colloquial name for the veracruzanos: jarocho/a, which can be translated in many ways – hot-tempered, brusque, chaotic; it is also the word for the long spear used by fishermen along the Papaloapan river.

Yucatán, capital Mérida: If you come from Yucatán state, you’re a yucateco/a, and from Mérida, a meridano/a.

Zacatecas, capital Zacatecas: No matter where you’re from, you’re a zacatecano/a.