The end of May is an exciting time in Guatemala; I’ve been looking forward to it since we arrived. A mysterious thing happens after the first big rain comes, and it was really cool to be a part of it. Those with weak stomachs may not want to read. May is the month of the Sompopo.
The Queen Sompopo is a giant ant that looks like a wasp- a long, black body with thin, frail wings- and a swarm of queens leave the colony once a year. It’s kind of like the cicadas we have in Tennessee, but more frequent and they don’t stay around as long. Before the Queen Sompopo leaves, the worker ants prepare holes at the surface of the colony about a day before the swarm arrives.
Around one in the morning, the Sompopo ant colonies begin to vibrate the ground, and thousands of queens shoot out from the holes like balls from a cannon. Locals who know where to find the ant colonies, or “Sompoperos,” wait above ground with bags, buckets, and usually a fire to keep warm. When the queens shoot out, they catch as many as they can, usually until about 3 in the morning. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen them leaving the ground myself. I’ve only seen what the look like once they reach the market.
Those that are lucky enough to catch them will take them to the market early the next day for their once-a-year reward. These giant ants sell for $10 a pound, compared to other market goods that sell for between 15 cents to $2. If you want some, you have to get to the market early or they’ll sell out until the next day. In the local Chimaltenango market, Hilary and I bought a pound to share with the family- they’re huge fans- but we did find that riding on a motorcycle holding a pound of giant ant queens is a bit unnerving. We were happy to get them home.
On Monday, after waiting 9 months for this experience, we finally ate Sompopos! Miky watched over my shoulder and masterfully instructed me as I cooked them. First you have to toast them enough so that the wings and legs fall off (most of them anyway.) Once you strain the wings out, they go back in the skillet to fry a little longer. The second time over the fire, you throw a few handfuls of lime and salt in with them. Without condiments, they don’t taste like much. Miky plucked them out of the pan to taste them until she was satisfied.
When they first told me about Sompopos, back in September, I thought it was a trick they played on the Gringos. I was skeptical that they actually ate giant ants until the moment I actually saw them piled up in the market. To be honest, they’re super good- pretty much like peanuts- and I have eaten my fair share of the bounty over the past couple of days. I’m also proud to be married to a woman that wasn’t afraid to dig in; Hilary’s a fan now too.
I’ll admit, I do prefer to pluck off the legs. They get stuck in your teeth too easy.
If you’d like to make your own, here’s the recipe we used:
1.5 lbs of giant ants from your backyard
5 limes, squeezed well
3 handfuls of salt, or until preferred taste is achieved
1 strong stomach
1 big helping of love
1 happy family to share