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This Mezcal Is Served with a Side of Scorpion

“The whole scorpion is edible and it’s full of protein,” the bartender assured me just before I popped the booze-soaked arachnid between my teeth at Reyes Salón Cantina, a Guadalajara bar famous for its scorpion shots.

by Duncan Tucker
Dec 2 2015, 6:00pm

Photo by the author.

"The whole scorpion is edible and it's full of protein," Rafael de la Cuesta told me as he lined up four shots of mezcal with a scorpion submerged in each glass. He then sprinkled grains of dry ice into the shot glasses, making the mezcal bubble and give off smoke while the inch-long scorpions danced as if they were still alive.

"You can either eat the scorpion first and then do the shot, or you can swallow it whole as if it were a pill,"he explained helpfully. "I recommend eating it first. That way you get the full experience."

De la Cuesta, 33, is the heavily tattooed head bartender at Reyes Salón Cantina, a bar in Guadalajara famous for its scorpion shots.

"When we opened the bar, we wanted to do something different, to have a unique selling point that people would know us for," he told me as the bar began to fill up one Friday evening. "One of our partners mentioned one day that there were a lot of scorpions at his farm, and that was what gave us the idea."

That's all well and good, but shouldn't the cantina's customers be concerned about ingesting venemous arthropods?

"We did a market study and we spoke to Mexico's federal environmental agency to make sure that everything was legal, and that there would be no danger of anyone being poisoned,"de la Cuesta assured me.

"We studied several types of scorpion and carried out toxicology exams at a breeding center to find out how poisonous each type is. They told us there are 120 species of scorpion in Mexico, but there are only 20 here in Jalisco state. Of these, only one is venomous, but if it stings you it will only cause your skin to puff up for a few days. There's no danger of death."

The Reyes team finally settled on the Centruroides baergi, a small, sandy-colored species belonging to the Buthidae, or bark scorpion, family. It is one of the least venomous species around, de la Cuesta assured me.

The bar sources the scorpions from a breeding center in Tenzompa, a tiny village in Jalisco's northern highlands, and sells them to customers at 50 Mexican pesos ($3) each, plus the cost of a shot or bottle of Agua Maldita, an artisanal mezcal made from espadín joven agave in the southern state of Oaxaca.

De la Cuesta explained that they decided to serve the scorpions with mezcal, tequila's smokier and often stronger cousin, because it's currently enjoying a boom in popularity across Mexico's biggest cities. Agua Maldita was an obvious choice because it already comes with a scorpion in each bottle.

"They're very popular. We normally sell about 200 scorpions a week or even 250 in a good week," dehe said. "The sugars in the mezcal keep the scorpions fresh and prevent them from biodegrading, so you won't get sick from eating them."

A slick, modern take on the traditional Mexican cantina, Reyes is decked out with rows of wooden shelves behind the bar, all neatly lined with hundreds of bottles. Located near Plaza Andares, Guadalajara's poshest shopping mall, it draws a crowd of wealthy young Mexicans and foreign tourists eager to try the signature shot.

"They're more popular among men, who order them to show off how brave they are, but we also get women asking for them out of curiosity," de la Cuesta said.

"We also get a lot of foreign tourists because there's a hotel across the street in front of us. Many people know about us because of the scorpions. It's weird, we'll get people from Australia coming in asking, 'Where are the scorpions?'"

Reyes has proved so popular since its launch in 2013 that the owners have opened other branches in Tijuana, Aguascalientes, and Culiacan. While Reyes remains the only bar in Guadalajara with a license to sell scorpions, several other establishments, including upmarket restaurants in Mexico City and tourist bars in Isla Mujeres, have also begun serving them with mezcal or tequila shots.

To find out what all the fuss was about, I decided it was time for me to finally try a scorpion or two. Reaching into my still-steaming shot of mezcal, I pulled out the arachnid and popped it between my teeth.

Having absorbed the earthy mezcal, the scorpion had no distinctive flavor of its own. It was mostly crunchy in texture, but biting into its abdomen released a squishy liquid center. After about ten seconds of chewing the legs, stinger, and pincers, I washed it down with the mezcal and bit into a slice of orange dusted with chile powder. It was a unique and not unpleasant experience.

I then downed another shot, this time swallowing the scorpion whole. It went down easily, like an oddly shaped pill—but without any taste or texture to appreciate, it was not half as fulfilling as chewing it down. Like de la Cuesta said, if you're going to eat a scorpion, you might as well get the full experience.

Follow Duncan Tucker on Twitter: @DuncanTucker

Tagged:
Munchies
Food
venom
mexico
Booze
drinking
drink
Guadalajara
Scorpions
bugs
arachnids
arthropods
entomophagy
poisonous
Reyes Salon Cantina