Tiny dried shrimp and fish in Mexican markets - how are they used?
I've been checking out Mexican markets near me. All of them seem to have dried shrimp or teeny, tiny whole dried fish, none bigger than an inch long and many smaller.
Usually they will be on the meat counter in those quart-sized plastic deli tubs or sold in a big jar where you can order by weight I'm guessing.
The fish dont seem to have a uniform look to them. That is, they will be different at each market.
In all my Mexican food eating, I don't think I've knowingly eaten tiny dried fish or shrimp. The shrimp must be common since I was checking out the Mexican spice selection at Raley's supermarket and they were in with all the other spices.
How are these eaten?
Mexican food still has an amazing diversity of foodstuff. the mexica (later aztecs) who settled mexico city ate everything from the lake: fish, frogs, their eggs, mosquito larvae, worms, snails, algaes, everything. They had to get their protein from a variety of sources before the spanish arrived with pigs, cows, dogs, chickens, and goats.
small dried fish are common regional snacks. in Michoacan they are charales- the most common name in central mexico I believe- for the small fried fish. they are eaten as a snack maybe with beers. I saw a lot of people selling them at the docks for isla janitzio outside of patzcuaro during dia de los muertos. (Cristina, if she's around can better describe the delicacies of this region)
also, we were served little fried dried fish in tacos under another name, topotes, in catemaco, southern veracruz. my chilango boyfriend was surpised to recieve this as an entree, but ate them with a smile.
the dried shrimp sold whole & in powder are VERY important to mexican cuisine both for the romeritos (a crazy dish of shrimp tortitas & romerito herb in mole) that are mandatory at christmas & lent AND for the famosa caldo de cameron ubiquitos at cantinas coast to coast- providing drinkers (like the aforementioned chilango boyfriend) sustenance for marathon drinking sessions & the subsequent hangovers!
there are many caldos de cameron, but in cantinas they are always spicy & salty
also in the mountains of guatemala these fresh water fish are common as one of precious proteins in the indigenous diet.
fyi: more on insect eating in mexico: http://www.insectariumvirtual.com/reportajes/idolina/htm/entomofagiaidolina.htm