Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Beverages’ Category

Conventional wisdom in Oaxaca: “For everything bad, drink mezcal; for everything good, you also should.”

Lest we forget, the walls of Oaxaca are always there to remind us.

My copitas (little cups) by maestro Vicente Hernandez are always ready for a gotita (a little drop) or two on good days, bad days, and especially days when friends stop by.

Day trips to my favorite mezcal making villages and their mezcaleros, like Berta Vásquez (above) in San Baltazar Chichicapam, were frequent enough to keep the liquor cabinet stocked with a variety of artisanal mezcal made from one or more kinds of maguey (AKA, agave) — arroqueño, barril, cuixe, espadín, jabalí, tepeztate, tobalá, and tobasiche, to name a few!

Alas, since Covid-19 hit the scene, many of the villages are closed to outsiders and, even if they were open, I wouldn’t go — for their health and safety and mine.

However, mezcal aficionado and tour guide Alvin Starkman came to the rescue. Through him, I was able to buy five bottles of mezcal from several different villages and he delivered!

In the event you are trying to read the labels, left to right: Tobalá, Manuel Méndez, San Dionisio Ocotopec; Mezcal destilado con mota (yes, it’s a thing), Rodolfo López Sosa, San Juan del Río; Arroqueño, Fortunato Hernandez, San Baltazar, Chichicapam; Tepeztate, Manuel Méndez, San Dionisio Ocotepec; Espadín, Celso Martinez, Santiago Matatlán.

¡Para todo mal, mezcal; y para todo bien, tambíen!

(ps) This just in! Mezcal Tour Supports Advancement of Indigenous Women — an article about the wonderful ongoing work the above mentioned Alvin Starkman, his wife Arlene, and Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca are doing.

Read Full Post »

July 2020, living in the time of Covid-19, is almost in the rear view mirror. Oh, how I have been missing July 2019!

July 9, 2019 – Teotitlán de Valle, Patronal festival in honor of La Preciosa Sangre de Cristo.

July 10, 2019 – Teotitlán del Valle, Grupo de la Danza de la Pluma 2019-2021 dancing in honor of La Preciosa Sangre de Cristo.

July 12, 2019 – Teotitlán del Valle, Convite inviting everyone to the fiesta celebrating La Preciosa Sangre de Cristo.

July 13, 2019 – Teotitlán del Valle, Grupo de la Danza de la Pluma 2019-2021 dancing in honor of La Preciosa Sangre de Cristo.

July 14, 2019 – Tlacolula de Matamoros Sunday market, Kalisa Wells at the stall of doll maker, Armando Sosa.

July 16, 2019 – Santa Catarina Minas at the mezcal palenque of Félix Ángeles Arellanes, Mezcal El Minerito.

July 18, 2019 – Oaxaca de Juárez, Carina Santiago at a cocinera tradicional (traditional cook) demonstration.

July 19, 2019 – Oaxaca de Juárez, Mole Festival at the Jardín Etnobotánico (Ethnobotanic Garden).

July 20, 2019 – Oaxaca de Juárez, Guelaguetza parade of delegations.

July 21, 2019 – San Antonio Cuajimoloyas, Feria Regional de Hongos Silvestres (Regional Wild Mushroom Fair).

July 22, 2019 – Las Peñitas Reyes Etla, Guelaguetza.

July 25, 2019 – Oaxaca de Juárez, procession announcing the Guelaguetza Muy Especial by the Down’s Syndrome folkloric dance troupe.

July 26, 2019 – Oaxaca de Juárez, procession by the Asoc. de Juchitecos radicados en Oaxaca.

July 27, 2019 – Oaxaca de Juárez, young participants in the second Guelaguetza parade of delegations.

July 31, 2019 – Oaxaca de Juárez, making tejate at the Feria del Tejate y el Tamal in the Plaza de la Danza.

A reminder that we need to appreciate and be present to the present; it will never come this way again.

Read Full Post »

Aguas, atole, aguardiente, cafe, chocolate, compuestos, destilados, pulque, tejate, tepache, and té, oh my! Those are only fraction of the 72 beverages (alcoholic and non) found in the eight regions of the state of Oaxaca and featured in the “hot off the press” book, Bebidas de Oaxaca. Authors, Salvador Cueva and Ricardo Bonilla spent a year traveling up and down and over and through the mountains, valleys, and coastal regions of this most diverse, both geographic and cultural, state.

IMG_8999

Ricardo Bonilla and Salvador Cueva.

They met the indigenous men and women whose families have handed down through countless generations the recipes for everyday and ceremonial beverages. Most of all they got to know, learn from, and appreciate the people and their traditions. A poem, composed and recited by Emma Méndez García from Huatla de Jiménez, expressed the pride and strength of the rich cultures of those who contributed their time, histories, and knowledge to the project.

IMG_9023

Emma Méndez García (Huautla de Jiménez) reciting the poem she wrote in honor of the occasion.

The relationship the authors developed with their subjects was obvious at Saturday afternoon’s book presentation at the gloriously dilapidated and magical Proyecto Murguia (site of the 2012 El Sueño de Elpis). They presented each of the cocineras and cocineros featured in the book with the book, a book bag, a mug, and much gratitude and appreciation.

IMG_9061

Ricardo Bonilla, Jovita López Cruz (Unión Nacional Zafra), and Salvador Cueva.

IMG_9097

Ricardo Bonilla, Carina Santiago (Teotitlán del Valle), and Salvador Cueva.

IMG_9107

Ricardo Bonilla, Catalina Chávez Lucas (Tlacolula de Matamoros), and Salvador Cueva.

IMG_9123

Ricardo Bonilla, Reyna Mendoza (Teotitlán del Valle), and Salvador Cueva.

IMG_9131

Ricardo Bonilla, Celia Florian (La Ciénega, Zimatlán), and Salvador Cueva.

Following the formal presentations, 20 of the beverages were free to sample and purchase directly from their makers.

IMG_9293

Mezcal from Graciela Ángeles Carreño (Santa Catarina Minas).

IMG_9185

Pinole prepared by Elisa León Pérez (Santa Catarina Ixtepeji).

IMG_9182_port

Estella serving Chocolateatole con cacao blanco by Carina Santiago (Teotitlán del Valle).

IMG_9285

Tepache con rojo by María Díaz Cortés and Juana Gallardo Jiménez (Santa María Tlahuitoltepec).

Bebidas de Oaxaca is available in Spanish and English and in hard and softbound editions. For information regarding purchasing the book, go to their website. Or, if you are in Oaxaca city, attend the book talk at La Jícara (Porfirio Díaz 1105) on Thursday evening, March 5, 2020 at 7:00 PM. A percentage of the sales of the book will go to the Bebidas de Oaxaca foundation to support the people and families who participated in the book.

Read Full Post »

What can I say? The poster for the 4th Annual Mezcal Fair in Santa Catarina Minas came across my Facebook page and I said, let’s go! Thus, friends and neighbors rented a van (with non-drinking driver) to head an hour south of Oaxaca city for day two of the 2-day fair.

A barro for distilling mezcal enhancing the basketball hoop.

Naturally, it was held in the municipal basketball court, adjacent to the church!

Food vendor and family member setting up.

Of course, being gringos, we were early, so we headed for the food stalls (all the better to absorb the mezcal to come) — including empanadas from San Antonino Castillo Velasco. Though, in all honesty, they weren’t nearly as good as the gal we usually go to in San Antonino.

Maestro mezcalero, Don Pablo Arellanes Ramírez.

The mezcal stalls hadn’t quite begun to be staffed.

Luis Arellanes Cruz atop the outdoor oven pit used to cook the agave piñas.

However, thanks to mi amiga K, who went in search of cervesa (beer) to wash down our empanadas, we were introduced to Luis Arellanes Cruz, who then took us to the Los Arellanes palenque, explained the process of turning agave piñas into mezcal to the new initiates among us, and introduced us to maestro mezcalero, Rufino Felipe Martinez.

Félix Ángeles Arellanes

Returning to the feria, several of us were delighted to renew our acquaintance with Félix from Mezcal El Minerito where, the last time I was there, friends and I watched the process of layering agave piñas, bagaso, and a tarp to begin the cooking process.

Folkloric dancers from Sección XXII of the teachers’ union of the City of Oaxaca.

Of course, no feria would be complete without entertainment. According to the schedule, there were bands and presentations and parades and dancers and…

The road out of town.

After three hours of wandering, eating, tasting, and enjoying, it was time to head back to the city. As they say, a great time was had by all!

Read Full Post »

The marathon that was La Guelaguetza 2019 has been run and not a day too soon for most residents. It was an exhausting and at times grueling two weeks — so much to do and so little time — streets choked with traffic and sidewalks clogged with people. According to state government figures, at its height, hotel occupancy reached 97%, which I’m guessing doesn’t include the growing Airbnb presence.

Woman pouring tejate

My participation ended as it began with food and drink — at the 13th annual Feria del Tejate y el Tamal. Fortunately (for me), it’s held at the Plaza de la Danza, only a block away from Casita Colibrí. On July 30 and 31, seventy five women of the Unión de Mujeres Productoras de Tejate de San Andrés Huayapam came to my neighborhood to prepare and pour this prehispanic drink for the thirsty and curious.

Tejate with rosita de cacao blossoms

Tejate is a labor-intensive frothy, refreshing, nutritious, and (supposedly) aphrodisiacal non-alcoholic beverage made from corn mixed with tree ash, cacao beans, mamey seeds, rosita de cacao (Quararibea funebris) flowers, and peanuts or pecans (depending on the season).

Preparation takes at least twelve hours, as the beans, seeds, flowers, and nuts must be toasted on a comal and corn must be nixtamalized.  Ingredients are taken to a molino to be milled, then kneaded together, left to cool, eventually being hand-ground on a metate to make a thick paste — which is then thinned with water and (literally) mixed by hand.

jícaras

Tejate is traditionally served in brightly painted gourds (jícaras) which fits right in with this year’s effort by the feria organizers to eliminate the use of plastic, in keeping with recent legislation in Oaxaca to prohibit the sale and use of most single use plastic and styrofoam containers. Known as the beverage of the gods, as it was once reserved solely for Zapotec royalty, today tejate is for everybody and is also being made into cookies, ice cream, and nicuatole (traditional Oaxacan corn-based molded dessert).

nicuatole de tejate

However, this food fest wasn’t just about tejate. The other headliner of this event was the versatile tamal. Numerous varieties in steaming pots sitting on anafres (portable cooktops) sat behind rows of banquet tables filled with giant serving baskets covered in colorfully embroidered tea towels. Proud cocineras (cooks) listed their offerings and provided free samples to taste-test.

embroidered tea towel

Where to begin? There was a mind-boggling selection of tamales — at least a dozen kinds to choose from. Many are readily available daily at local mercados (of course, each family puts their own unique spin on the basic recipes). However, here in the city, tichinda (fresh water mussel) tamales are rarely seen. I tasted and they were yummy.

list of tamales

My primary goal, when it came to tamales, was “para llevar” (to go) and I came prepared with my own containers. On day 1, I wanted to bring home tamales for the staff who works at my apartment complex and a couple of carpenters who were onsite building door and window screens for a friend’s apartment. I made several rounds of the numerous vendors, studying their offerings (along with their lovely tea towels) and then just dove in! Besides buying a tamal de camaron (shrimp) for myself, I bought a mole verde (chicken with green sauce) and a mole negro (black mole sauce with chicken) for each the crew back home, along with tejate cookies for their dessert!

On day 2, I was in search of tamal de chichilo, made from chilhuacle negro, mulatto, and pasilla chiles; blackened tortillas and seeds of the chiles; and avocado leaves — the latter imparting a subtle anise flavor. It’s one of my favorites and isn’t usually seen in the mercados, as it is usually reserved for special occasions such as weddings and baptisms or when the crops have been harvested.

tamal de chichilo

Besides eating a tamal de chichilo as soon as I returned home and another for dinner last night, six more currently reside in the freezer compartment of my refrigerator. Ahhh, preserving and celebrating the prehispanic riches of tejate and tamales — a couple of reasons why Oaxaca is a food lovers’ paradise.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday, friends from California invited me to accompany them on one of their favorite pastimes — going to the source for artisanal mezcal. At our first stop, the palenque of Félix Ángeles Arellanes, Mezcal El Minerito, we were just in time to watch the beginning of the process of cooking the agave piñas.

The art of making mezcal at the palenque, Mezcal El Minerito.

Piling river rocks onto the red and white hot coals in the earthen pit that functions as the horno (oven).

Covering the rocks with bagaso (recycled crushed agave fibers).

Putting the long tobasiche agave piñas into the oven.

Adding the more rounded jabalí and tobalá piñas.

Topping it off with more tobasiche piñas.

Covering the piñas with more bagaso.

Félix’s sons worked nonstop — an hour and fifteen minutes from the time of the first photo, they covered the mound with tarps to enclose the oven. Though we didn’t see it, I suspect this was then sealed with soil.

Félix pours the “Nectar of the Gods” — a multilayered and complex artisanal mezcal.

Nothing like being at the right place at the right time. And, yes, we not only watched, we tasted and we bought!

Read Full Post »

If you are in Oaxaca and it’s the fourth Friday of Lent, it must be Día de la Samaritana, an “only in Oaxaca” celebration.  This Day of the Good Samaritan was inspired by the Gospel of John story in the New Testament where a tired and thirsty Jesus, on his way to Galilee, asks a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well in Sychar for some water.

IMG_3660

Decorating a well outside the Cathedral

IMG_3707

Sign proclaiming the day, seen on the Alcalá

His request was highly unusual because, according to the Old Testament, “Jews regarded the Samaritans as foreigners and their attitude was often hostile.”  The woman complied with his request and the rest is history.

IMG_3737

Scene at the well outside Templo de San José

IMG_3721

Live actors waiting to reenact the scene

Celebrating the Good Samaritan in Oaxaca began in the atriums of churches at the end of the 19th century and is a popular and much-loved tradition.  Thus I joined thousands of Oaxaqueños and visitors, clutching cups, and wandering from one decorated agua station to another sampling their offerings.

IMG_3731

Samaritana station serving nieve at the Municipal Palace

IMG_3670

One of scores of agua stations on the Alcalá

People of all ages, from small children to grandparents, lined up at bougainvillea and palm decorated booths in front of churches, restaurants, businesses, schools, and even the city’s municipal office building for the traditional Día de la Samaritana free aguas.

IMG_3687

Hand painted ollas in front of Templo de Sangre de Cristo

IMG_3654

Hand painted jicara gourds waiting to be filled with tejate

These “water stations” are often decorated in a violet shade of purple, the color of Lent, symbolizing penance and royalty.  And, the ollas (pots) holding the aguas seem to get more decorative every year.

IMG_3674

Agua stations along the Alcalá

IMG_3700

Watermelon and mint agua station on García Vigil

We are not talking plain water, these are divinely flavored aguas frescas made with fresh fruits, herbs, flowers, and more — jamaica (hibiscus), horchata, chilacayote (squash), tamarindo, sandia (watermelon), tejate, and nieve (sorbet).  Even taxi drivers played the role of Good Samaritans.

IMG_3714

Nieve station in doorway of lingerie store on Independencia

IMG_3709

Taxi drivers host agua station on the Alameda

In previous years, the aftermath hath wrought mountains of garbage — cans overflowing with plastic and styrofoam.  However, this year, in the name of the environment, an appeal was made for people to bring their own cups.  And, I think a majority complied!

IMG_3695

On the Alcalá above Santo Domingo

IMG_3651

An olla with Agua de chilacayote (type of squash)

And me?  After almost two hours, three aguas (watermelon with mint, cucumber with mint, and chilacayote), a nieve of leche quemada and tuna, and being surrounded by smiling people enjoying this celebration of generosity, I returned home with my heart full of love and gratitude for the traditions of Oaxaca.

Read Full Post »

A foodie blog post is overdue and so I present to you, Oaxaca Eats Food Tours, the brainchild of Kay and Dean Michaels.  Loving and appreciating Oaxaca and wanting to share it, they saw a niche and proceeded to fill it beginning in August 2018.  The goals that guide their enterprise are:

  • Share the gastronomic richness of Oaxaca with people from all over the world
  • Hire local tour coordinators and support businesses passionate about their culture and cuisine
  • Give back to the community through charitable donations

And so, a few weeks ago, I joined several others at the designated gathering spot (in our case, in front of the now departed OAXACA sign across from Santo Domingo) where Dean and Kay greeted us, introduced the tour guides and presented us with our “Tour Activity Sheet” that included an itinerary listing the restaurants we would be visiting and the dishes they would be offering — very handy for this blogger, when reconstructing the day.

Our first stop (if you don’t count a brief visit to a nearby cart for a few whet-your-whistle sips of tejate in keepsake small traditionally painted red jícara cups) was the rooftop terrace of Mezquite Gastronomía, a restaurant that has become one of my favorites of late.

IMG_3275

Botana Oaxaqueña – guacamole, chapulines, quesillo, queso fresco, pico del gallo, chicken taquito, cecina, tesajo, chorizo, quesadilla, memela

Upon our arrival, a tall glass of fresh squeezed orange agua fresca, a platter filled with traditional Oaxacan appetizers, and a refreshing mezcal cocktail was set before each of us.  Our waiter described each item and its preparation, while our tour coordinators translated and, during the meal, added a little history and a few anecdotes of their own, and answered any and all questions.  They were a font of knowledge.

IMG_3277

Perro Oaxaqueño – mezcal cocktail featuring grapefruit

Next on the tour’s itinerary was Los Danzantes, another restaurant I have been to many times.  However, one of the fun parts of Oaxaca Eats, is tasting menu items you have never before ordered — because there are already too many dishes that sound delicious.  In this case for me, tuna with a sesame tostadito and quesillo and queso wrapped in a hierba santa leaf.

IMG_3282

Quesillo and queso in a hierba santa leaf

Besides a vaso veladora of one of the restaurant’s tasty mezcals, we were also served a Zegacola, a locally made artisanal alternative cola beverage.  While I’m not a fan of soft drinks, this wasn’t nearly as cloying, actually had some flavor, and didn’t leave the impression it could remove the rust from a junkyard car.

IMG_3283

Tall glass of Zegacola next to a vaso veladora of mezcal

Our third stop was at a restaurant I have never before been to, though I pass by it frequently — the Centro Histórico branch of Tierra del Sol.  It was here that the preparation became a participatory event.  We were presented with tray containing a score of ingredients and instructed to choose those that were to be made into our salsa.  I suspect there were no bad choices or combinations!

IMG_3295

Table side grinding chiles in a molcajete for our salsa

In addition to the delicious, though a bit picante, salsa we had created, we were served a tetela filled with beans, chile, and an avocado leaf, along with three different moles, oh my!  And there was an agua fresca of guanábana, a mezcal cocktail with pineapple and celery, AND two copitas (yes, two!) of mezcal — an espadín and a tobalá — from the palenque of maestra (yes, a woman!) Berta Vázquez in San Baltazar Chichicapam.

Mole Mixteco with chicken, Huachimole with pork, and Mole de Laurel with beef

Are you full?  Sorry, there was more!  A several block walk took us up to Don Juanito Taquería and Pozolería.  By this time, we, too, were looking at each other in wide-eyed wonder and asking, could we possibly eat any more?  But we could and we did.  Besides, who could resist Doña Epifania’s charm and tales of the restaurant’s long history (since 1966).

Epifania Albino Robles, wife of owner Felix Leoza, explaining Don Juanito’s history and the preparation of each plate

Did I mention, it was a very hot day?  I can’t begin to describe how refreshing the agua fresca of pineapple and hierba buena was!  As if we hadn’t already eaten enough, in addition to tostaditos with guacamole and red and green salsas, we were served a beef tostada, beef taco al vapor, and their renown pozole.

Pozole (beef and pork) de la Casa

Believe it or not, it still wasn’t time to part company.  Our final destination was Cafébre, where a self-described coffee geek regaled us with her coffee knowledge and enthusiasm, all the while brewing coffee to exacting specifications — cup one using a Melitta filter pour-over technique and cup two using an AeroPress plunger-like device.  I think we were all seriously surprised at how the taste of the same coffee beans could vary so much depending on the brewing technique.

Brewing coffee using Melitta filter technique

The sweetness of the day was sealed with a creamy maracuyá flavored cheese cake which, as unbelievable as it sounds, we all finished.  By this time, Kay and Dean had rejoined us, we lingered, and then finally said our thank you’s and farewells and waddled back to our respective homes and hotels — sated and sleepy.  Four hours of delicious dining is exhausting!!!

Read Full Post »

Let us all raise a glass to the hummingbirds and bats of Oaxaca.

IMG_3135

Without the work they do pollinating the flowers on the quiotes (stalks) that shoot up from the agave,

IMG_3137

there would be no maguey piñas to harvest and cook…

IMG_3133

and no mezcal to drink!

*Mural by Lapiztola on the side of the Palenque Mal de Amor (makers of Ilegal mezcal) 2+ miles north of Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca.  Check out their other mural at the palenque HERE.

 

Read Full Post »

This morning, the Feria del Tejate y el Tamal opened at the Plaza de la Danza — with live music, speeches, scores of tejate and tamal vendors, and hundreds of happy, hungry people.  In the event you are unfamiliar with tejate (which is probably the case if you have never been to Oaxaca), it is a very popular frothy, refreshing, nutritious, and (supposedly) aphrodisiacal non-alcoholic prehispanic beverage.  It is made from corn mixed with tree ash, cacao beans, mamey seeds, rosita de cacao (Quararibea funebris) flowers, and peanuts or pecans (depending on the season).

 

 

The preparation takes at least twelve hours, as the beans, seeds, flowers, and nuts must be toasted on a comal and corn must be nixtamalized.  Ingredients are taken to a molino to be milled, then kneaded together, left to cool, eventually being hand-ground on a metate to make a thick paste — which is what one sees in the mercados being thinned with water and (literally) mixed by hand.  For a blow-by-blow photo essay of the process, check out Making Tejate for the Market.

 

 

In days gone by, this exquisite beverage was reserved solely for Zapotec royalty.  However, today tejate is for the masses, with tejateras and their massive clay ollas set up at almost every mercado and festival you run across.  One frequently sees tejate poured into colorfully painted gourds and, of course, it tastes even better when served that way!

 

 

The sale of tejate is the main economic activitity in San Andrés Huayapam, located about 7 miles northeast of Oaxaca city.  It is prepared and served by the tejateras of the Unión de Mujeres Productoras del Tejate.  At the Feria, many of the tejateras were young — it is good to see the ancestral recipes and skills being passed down to the next generation.

 

 

The Feria del Tejate y el Tamal runs through tomorrow (July 26, 2017).  If you are in town, don’t miss it!  Oh yes, there were tamales, so stay tuned…

Read Full Post »

If it’s the fourth Friday of Lent and you are in Oaxaca, it must be Día de la Samaritana — a wonderful “only in Oaxaca” celebration.  From bougainvillea decorated stands in doorways throughout the city and banquet tables lining the Alcalá in front of Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo…

P1170260

… divinely flavored aguas frescas made with fresh fruits and flowers — jamaica, horchata, chilacayota, tamarindo, among other colorful and refreshing beverages — were offered.

P1170244 copy

Día de la Samaritana is inspired by the Gospel of John story in the New Testament:  At noon, a tired and, apparently, thirsty Jesus, on his way to Galilee, asks a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well in Sychar for some water.  His request was highly unusual because, according to the Old Testament, “Jews regarded the Samaritans as foreigners and their attitude was often hostile.”  The woman complied with his request and the rest is history.

P1170257

For me, the day embodies the warm, welcoming, and generous spirit of the people of Oaxaca.  It’s just another reason why I love living in Oaxaca.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday was the fourth Friday of Lent and, if you are in Oaxaca, that means Día de la Samaritana, where, believer or not, you will be offered aguas from doorways and street-side tables set up in front of churches, restaurants, hotels, government agencies, and private homes.

P1070368 (1)

I got a late start; unseasonable rain was threatening and the grey sky had made it hard to leave my cozy apartment. 

P1070372

But, what can I say?  Horchata, sandia, guayaba, coco, chilacayota, chía con limón, and even tejate and nieves were offered with smiles, free of charge, to all passersby.

P1070348

Within a block, I happily and gratefully accepted a large plastic cup of horchata; another one followed, and later, a styrofoam cup of chilacayota.

P1070385

It had begun at noon, but by 2 PM, all that remained were branches of Bougainvillea, empty ollas (pots), ladles with nothing to dip into…

P1070392

and empty cups.

Read Full Post »

If you are in Oaxaca and it’s the fourth Friday of Lent, it must be Día de la Samaritana (AKA, el Día de las Aguas) — a uniquely Oaxacan celebration.  It is inspired by the Gospel of John story in the New Testament:  At noon, a tired and, apparently, thirsty Jesus, on his way to Galilee, asks a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well in Sychar for some water.  His request was highly unusual because, according to the Old Testament, “Jews regarded the Samaritans as foreigners and their attitude was often hostile.”  The woman complied with his request and the rest is history.

By noon, this past Friday in Oaxaca, the thermometer had already reached 90º F in El Centro Histórico and people of all ages, from small children to abuelos, were already lined up at bougainvilla and palm decorated booths in front of churches, schools, and businesses for the traditional Día de la Samaritana free aguas.  It wasn’t just plain water they were waiting on, it was for divinely flavored aguas frescas made with fresh fruits and flowers — jamaica, horchata, chilacayota, tamarindo, sandia, and others.  However in front of the churches, prior to the offering of aguas, there was a reenactment of Jesus and the Samaritana, as well as a priestly blessing — and an article in Noticias reported that, given the blazing hot sun, some in the crowd became a little impatient.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

All were eventually served and the streets were filled with smiling people drinking a rainbow of aguas.  Within an hour the serving pots, pitchers, bowls, and buckets were empty and all that remained were garbage containers filled to overflowing with plastic cups.

By the way, talking to my friend Sam, who teaches at Universidad José Vasconcelos de Oaxaca, they had an aguas frescas contest — memorable combinations of watermelon with strawberries and lime; atole with tuna nieve; and coconut with strawberries.  However, I was informed the day’s winner was the piña colada — alas, minus the rum, I’m thinking.

Read Full Post »

As a current article says, mezcal seems to have wormed (oh, that’s bad!) its way into the hearts, minds, and media of el norte.  And, all I can say is, it’s about time!  I’m not really much of a drinker; mostly just wine with dinner, the occasional beer on a hot day, and a mixed drink a couple of times a year.  However, I have to say, mezcal has been a pleasant surprise.  The smoky complexity is quite a treat, especially if one ventures beyond the mass-produced brands and into the artisanal varieties.

Here in Oaxaca, mezcal is offered to welcome visitors, served at celebrations of all kinds, plays a role in most traditional ceremonies, and audiences always enthusiastically join in when Lila Downs sings, Mezcalito.  Oaxaqueño families have been harvesting agaves and hand crafting mezcal for generations.  The following photos are from an afternoon spent at one such palenque in San Baltazar Chichicapa(m).

Agave piñas (hearts) are stripped of leaves & roots and placed in a large outdoor pit oven.

P1060398_2

They are covered with agave leaves, fiber, mats and dirt and cooked over red-hot rocks for three to four days.

P1060400

The roasted agave is crushed with a gigantic stone wheel pulled by a horse.

P1060415_2

The roasted and mashed agave is then placed in large wooded vats to ferment.

P1060413_2

The liquid is extracted and twice distilled.  Next it is either bottled, if it is to be sold as blanco (aka, joven), or placed in barrels to age.  Reposado is aged for less than a year and añejo is aged from one to twelve years.  Needless to say, I returned home with my 4 L plastic gas can (no, it had never been used for gas!) filled with reposado made by our host and master mezcalero, Faustino.

P1060432

As the old Oaxaqueño saying goes, “For everything bad, drink mezcal and for everything good, you also should!”

And, please note:  This is a drink to be savored not chugged!

Read Full Post »

You know Semana Santa is on the horizon when tables, large and small, elaborately or minimally decorated, miraculously appear in doorways, street corners, and the Alcalá.  The common denominator is smiling people offering Agua de Jamaica, Horchata, Chilacayota, and even nieves to all passers-by.  Día de la Samaritana (Good Samaritan Day) is an only-in-Oaxaca, 4th Friday of Lent, event.

This year, besides experiencing the joyous mob scene on the Alcalá and the small sidewalk stands on side streets, on a tip from a friend, I made the “taking your life in your hands” crossing of Calzado de la República to the picturesque cobblestoned neighborhood of Jalatlaco.  Tables of aguas and nieves lined the plaza in front of the Templo de San Matías Jalatlaco and pastor Víctor Hernández was recounting the Biblical story, found in the Book of John, of the woman at the well who offered water to Jesus — the inspiration for Día de la Samaritana.  He concluded the story and blessing with the word “¡ataque!” and the masses did, indeed, attack the tables!  By the way, pastor Hernández gets around — he was the same priest who performs the yearly blessing of the animals across town at the Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Merced.

It was a hot day and having already had two aguas, as I made my way over to Jalatlaco, I was jonesing for a nieve but, alas, by the time I figured out which table was serving it, the line was too long.  So, giving up on the nieve, I accepted another agua and headed towards home.  However, in the true spirit of the day, as I was melting in the heat, an older gentleman standing on the sidewalk asked if I would like a nieve and gestured toward a woman standing in the doorway behind a small table.  “Sí” I replied and a styrofoam coffee cup filled with Leche Quemada (my favorite) was thrust into my hand.  Another sublime day in Oaxaca…

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: