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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

To continue the grocery shopping theme…

Why is it that of the almost 1000 varieties of bananas grown in the world, grocery stores here in el norte mostly only sell the Cavendish?  Sheesh, even the smallest mercados in Oaxaca often have at least four varieties and sometimes more (depending on the season).  After all, there are eight types of bananas cultivated in Mexico.  The states of Chiapas (35%), Tabasco (25%), and Veracruz (13%), are the major producers, followed by Michoacán (6.5%) and Jalisco (4.5%), with Guerrero (3%) and Oaxaca (3%) bringing up the rear.

A variety of bananas at a market

Bananas outside of the mercado in San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oaxaca – November 2016

Did you know that banana plants are not trees?  They are an herb and their “trunks” are made of overlapping leaves.  As for the origin of the word “banana,” it comes from the Arabic, banan, which means finger.  Thus, it makes perfect sense that the cluster of bananas growing on “tree” is called a hand.  (For more banana facts, check out All about bananas.)

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Banana “tree” outside Las Huamuches restaurant — between Santo Tomás Jalieza & San Martín Tilcajete, Oaxaca – February 2017

Now we come to the “heart” of the matter — the astonishing flower of the banana.  Given its resemblance in color and shape, it’s also known as a heart and is a show-stopper for anyone who has never before seen one.  It is often used in South Asian and Southeast Asian cooking, especially in curries, and a friend from El Salvador told me in his home country, the flowers are baked in the oven and eaten.  Apparently, according to this website, banana hearts are good for most everything that ails you.  Alas, while Mexico exports la flor de plátano, Moisés Molina, representative of Mexico’s Regional Association of Independent Producers and Banana Traders, lamented in 2000 that it was a pity they were consumed in China but not Mexico.

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Banana flower in San Andrés Huayapam, Oaxaca – December 2016

For those in the USA, enjoy your bananas while you can — according to Geo-Mexico, “The USA is the world’s largest importer of bananas and Mexico’s main foreign market, receiving 80% of all exports of Mexican bananas.”  Hmmm…  I wonder how long before the toxic, twittering human smokestack of polluted right-wing demagoguery wreaks havoc on that?

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Currently, View from Casita Colibrí is being brought to you from el norte.  Alas, tax season has come around again and mine need to be prepared.  Then there is never-ending house maintenance and repair.  I admit, it’s not all work and no play; being here means I get to spend time with family and friends, eat sushi, and give my regards to the Pacific Ocean. 

However, despite the ease of grocery shopping when one has use of a car, pricey supermarket herbs packaged in puny plastic boxes don’t feed my soul and delight my senses the way the stalls overflowing with fresh and dried herbs at Mercado Benito Juárez in Oaxaca do.

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Speaking of  the former governor of Oaxaca, Mexico’s much beloved five-term and only indigenous (Zapotec) president, Benito Juárez, his birthday is coming up on March 21.  He is the only individual in Mexico to have his birthday designated as a national holiday (celebrated this year on Monday, March 20). 

We would all do well to remember AND practice his famous words:  Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz.  (Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.)

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From the outdoor kitchens of Fidel Cruz and María Luisa Mendoza of Casa Cruz and Bulmaro Perez Mendoza, a three-day feast came forth to celebrate the mayordomía (stewardship) of La Virgen de Guadalupe in Teotitlán del Valle.

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The roles are set in the stones of the metates…

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But, it’s the hands of generations of women…

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who continue to shape traditions and nourish bodies and souls.

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With apron strings tied, the women of Teotitlán del Valle, from celebrated cocinera Abigail Mendoza…

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to her sister, María Luisa Mendoza…

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to the abuelas…

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and their hijas, nueras, nietas, and sobrinas.

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It takes a village of women to make feast.

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Blogger buddy Chris and I were filled with wonder and gratitude to be invited to the home of Fidel Cruz and María Luisa Mendoza, primero (first) mayordomías (sponsors/stewards), for a 3-day fiesta honoring the Virgen de Guadalupe.  There were orchestrated rituals of seating, music, and dance; a bounty of some of the best cocina Zapoteca food one could ever hope to eat; hundreds of people from small children to great grandparents; and the most amazing warm, welcoming, and communal spirit.

El atole de espuma

El atole de espuma

Higaditos waiting to be served

Higadito waiting to be served

Poultry hanging around, awaiting their turn

Poultry hanging around, awaiting their turn

Canastas (baskets) used to bring food, dishes, and serving pieces

Canastas (baskets) used to bring food, dishes, and serving pieces

Chile spiced oranges and cucumber to cleanse the palate

Chile spiced oranges and cucumber to cleanse the palate

Never ending piles of dishes waiting to be washed by a myriad of women's hands

Never ending piles of dishes waiting to be washed by a myriad of women’s hands

It was an amazing couple of days!  And these still lifes only begin to tell the story.  I promise more, but in the meantime, check out Oaxaca-The Year After.

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A sign of the times… Navidad (Christmas) must be coming!

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An empty bottle of Noche Buena cervesa sitting on a sill outside of Templo de San Jose.  Noche Buena is the much-in-demand seasonal bock-style beer from Heineken Mexico. Its appellation, besides meaning “good night,” is also the name for the poinsettia plant and the word for Christmas Eve in Spanish.  ¡Salud!

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I returned to Oaxaca late Sunday night, a little dazed and confused.  Of course, getting the dreaded “red light” at customs didn’t help.  All was fine, though the word “bagels” didn’t register until someone behind me offered the word “pan” (bread), I nodded my assent, and the customs officer smiled and nodded hers.  Whew!

First on Monday morning’s “to do” list was a trip to my local market, Mercado Sánchez Pascuas.  It felt SO good to be walking again, even up hill!  Reaching my destination, completely unbidden, an “expletive deleted” popped out.  How could I have forgotten?  The mercado was in the midst of a month and a half renovation!

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This is a three million peso project that includes replacement of the roof, waterproofing of the slab area, and structural maintenance.  Most of the approximately 100 stalls have been relocated to the patio in front of the Tinoco y Palacios entrance and the parking lot at the Porfirio Díaz entrance.  The latter, I was pleased to see, found room for the annual display of poinsettia.  I will return!

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But first and foremost, food!  I found (or they found me) my favorite vendors.  They may not know my name, but they recognized and called to their gringa customer, who they haven’t seen for almost a month.  Quesillo (Oaxaca string cheese), verduras (vegetables), fruta (fruit), tamales (mole, verde, amarillo, and rajas), and salsas (green and chipotle) were purchased.

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My two shopping bags filled, I headed back down the hill to home, sweet, Oaxaca home.  It’s great to be back!  The icing on the cake, especially coming on top of the sticker shock of el norte, was the above, plus 8 bottles of beer, came to a grand total of 335 pesos — that’s $16.42 (US dollars), at today’s exchange rate.

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When you sit down to your turkey dinner tomorrow, you will be following in the footsteps of the original inhabitants of the valley of Oaxaca.

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Guajolotes on the doorstep. San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oaxaca

Archaeologists have discovered evidence of turkey domestication 1,500 years ago in the in the valley of Oaxaca’s Mitla Fortress.  And, according to Gary Feinman, Field Museum curator of Mesoamerican anthropology, “It’s a bird very, very similar to what a lot of people are going to eat on Thursday.”

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Guajolotes waiting for a ride, Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca.

Turkeys, or as they are commonly known in Oaxaca, guajolotes, continue to play a special role in many of Oaxaca’s indigenous communities.  Turkey mole is prepared and served during religious festivals and weddings, among other special occasions.  They are also given as gifts and the downy feathers under the wings are dyed and used to make penachos (headdresses) for the danzantes of the Danza de la Pluma.

So, to those in el norte, while you are enjoying your Thanksgiving turkey, give a little thanks to the Zapotecs of the valley of Oaxaca.  ¡Buen provecho!

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October 30, 2016, around and about the valley of Oaxaca, preparations were underway for Día de Muertos.  Bread, fruit, chocolate, nuts, and flowers for sale spilled from mercados into the streets; the difuntos must be fed… and only the best!

Our first stop was Villa Díaz Ordaz for their first Expo Festival del Pan de Muerto.  It was day two of the 3-day festival and, of course, we were there early (around noon), but everyone was so warm and welcoming.  Hopefully, it will continue to grow in future years, as this is a sweet village in a picturesque setting at the base of the mountains.

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In Díaz Ordaz, they call these tiny, spicy-scented, lavender flowers “flor de muerto” and we were informed that they are even more important than cempasuchil (marigolds).

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After buying some surprisingly flavorful (whole grain!) pan de muerto for my ofrenda, we headed off to San Pablo Villa de Mitla.  Mitla has the most beautiful pan de muerto and two years ago we stumbled on their Pan de Muertos festival and competition.  A dazzling display of intricately decorated breads lined the sidewalks under the portales.  Alas, the festival was not continued, as their bread is in such demand, the bakers were too busy to take time out for an expo and competition.  So, like last year, we just enjoyed the sights and aromas of their bustling mercado.

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Have you ever seen so many varieties of bananas???  And, now for the famous  pan de muertos…

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Returning home, I added the bread and flor de muerto to my ofrenda.  Following a siesta, I ventured out into the streets of the city in search of a comparsa.  I never found it, but, as you could see from my previous post, the city was teeming with people and activity.  However, amid the merriment and mayhem, there were scenes of tranquility.

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A catrin ejecutivo?

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The copal incense beckoned the difuntos…  They began arriving this morning, seconds after midnight.

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Back in the land of putting TP in the wastebasket and non-potable tap water.  However, grocery shopping at my local mercado more than makes up for it with warm greetings from my favorite vendors and its rich bounty of fruits, vegetables, tortillas, salsas, tamales, and cheeses.

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The larder has been restocked with the above high quality essentials, all for only 230 pesos — that’s $12.18 (US) at the current exchange rate.  It’s good to be back!

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I know, it’s been a week since a new post has appeared on this blog.  My excuse is that I flew up to the San Francisco Bay Area last Saturday — an all day event that, under the easiest of circumstances (and this was), is exhausting.  However, an email this morning from Margie Barclay (formerly of Oaxaca Calendar) alerted me to the next Waje dinner.

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What is Waje, you ask?  It is a monthly pop-up dining experience created by two young (early 20s) Oaxacan chefs, José Daniel López Delgado and Maday Alexander Luis Garfias — both recent graduates of Universidad Anáhuac.

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With an appreciation of, and dedication to, the bounty and traditions of Oaxaca, they create themed dinners that fill the senses, educate, and encourage communication.

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Traditional ingredients are married in new and innovative ways and artfully presented.

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With amazing energy and pride, both chefs emerge from the kitchen to describe the ingredients, preparation, and thought behind each course.

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Their creativity and attention to flavors extends to the beverage pairings.  For the July dinner, a different flavored pulque was presented with each course and in August, mezcal cocktails were served.

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The venue for the dinners was a secret and, in both instances, we were picked up at a pre-arranged location and taken to the final destination.  The photos are from the July dinner, which was held on the front lawn of a stunning private home in San Andrés Huayapam.

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Their next offering, September 24, 2016 at 7 PM, is to be a cena of six desserts paired with coffee cocktails in a collaboration with Axiom Coffee Ventures and Viajero Café Arte.  Seating is limited and prepayment is required.  Reservations can be made by calling 951 236-868 or 951-124-9090 or sending a message from the Waje Facebook page.

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By the way, both times, my friend and I were the only gringos and oldest people in attendance.  You will definitely meet some young hip and very eloquent Oaxaqueños.  I wish I could be there…  Alas, I’ll still be in el norte.  ¡Buen provecho!

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Orgullo is the Spanish word for pride and you hear it a lot in Oaxaca.  But, rather than just the personal, it encompasses the dignity, honor, and respect felt for one’s community’s history and cultural heritage.  Remember, there are 16 indigenous groups in the state of Oaxaca – each with its own language, dress, culinary traditions, music and dance, celebrations, and crafts.  While the modern Guelaguetza is an invention to attract tourism, it doesn’t detract from the pride expressed by its participants in their unique contributions to what makes Oaxaca.  Thus, a few scenes from Friday…

Fresh handmade tortillas accompanied the mole at the Festival de los Moles luncheon. Chefs from all over the state, presented their moles — I lost count at twenty different kinds — which were served by culinary students from the Universidad Tecnológica de los Valles Centrales de Oaxaca.

Diosa Centéotl (Corn Goddess) competition to reign over the Guelaguetza.  Young women representing the regions of Oaxaca showcased and explained the costumes and traditions of their communities, as well as, speak a few lines of their materna lengua (mother tongue).

Calenda (procession) on the Alcalá by people from the Gulf of Tehuantepec region.  They were heading toward Santo Domingo — and yes there were a few Muxes among the participants.

During Guelaguetza, orgullo wraps you in its presence.

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July is the month of the Guelaguetza.  It has its origin in pre-Hispanic corn festivals — a time when maíz seeds were (and continue to be) sown in many of the villages in the valley of Oaxaca and people gathered to exchange seeds and celebrate.  The annual festival was resurrected in 1951 by the city’s leaders to encourage tourism — and it has worked.  Ancillary activities, in the form of fairs, festivals, and cultural presentations have been added over the years to attract and entertain even more domestic and international tourists.

And so, despite the continuing and contentious issues regarding education/labor forms, the show must go on!  Calendas (parades) are already occurring on the city’s streets and banners advertising Guelaguetza events are hanging from street lights on the major calles.  Below is the official Guelaguetza 2016 program of events and a selection of some of the addition activities happening this month.  (Click each poster for a larger and more readable image.)

programa de actividades guelaguetza 2016

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If you are in Oaxaca, there is no reason to be bored.  ¡Disfruta!  Enjoy!

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Sunday is market day in Tlacolula de Matamoros and I was so ready to escape the city.  No bloqueos blocked our way and Sunday traffic was even lighter than usual, thus the drive was uneventful.  In addition, though rumors of gasoline shortages have been rampant, we had no trouble filling up at one of the numerous Pemex stations along our eastbound route.  Once we arrived, we found the market was a beehive of activity, aisles had us crowded shoulder to shoulder with shoppers from Tlacolula and the surrounding villages.

The color… the energy… the bounty… the people… the smells… the street food…the life.  It was all just what the doctor ordered!  And, when I got home and turned on my computer, a documentary on market day in Tlacolula popped up on my Facebook news feed.  (h/t Zeferino Mendoza)

It may be from 2012, but not much has changed.  This Sunday open air market (tianguis) is one of the oldest continuously operating in Mesoamerica.

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The rainy season has come and with it, the emergence of chicatanas (also known as, tzicatanas) — a pre hispanic insect delicacy in this corner of the world.  My first experience with these giant “flying ants” was at the Oaxaca airport five or six years ago, where I was greeted with, what can only be characterized as, an infestation.  They were flying through the terminal, crawling on the floor, and being chased by toddlers to teens, as adults watched in amusement.  Since then, I’ve come to know and even love these little critters — especially in salsas and mole.

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Two years ago, I awoke to my own infestation on the terrace.  However, yesterday morning only a lone female chicatana put in an appearance.  Darn, just when I’d actually considered gathering them up like these children and attempting to make chicatana salsa!

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Remember the pineapple growing in my rooftop container garden?  Upon returning from a week-long magical mystery trip (more about that to come) last night, I discovered mi piña was more than ready to harvest.

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The fragrance beckons… breakfast tomorrow!!!

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