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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

On day 2 of introducing B to the sights, sounds, and flavors of Oaxaca, I turned to the professionals at Discover Oaxaca for assistance.  I had met the owners Suzanne Barbezat (author of Frida At Home) and her Oaxaqueño husband, Benito  Hernández, several years ago through friends and knew they were licensed guides.  And, as coincidence would have it, they were good friends of B’s god-daughter and her Oaxaquaño husband in California.  The choice was easy and the rave reviews on TripAdvisor were icing on the cake.

Thus, Wednesday began with Benito picking us up in a comfortable, spacious, and air-conditioned van.  Our day’s first destination was Mitla, the second most important archeological site in Oaxaca and home to amazingly intricate grecas (fretwork).  However, as we headed east on Mexican highway 190, Benito was a fountain of knowledge — much of which was new to me.  This was going to be good!

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Grecas (fretwork)on the outside of the Palace at the archaeological site at Mitla.

For almost an hour and a half, Benito led us through the site — always explaining, answering our questions, and letting us marvel at what was before us.  We could have stayed for at least another hour, but we headed back west on 190, to Yagul, an archeological site I had previously never visited.  Several friends told me they experienced a deeply spiritual sense and that it was a must see.  We barely skimmed the surface (definitely a place to return to), but the sun was hot, archeological overload was setting in, and hunger beckoned.

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Ballcourt at Yagul — the biggest in the valley of Oaxaca.

Next stop, Restaurante Tlamanalli in Teotitlán del Valle — the renown restaurant of Zapotec cooks, Abigail Mendoza and her sisters.  Using time honored methods and recipes refined over generations, the Mendoza sisters have elevated and brought worldwide recognition and respect for their traditional cuisine.  It was a delicious and tranquil interlude.

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Metates used at Restaurante Tlamanalli to grind ingredients for mole and more.

Tearing ourselves away, Benito, B, and I climbed back into the van and drove to the center of the village to see Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo, another of the countless churches throughout Mexico built on top of a sacred indigenous site.

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Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo, sits atop Zapotec ruins at the base of Picacho, the sacred mountain in Teotitlán del Valle.

My intent, during our visit to this village, known for its weaving with wool, had been to visit several of the weavers I know — including Fidel Cruz Lazo, Antonio Ruiz Gonzalez, his brother Sergio Ruiz Gonzalez, and the family of Samuel Bautista Lazo.  However, we were running short of time, and B had been following my adventures with the family of Juana and Porfirio Gutierrez Contreras and had poured over the family’s website, so stopping at their home and workshop was a priority for him.  Porfirio was back in the USA, but Juana and her husband Antoño gave their always excellent explanation and demonstration of their work with natural dyes.  And, yes, B couldn’t resist purchasing a wonderful rug (though not the one pictured below)!

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Woven wool tapete (rug) by Porfirio Gutiérrez Contreras.

On the way back to Oaxaca city, our last stop for the day was at Santa María del Tule to see the world famous Árbol del Tule.  This Montezuma cypress (Taxodium mucronatum; Ahuehuete in Nahuatl) has the largest trunk of any tree in the world, is thought to be between 1,200 and 3,000 years old, and is home to hundreds, if not thousands, of birds.  It is quite a sight to hear, let alone see.

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Looking up at the Árbol de Tule in Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca.

We left Oaxaca city at 9:15 AM and didn’t return until almost 6:00 PM.  It was a full, informative, and terrific day.  Next up, day 3 —  another delightful day out of the city with Benito.

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Recently, as previously mentioned, a friend came to visit for a week.  It was B’s first time in Oaxaca and we packed a lot of sightseeing and delicious dining into just six days.  B is an architect and, among other things, is an archeology buff, so those interests helped shape our itinerary (as in, not a shopping expedition).  Naturally, the six days sailed by, but the sailing was so smooth and flowed so well that it occurred to me a blog post chronicling our adventures might be helpful to future visitors and hosts.

B arrived on a Monday night, so Day 1 began the next morning, when we rendezvoused on my terrace so he could begin to get his bearings as I pointed out landmarks.  Our first stop was to gaze at the gold and gilt interior and up at the impressive family tree that decorates much of the ceiling of Santo Domingo de Guzmán.

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Santo Domingo de Guzmán and its former monastery.

After being thoroughly wowed, we went next door to the former monastery, now the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca.  Arranged in historical epochs, the 20+ rooms are an historical treasure trove that include treasures excavated from Tomb 7 at Monte Albán.  Also on the extensive grounds is the glorious Jardín Etnobotánico, an impressive ethnobotanic garden of plants native to the state of Oaxaca.  While we had no time to take a tour of the garden (the only way to visit), the views from the museum are spectacular.

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Looking down on the Jardín Etnobotánico from the Museo de las Cultures de Oaxaca

Leaving the museum, we strolled down Oaxaca’s walking street, Macedonio Alcalá (aka, Andador Turistico), across the zocaló, past the Palacio de Gobierno, to the Mercado Benito Juárez.  Besides the fact that I was almost out of coffee beans and needed stop by El Grano de Oro to replenish my supply, in my humble opinion, the mercado is a “must see” for any visitor.  Feeling a bit parched and ready for a break, we pulled up stools at Casilda Aguas Regionales and had to choose from their dazzling selection of fresh aguas. Refreshed, we resumed exploring the aisles of fruits and vegetables, fish and meats, clothing and jewelry, fresh flowers and souvenirs, mezcal and quesillo, and more.

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Aguas lined up on the counter of Casilda Aguas Regionales

Hungry, tired, and on sensory overload, we walked back up the Alcalá to the tranquility, innovative architectural design, and savory flavors of Los Danzantes — the complementary mezcalito was an added bonus!  Our late afternoon comida was a leisurely affair, as we reviewed the day and made plans for the next.  B worried that we might be lingering too long, but I assured him, unlike the USA, restaurants in Mexico don’t rush diners.

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Retractable ceiling and modern take on adobe walls at Oaxaca’s Los Danzantes restaurant

It was a lovely and delicious way to end the day.  Stay tuned for Day 2, as we headed out of the city….

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Along with much-needed rain and sparkling green cantera, tropical storm Beatriz also brought the one-day-a-year appearance of chicatanas (aka, tzicatana, tzicatl).

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What, you might ask are chicatanas?  They are giant flying ants that emerge with the first rains of the season — and by giant, I mean about 4 cm from the head to the tip of the wings for the females.  (As in much of the insect world, males are smaller and wingless.)  Known by the Nahuatl long before the arrival of the Spanish, they were mentioned in the 16th-century Florentine Codex which talked about the tzicatana living below ground and cultivating fungus to eat.

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By this morning, the rain had stopped and when I returned from an early errand, I found chicatanas — queens (wings) and soldiers (wingless with vicious front pincers) — crawling around on my terrace and balcony.  There were probably many more earlier, but I had been in a hurry and hadn’t noticed.  By 10:30 AM they were gone.

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Oh, and have I mentioned that they are a delicacy and a great source of protein?  I’ve had chicatana salsa and chicatana mole several times.  Below is Mole de Chicatanas I sampled during the Mole Festival in 2014.  It’s from the Sierra Sur region of Oaxaca and made with chicatanas, pork ribs or loin, chile costeño, peanuts, and much more.  It was yummy (and I was a picky eater as a child!), so I had it again at last year’s festival.

If you won’t take my word, check out this Bizarre Foods episode set in Oaxaca.  (Chicatanas start at 1 min. 40 sec.)  By the way, these are the dreaded leaf-cutter ants.  However, it is the much smaller workers who can strip a tree overnight and are the bane of gardeners here.  At least their queens and soldiers are good for something!

Post script:  On a somber note, tropical storm Beatriz also brought flooding, mudslides, more downed trees, collapsed roads, and a current death toll of three.

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Nothing like stopping in Mercado Benito Juárez at Casilda Aguas Regionales midway through a morning filled with errands.  The posted list of fruit drinks is mind boggling:  Horchata, horchata con tuna, guanabana, melón, limón, sandía, jamaica, limón on chía, tamarindo, piña guayaba, kiwi, coco, crema de coco, durazno, ciruela, lichie, mandarina, mango, and maracuya.P1260091

Translated:  Rice-based drink, rice-based drink with prickly pear cactus fruit, soursop, cantaloupe, lime, watermelon, hibiscus, lime with chia, tamarind, pineapple, guava, kiwi, coconut, coconut cream, peach, plum, lychee, mandarin orange, mango, and passion fruit.

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What to choose?  While I love horchata con tuna, I chose the unlisted limón con hoja santa (2nd from left in top photo) reeled off by the waitress.  It was a lime with “sacred leaf” kind of day.  Ahhh… the pause that refreshes!

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Cooking with Juana…  Mangos ripening just out of reach.

Sunlight filtering through the leaves of the granada (pomegranate) tree.

A pomelo (grapefruit) waiting to drop.

There is something to be said for outdoor kitchens.

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This week the city of Oaxaca celebrates her 485 birthday.  Yes, we know she is older…  However, we are talking the colonial city, here.  And, despite her age, this birthday girl began the festivities by inviting the best cocineras from the eight regions of the state to cook for her citizens and visitors — from 1 PM until 9 PM — under the shade of a giant tent covering the Plaza de la Danza.  The Primer Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales de Oaxaca was not free, but quite reasonable.

The food was riquísima (beyond delicious) and, while we were there, the guys from Santiago Juxtlahuaca in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca, performed the Danza de los Rubios.

I returned home satisfied and sleepy, but the day wasn’t over.  There was a calenda (parade) scheduled for 5 PM and a procession of “Gigantes” at 7 PM — route for the latter was unclear.  I was hot, tired, and torn.  To go, or not to go?  That was the question.  Thunder began rumbling and I figured my answer was to stay in for the evening.  However, at 7:30 PM, when a the sounds of a procession came practically to my doorstep and not a drop of rain had fallen, I had to run out to join it.

The “Gigantes” were supposed to represent the giants of all time that Oaxaca has given to the world.  Most were a mystery to me, though I think I saw Benito Juárez and maybe Porfirio Díaz (both Oaxaqueños) and I’m guessing the bunny is a nod to the alebrije wood carving and decorating tradition.  In any case, it was great fun!

Just as the calenda reached the Plaza de la Danza, it began raining on this parade and everyone made a beeline for the cover of the Cocineras tent.  I’m sure they will eat well!  And the rain?  It was probably the best birthday gift Mother Nature could bestow on Oaxaca’s parched earth and dusty sidewalks.

This was just day one of the anniversary festivities.  Tomorrow (Tuesday) is Oaxaca’s actual birthday and the church bells will begin chiming at 6:45 AM.  So I’d better get to bed!  By the way, the Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales de Oaxaca opens again at 1 PM tomorrow and lasts until 8 PM or whenever the food runs out.  For a complete schedule of events, click HERE.

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After spending Holy Monday in Teotitlán del Valle, I returned on Jueves Santo (Holy Thursday, Maundy Thursday) to spend the day with Juana Gutiérrez Contreras in the home she shares with her husband, Antoño Lazo Hernandez, and their family.  She and her husband are members of a talented family of Zapotec weavers.  I’ve previously blogged about her brother Porfirio and am helping in a small way with a big project he is working on — and that is how I found myself spending several days during Semana Santa in Teotitlán.

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Juana Gutiérrez Contreras and Antoño Lazo Hernandez – July 2016

However, this day, I wasn’t there for the weaving — as wonderful as it is.  As with much of life in Teoti, there are culinary customs to be followed on Holy Thursday.  After insisting I sit down for desayuno (my second of the day — I’d eaten breakfast before leaving home), we set to work preparing the traditional Jueves Santo comida of white beans.

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Juana separating dried white beans.

I was tasked with grinding garlic and herbs used to season the beans.

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Crushing garlic and herbs using a stone pestle in a clay bowl.

Halved tomatoes (another of my jobs), whole onions and whole jalapeños were added to the beans.

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Yes, this watched pot did boil — or at least, simmer!

Our attention then turned to making chiles rellenos de queso, using Oaxaca’s own chile de agua.  For this, we moved to the outside kitchen set up under the shade of fruit trees.

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Chiles roasting roasting directly on top of wood coal.

Juana used her fingers to turn the the chiles.  However, after one attempt on my part, she pointed to the tongs.  Those coals were really hot!

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Modern wire whisk meets traditional clay cazuela.

While Juana whipped egg whites to a stiff peek, before adding the yolks, I peeled and slit the chiles.

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Epazote leaves and chiles await the quesillo.

I was also entrusted with stuffing the chiles — first a leaf of epazote, followed by a heaping helping of shredded quesillo (Oaxaca string cheese).  Then Juana commenced to frying the chiles rellenos in another cazuela — gently laying each on top of a bed of egg batter and spooning more batter on top.

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Cazuela and chiles rellenos amidst the flames.

She was masterful in her ability to withstand the heat of the fire while carefully turning the chiles.

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Chiles rellenos about to be transferred to a waiting platter.

In timing known only to Juana and Antoño, comida was ready just as Antoño walked in the door from attending a reenactment of La Última Cena at the church — a Last Supper that featured the flavors of Teotitlán.  During this Semana Santa, he portrayed Andrés el Apóstol (Apostle Andrew).  So, only a few hours after we had all last eaten, we were again sitting down at the table.  Alas, the food was SO delicious and I was having so much fun, I forgot to take pictures of our bowls of delicately flavored white beans and plates of chiles rellenos.  Sometimes you just have to be “in the moment.”

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Una muestra (a sample) from another sublime Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) in San Antonino Castillo Velasco.

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Under the lavender canopy of jacaranda, Jesús (wearing his red cape) and his burro enter the church courtyard laden with the rich bounty of the village.

More to come…

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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.

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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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