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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Oaxaca recently won the Food and Travel Reader Award 2018 in the category of Best Gourmet Destination in Mexico.  At last, the rest of Mexico, not to mention the world, is acknowledging what Oaxaqueños have long known — the eight regions of Oaxaca offer some of the best, most complex traditional food in the world.  From street food stands to food fairs to restaurants, I am almost never disappointed!  Here are a few of the traditional dishes I’ve had the pleasure of eating in the past few weeks.

Higaditos in Villa Díaz Ordaz – Oct. 28, 2018

The first is Higaditos from Señora Cristina Cruz — an additional reason blogger buddy Chris and I returned to Díaz Ordaz for the Festival del Pan de Muerto.  We have tasted many versions of this egg/chicken dish, but we agree that hers is the best — never mind that she has a smile that could light up the world.

Mole de Caderas at Las Quince Letras – Nov. 7, 2018

When chef Celia Florian announced that her restaurant, Las Quince Letras, would be featuring Mole de Caderas for a month, mi amiga (and cocinera) Kalisa and I made a beeline.  Mole de Caderas is a traditional Mixtec dish from Huajuapan de León, Oaxaca and nearby Tehuacán, Puebla.  It is made from the hip (cadera) and the spine of a goat that has been fed a salt-based diet to give the broth a unique flavor.  It is only served during the fall, when the goats are made to make the ultimate sacrifice — and was absolutely delicious!

Tlayuda with tasajo at Tlayudas “El Negro”

And, finally, Oaxaca’s celebrated tlayuda — it and pozole are my favorite Oaxaca comfort foods.  Neighbors and I decided to try out the newest location of Tlayudas El Negro on Independencia near Crespo.  As you can see above, I ordered one with tasajo (thinly sliced beef) and garnished with the aromatic and flavorful herb, chepiche.  Yummm… I will return.

What can I say?  I feel so lucky to have landed in this culturally rich and seriously delicious corner of the world!

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Up until my first visit to Oaxaca, I had no idea that bananas came in any other color than yellow.  However, I soon discovered a Banana bonanza of sizes, shapes, and colors — and red bananas became my favorite.  I haven’t seen them for a while, but on a visit to Central de Abastos, I pulled up short in front of these babies!

Red bananas

This variety of banana is smaller and the peel is thicker than the common yellow Cavendish, but it hides a creamy sweet flesh that is perfect for slicing over a bowl of cereal or served with a sprinkling of lime juice and a dash of Tajín Clásico seasoning.  We asked what this variety is called and the vendor just shrugged and said, “Plátano morado.”  He says purple, I say red.  Whatever they are called, they are delicious!

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Several pan de muerto festivals sprung up in the valley of Oaxaca during Día de los Muertos — including a Festival del Pan de Muerto in Villa Díaz Ordaz, a Feria del Pan de Muerto Adornado in Villa de Zaachila, and a Feria del Pan y Chocolate in the city of Oaxaca.  While the intention of these fairs is to attract tourists, both foreign and domestic, the primary market remains ofrendas (offerings) to the difuntos (departed) — who must be fed during their brief return to visit with their loved ones.

And, like apron styles, pan de muerto (bread of the dead) varies from village to village, be it sold at a feria, mercado, or neighborhood panadería.

Panadería Yalalag in Oaxaca city.

San Pablo Villa de Mitla.

San Pablo Villa de Mitla.

Mercado, 20 de noviembre, Oaxaca city.

Villa de Zaachila.

Villa de Zaachila.

Villa de Zaachila.

Villa de Zaachila

Villa de Zaachila.

Though my difuntos have departed and my altar has been disassembled, I couldn’t consign my beautiful (but stale) pan de muerto offerings to the garbage can.

Pan de muerto from Yalalag, Mitla, and Zaachila.

So, here they remain in a basket on my counter — until they disintegrate or the hormigas (ants) enjoy a feast.

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Under the dappled sunlight filtering through the 500 year old ahuehuete trees in the panteón of Tlacolula de Matamoros, lovingly placed fruit and nuts nourish the souls.  (Click on images to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the afternoon, when the light and shadows dance on the graves, beautiful still lifes greet the departed, their living family, friends, and visitors.  It is a tranquil setting to contemplate the words of Octavio Paz (The Labyrinth of Solitude, the other Mexico, and essays, Grove Press, 1985, p. 54)

The opposition between life and death was not so absolute to the ancient Mexicans as it is to us.  Life extended into death, and vice versa. Death was not the natural end of life but one phase of an infinite cycle.

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Today, at 3:00 PM in Teotitlán del Valle, as leaves in the mountains and fields rustled, the arrival of the difuntos (departed) was announced with the sound of cohetes (rockets) and church bells.  Incense burners were lit and placed in front of ofrendas in each home’s altar room — the smoke and scent of copal helping to guide the spirits home for their yearly twenty-four hour visit.

Tonight they will feast on tamales amarillos — special tamales that are traditionally served three times a year in Teotitlán — in July for the Fiesta de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo, in October for the Fiesta de la Virgen del Rosario, and today, November first, in honor of the returning difuntos.

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As we have done for many years, blogger buddy Chris and I came to the home of Zacarías Ruiz and Emilia Gonzalez with our offering of pan de muertos and a bottle of mezcal to place on their altar — paying our respects to their difuntos.  In turn, we were offered mezcal and cervesas (beer), followed by the aforementioned tamales amarillos.

The tamales were days in the making.  Several of the family’s organic free range chickens were sacrificed; corn from their milpa was nixtamalized to make a silky smooth masa; and the ingredients for mole amarillo were toasted, chopped, blended, and boiled.  The final preparation began at 3:30 this morning — 250 tamales were assembled, filled, and wrapped in fresh green leaves from their milpa and placed in the steaming pots.  The results were to die for!

For me, more than painted faces and parades, this is what makes experiencing Día de los Muertos in Oaxaca so special.

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At the risk of alienating readers who were drooling with envy over yesterday’s Chiles en nogada post, I bring you today’s lunch.  This time I was dining with friends, which makes already delicious food taste even better.

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Tres cocinera (3 cooks): Celia Florian, Carina Santiago, Kalisa Wells

Comida at Las Quince Letras where mis amigas Carina Santiago of restaurant and gallery Tierra Antigua in Teotitlán del Valle, Kalisa Wells (cocinera and new neighbor), and I were joined by the restaurant’s delightful owner/chef and ambassador extraordinaire of Oaxaca gastronomy, Celia Florian.  (An aside:  Celia and I were on the same flight from Mexico City to Oaxaca on Saturday night and I apologize to the other passengers for briefly blocking the aisle as we greeted each other with hugs.)

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Appetizer of Garnachas Istmeña

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Aguacate relleno

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Chile de agua vinagreta

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Dessert of warm pastel de elote

What a delicious and delightful way to spend my second day back home in Oaxaca.

 

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I returned to Oaxaca very late last night and just in the nick of time.  As I previously noted, chiles en nogada is prepared during the month of September — El Mes de la Patria celebrating Mexico’s independence from Spain — and I was keeping my fingers crossed that it would still be available.  Thus, today (the LAST day of September) on my way back from Mercado Benito Juárez (a necessary restocking the empty larder shopping trip), when I saw the prominent “chiles en nogada” sign in front of Restaurante Catedral and heard the hostess explain to a small group of tourists that today was the last day they would be serving it, I had to seize the opportunity.

Chile en nogada with Mexican flag

Just color me happily sated by the green, white, and red of the poblano chile stuffed with a special fruit and meat picadillo, blanketed with a smooth slightly sweet walnut sauce, and garnished with parsley and pomegranate seeds.  So, mis amig@s (you know who you are) you are off the hook!

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The day before the aforementioned Diosa Centéotl announcement, the major activity on my dance card was the Festival de los Moles “all you can eat” buffet in the beautiful setting of the Jardín Etnobotánico (Ethnobotanic Garden).  To the accompanying sounds of Oaxaca’s state marimba band, blue, yellow, white, and red corn tortillas were placed on a comal; beer, aguas, and mezcal were offered and poured by an attentive wait staff; and appetizers plated with quesillo, molotes, tacos filled with guacamole and chapulines, and more were placed before each of the hundreds of attendees.

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After what seemed like an eternity, the signal that all had been waiting for — the tin foil lids were removed from the cazuelas to reveal 19 different kinds of mole from 19 different restaurants.  The stampede began!  There is no way possible to taste them all, but I had scoped out a few in advance — Estofado from El Regio, Mole de Platano from El Tendajon, Mole de Castilla from my friends at Tierra Antigua, and Celia Florian’s Manchamanteles from Las Quince Letras.  Blogger buddy Chris was sitting next to me and so we also tasted off each other’s plates, made more trips to the cazuelas, and I lost track of all that I had eaten.  But of course I found room for the traditional leche quemada and tuna (cactus fruit) nieve (sorbet) for dessert.  By the way, an added bonus to the event is sharing the experience with the friends old, new, and temporary at the tables-for-twelve.

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I bade Chris farewell and attempted to hurry home to change my clothes (yes, I’d spilled on my dress) before heading off to an exhibition opening.  But, silly me, after nine years of living here, I should know better — there is no rushing in Oaxaca! Turning onto Macedonio Alcalá, I heard music and ahead of me could see the tops of monos and marmotas.

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I was stopped dead in my tracks by one of the most colorful religious processions you will ever see.  Honoring their patron saint, Santo Domingo de Guzmán, Tehuanas and their guys and band, danced their way down the street.  Slowly navigating the jam-packed sidewalk, while being pelted with candy thrown to bystanders, I eventually was able to duck up a side street and make my way home.  But, what fun along the way!

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Clothes changed, I managed to arrive (almost on time) at the inauguration of “Flores y Cantos” at the Museo Rufino Tamayo — an exhibition that asks us to consider “Nezahualcoytl’s age-old challenge to create something beautiful and meaningful with our lives.”  This multimedia exhibition, conceived of by Carolyn Kallenborn, envelopes the senses — ethereal sights; soothing music and comforting sounds of birdsong, rain, waves, and wind; and a celebration of the beauty and creativity of humans, then and now.  Carolyn asks us to contemplate the legacy our ancestors passed on to us and how we want to be remembered when we are gone.

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As one of two primary pieces in the exhibit, accomplished embroiderer Miriam Campos, from San Antonino Castillo Velasco, was commissioned by Carolyn to embroider a tree onto silk organza (above).  With moving images of nature passing through its sheen and translucency, it was of this earth, yet not of this earth.  For the other, Carolyn again collaborated with master weaver, Erasto (Tito) Mendoza on the truly spectacular tapete of corn that reaches from its roots of gold up into a swirling sky.  The video images running across it, gave it a sense of movement.  I returned again five days later.

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On Wednesday, prior to my second visit with “Flores y Cantos,” at the enthusiastic urging of Henry Wangeman (Amate Books), I made a bee-line to the Museo de los Pintores Oaxaqueños (MUPO) for the recently opened, “Endemismo” exhibition — a significant and stunning show that explores the biodiversity endemic to this area.  Located along the border of Oaxaca and Puebla, on July 2 the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve was recognized as a Cultural and Natural (Mixed) Heritage of Humanity site by UNESCO.

Filling both floors of the museum, and the brainchild of Nancy Mayagoitia, the show incorporates the work of twenty painters and photographers — each providing a new perspective on this old land in the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve.  I love the painting above by Cecilio Sánchez and entitled Paisaje de Cuicatlán (Cuicatlán landscape).  It seems as if the eyes of this ancient land are watching to see what we do with this unique and precious place.  (Click to enlarge the image and see the eyes.)  And below, I couldn’t resist posting an image of Raúl Herrera’s, “El baño del colibrí Huitzilopochtli atl” from the exhibition — as every morning I watch the hummingbirds bathe in my fountain.  Another exhibition to return to.

Given that I began this post with food, it only seems appropriate to end it with The Semana de los Antojos — a week of morsels of deliciousness to satisfy one’s (food) cravings — which opened July 24 under a colorfully decorated tent in the Plaza de la Danza.  The aromas wafting onto my terrace beckoned and I followed.

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50 booths offering regional “comfort” food — garnachas from the Istmo (my current craving), tacos, tamales, tortas, tlayudas, empanadas, barbacoa, carnes asadas, you name it!  And to wash it all down, tejate, tepache, pulque, chocolate, and aguas frescas.  Oh, and did I mention desserts?  Nieves, cookies and other sweets, and (hot off the presses) buñuelos.

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No rest for the weary — but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

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Below is the Guelaguetza 2018 calendar of the main events.  For details of these and other “Julio, mes de la Guelaguetza” (July, month of the Guelaguetza) activities in and around the valley of Oaxaca, click HERE.

calendario guelaguetza 2018

The list of delegations by date, time, and the dance they will be performing follows.  By the way, a note about the dancers:  Seeing it as an honor, they come to perform at their own expense.  However, one way to give back, at least to the artisans of their communities, is to do your shopping at the Expo Feria Artesanal (listed above).

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And, bookmark THIS SITE and/or CORTV for live (en vivo) links to each performance.

(ps)  For those in town:  People keep asking me what the route will be for the two Saturday Desfiles de Delegaciones — which over the past several years keeps changing.  Unfortunately, I don’t know and the only answer I get is the tourist kiosk reps pointing to the Calendario de Eventos Principales  (top of page).  If I find out anything more substantive, I will try to post before Saturday.

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He had words.  I don’t.

“Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonalds? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once.”Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

I will miss your intelligence, honesty, passion, and respect for cultures different from your own.  Thank you.  Rest in peace, Anthony Bourdain.

How to get help: In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also can provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.

 

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Last Sunday at the weekly market in Tlacolula de Matamoros…

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Chickens

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Rebozos

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Seeds

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Lunch

It’s not just about produce, bootleg DVDs, tools, and underwear.

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The lowly utilitarian apron has been elevated to an art form by the Zapotec women of the Tlacolula valley in Oaxaca.  Worn every day, mandiles (aprons) are an essential and practical part of their traditional dress.  Most women own several and take great pains to color coordinate them with the day’s attire.

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Fiesta honoring the Virgen de Guadalupe at the home of Fidel Cruz and Maria Luisa Mendoza, Teotitlán del Valle.

Plainer aprons are worn around the home.  However, they don one of their “Sunday best” aprons for special occasions.  These are heavily embroidered and often have necklines and hems that are scalloped and, as a fashion statement, are frequently worn to the weekly market.

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Vendor at the Sunday market in Tlacolula del Valle.

Mandiles are made of store-bought poly-cotton fabric, usually in a small plaid design. While “100% cotton” sounds more desirable to many of us, the blend is undeniably more practical.  After all, who wants to iron when there is work to do and the temperatures are summery all year ’round?

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Andrea weaving in Teotitlán del Valle.

Even though the embroidery is done by sewing machine, the more elaborate designs can take from three to four days days to make.  Aprons range in price from approximately 150 to 700 pesos.

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Leonor Lazo feeding a baby goat in Teotitlán del Valle.

Given that, in addition to being practical, these are also a fashion accessory,  it should come as no surprise that styles can vary from village to village.

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Young women from San Miguel del Valle attending a festival in Teotitlán del Valle.

I grew up with aprons.  My grandmother lived next door and could always be found wearing a “house-dress” and a pinafore style apron with front patch pockets.  Some were plain, but many she decorated with embroidery.  Thus the mandiles of Oaxaca spoke to me and I listened.

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Reyna Mendoza speaking to her El Sabor Zapoteco cooking class.

My first “Oaxaca” apron was a maroon plaid cobbler style with only a moderate amount of embroidery. After a year or two, it became so much a part of my home attire that I bought another in brown plaid.  These are my workhorses and I wear them every day while cooking, cleaning, and even gardening.  And, I proudly bring my own apron to cooking classes and make sure to pack one when I’ve been invited to a fiesta in Teotitlán del Valle — putting it on to help clear tables. I always get smiles from the women (and some of the men, too).

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Me, the metate, and maiz at El Sabor Zapoteco cooking class in Teotitlán del Valle.

However, after countless Sunday market day trips to Tlacolula de Matamoros, not to mention, spending a lot time over the past several years in Teotitlán del Valle, I couldn’t help but be inspired by the fashion statements women, both young and old, were making, so I bought a slightly more elaborately embroidered pinafore style and then another and another.

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Three of my mandiles; the red is the newest.

I even dared to wear one recently in New York at my granddaughter’s first birthday party.  With children ranging in age from six weeks to six years, I thought it was a very practical fashion statement on my part.  And, guess who got one for her birthday?

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Birthday present to my granddaughter — a toddler-size mandil.

A good place to check who is wearing what style of mandil is at Tlacolula’s Sunday market.  And, should you want to buy one for yourself and/or give one as a gift, there are at least eight apron stalls at the back of the market on Sundays.

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Apron stall at the back of the Tlacolula de Matamoros market.

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I couldn’t resist posting more from the Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales de Oaxaca 2018 to tempt you to put next year’s gathering of traditional Oaxacan cooks on your calendar.

Amazing traditional cooks from the state of Oaxaca served up taste tempting fare in the Plaza de la Danza for four full, and I mean FULL days, April 25-28.

And, should one be inspired to immediately head to one’s own kitchen, the Mercado Oaxaca set up in the courtyard of the Facultad de Bellas Artes (across from the Plaza de la Danza) offered mouth-watering fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs, dried chiles, honeys, vinegars, and so much more.  I came away with a luscious cantaloupe.

In addition, to assist one in the preparation and serving of one’s own delicious meals, Arte de la Mesa presented vendors, next door in the courtyard of the Palacio Municipal, selling “made in Oaxaca” glassware, utensils, pottery, placemats, tablecloths, and dish towels, aprons, metates and molcajetes, among other kitchenware.

Do you see the piggy-face molcajete?  I bought it and have spent hours and hours, not to mention muscle power, seasoning it.  If you don’t believe me, use your favorite search engine to check out the various methods — there are no shortcuts!

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Though today is the fourth and final day of this year’s Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales de Oaxaca 2018, diners continue to line up around the stall of Rosario Cruz Cobos for her Cochino a la Cubana — piggies roasted over a wood fire — fiesta food from San José Chiltepec in the Papaloapan region of Oaxaca.

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Mouth-watering and succulent, it is well worth the wait!

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What can I say?  Lately, I have been having way too much fun to blog.  A Gran Convite on Tuesday evening kicked off the festivities celebrating Oaxaca’s 486 birthday and inviting one and all to the previously mentioned, 2nd Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales de Oaxaca opening the following day.  Beginning at the Cruz de la Piedra, the parade came to a sparkling climax in front of the Cathedral.

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Wednesday began with an early morning ringing of the Cathedral’s bells (and several other churches, I’m pretty sure) and the booms and bangs of cohetes announcing Oaxaca’s official birthday.  Then the event that I had been hungrily awaiting — the opening of the four-day gathering of Oaxaca’s traditional cooks at the Plaza de la Danza.  It was worth the wait!

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Mixtec ritual of Aromas y Sabores del Alma using basil and rosemary to open Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales de Oaxaca.

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Machacado mixe, Caldo mixe from Santa María Tlahuitoltepec in the Sierra Norte.

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Chileajo amarillo from Huayuapan de León in the Mixteca.

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Ingredients on display by Carina Santiago of Tierra Antigua restaurant in Teotitlán del Valle, in Oaxaca’s Valles Centrales.

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Cochino a la cubana from the Papaloapan region of Oaxaca being served by cocinera Rosario Cruz Cobos.

There is also an expo-venta of Oaxacan artesanía at the Palacio Municipal adjacent to the Plaza de la Danza.

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Some of the best red clay pottery from San Marcos Tlapazola for sale.

I took yesterday off to do my volunteer gig at the Oaxaca Lending Library, but I’m returning to the Encuentro today, right after I post this.  My stomach is already rumbling!

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