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Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category

Unsurprisingly, on Monday Oaxaca went back to Covid-19 Semáforo Naranja (orange traffic light) — meaning there is a high risk of contagion of the virus. On Wednesday, it was reported there were 479 new COVID-19 patients, the highest figure of the year.

Unfortunately, having had to run a few errands over the past few days, I haven’t seen any changes in people’s behavior, business/government/museum closings, nor enforcement of the mask wearing mandate — only an announcement by the archbishop that churches would be limited to 25% capacity.

It is demoralizing and infuriating and all I can do is continue to wear a cubreboca (face mask) whenever I’m out and about, practice social distancing, and try to stay sane. As for the latter, I’m choosing to concentrate on and appreciate my favorite things.

People, real and imagined, waiting for the bus on Av. Benito Juárez.
Ensalada de pulpo (Octopus salad) at Barrio de Jalatlaco Restaurante.
A turquoise building, meters, and mural on Calle La Alianza in Barrio de Jalatlaco.
Water lily in the pond of Museo de Filatelia de Oaxaca (Stamp Museum).

We are all tired. However, unless people take this extremely seriously, get vaccinated, and continue to mask up and practice social distancing, “normal” will not return and our fellow humans (including loved ones) will needlessly continue to suffer and die. As a current meme suggests, let us all practice humility, kindness, and community.

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Today, besides being Groundhog Day, it is the Christian holy day, Día de la Candelaria (aka, Candlemas, Presentation of Jesus at/in the Temple, and Feast of the Purification of the Virgin). In Mexico, tradition calls for families to bring their Niño Dios (baby Jesus), decked out in new clothes, to the church to be blessed. Alas, in the time of Covid-19, the Servicios de Salud de Oaxaca (health department) has called upon Oaxaqueños not to gather this year and, while the doors of the Cathedral will be open, the faithful are asked to stay home if their Niño Dios was blessed in previous years.

Tamales from Levadura de Olla Restaurante: Tamal Adobo, Tamal Chile Ajo, Tamal Mole Negro, Chancleta Guajolote, and Tamal de Fiesta (not in order)

Custom also calls for the person who bit into the baby Jesus figurine hidden in the Rosca de Reyes (3 Kings Cake) during Día de los Reyes Magos to host a tamalada on Candelaria. As I write, tamales are steaming all over the state. The virus will not stop the cocineras of Oaxaca from rising before the crack of dawn to make and serve tamales. As I previously mentioned, I munched down on a figurine. And I wasn’t the only one — my neighbor and friend Kalisa also had the “pleasure.” I must confess, we took the easy way out and pre-ordered our tamales from Levadura de Olla Restaurante. I can’t wait to eat them!

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Oaxaca sings in the rainy season. Afternoon clouds gather, the sky darkens, wind picks up, thunder rumbles, heaven sinks closer to earth, and, if Cocijo is answering prayers, the sound of rain falling — El canto del agua; The song of water.

I knew the minute I saw this mural that it was the work of Fabián Calderón Sánchez (Sanez). Over the years, I’ve been captivated by and posted images of his thought provoking, creative, and powerful uses of indigenous imagery. The facade of El Armadillo Negro restaurant on Calle del 5 de mayo 307, Barrio de Jalatlaco, seen on August 4, 2020.

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Up until last week, under semáforo rojo (red stoplight), dining at Oaxaca’s much celebrated restaurants had been prohibited and food-to-go became a new and popular option. The Facebook group, Taste Of Oaxaca! soon was filled with restaurant takeout and/or delivery menu options. It was really quite wonderful to see how creative restaurants and chefs became in trying to maintain their businesses, keep staff employed, and meet the needs of their clientele. However, I was blessed with an alternative — mi amiga y vecina (my friend and neighbor), Kalisa, whose passion is cooking and sharing her flavorful fare.

While living in the age of Covid-19, at least I’ve been eating well — and this is just a small sample! By the way, rumor has it that tonight I will be going up and over the rooftop with my bowl in hand for pozole rojo. Yummm…

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Even if you’re just going out for coffee, mask up!

A reminder from the shutters outside Café Brújula in Plaza Santo Domingo on Macedonio Alcalá. Artist: Mister D.

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Painted on the front of Catedral Restaurante, a message to Oaxaca food lovers…

When all is over, I will look for you and I will hug you so tight that we will forget time.
When all is over, I will need you more than ever.

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Sunday mornings have always been my favorite time to wander through the neighborhoods of Oaxaca. Traffic is light, sidewalks are mostly empty, and the city seems nestled under a blanket of tranquility. Thus, in these days of an abundance of alone-at-home time, a long peaceful walk with my neighbor (maintaining sana distancia/social distancing, of course) was just what the doctor ordered.

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Out the door and up the hill, we went.

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“Hola, buenos días” greetings were exchanged with the few people we encountered — many walking their dogs.

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Though we weren’t planning to eat, we stumbled on a lovely garden restaurant – Ancestral Cocina Tradicional — and couldn’t resist sitting down in their sun-dappled courtyard for a quesillo and huitlacoche quesadilla, washed down with a healthy jugo verde. Everything about the restaurant was done with care and attention — including being mindful of COVID-19 concerns.

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Emerging from the restaurant, we continued our ramble, admiring architecture, street art, and the beauty of dry season flowers.

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This Dama de Noche (Epiphyllum oxypetalum) stopped us in our tracks!

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After three hours, we returned to our homes feeling refreshed, appreciative of Oaxaca’s many gifts, and feeling like we can get through this — despite the puppet masters.

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Valentine’s Day in Mexico is known as Día del amor y la amistad (Day of love and friendship) and I had the extremely good fortune to spend it in Teotitlán del Valle (one of my favorite places in the world) among friends at the thirtieth anniversary celebration of the restaurant, Tlamanalli.

Iconic Restaurant Tlamanalli tapete.

Special garlands of papel picado fluttered above the heads of the 150-200 invited guests, centerpieces of jicalpextles filled with handmade sugar flowers, papel picado flags, and marshmallows wrapped in colored tissue paper graced the tables, and each place setting included a commemorative menu.

Papel picado celebrating 30 years of Tlamanalli.

One of Teotitlán’s several bands was positioned just inside the door and played throughout the afternoon.

Musical entertainment to accompany the dining.

The open kitchen was a beehive of activity and, no doubt, had been for at least two weeks — in preparation for this auspicious anniversary.

Family working together in the kitchen.

Four courses honoring their Zapotec heritage were prepared with love and respect by world famous cocinera Abigail Mendoza Ruiz, her sisters Adelina, Marcelina, Maria Luisa, Rosario, Rufina, and her niece Diana.

Soups: Higadito de fandango, Flor de calabaza con quesadilla, and Garbanzo molido con tortillita.

Tamales: Chepil en totomoxtle, Mole amarillo con carne de conejo en hoja de milpa, and Frijol en totomoxtle.

Moles: Rojo con carne de gallina, Seguesa con lomo de puerco, and Negro con carne de guajolota.

Desserts: Nicuatolli de maiz azul con tinte de cochinilla, Flan Tlamanalli, Dulce de calabaza, Nieve de zapote negro, and Nieve de pétalos de rosa.

And, I got a bit of a chuckle when it was pointed out to me that it was the men in the family who were on washing and drying duty.

The men continued washing and drying throughout the day.

We were surprised we recognized so few of the attendees — only later discovering, thanks to this article, that many were dignitaries (not our usual crowd). However, we were more than delighted to have been seated at one of the tables in the section reserved for family members, several of whom we knew, and where conversations were in equal parts Spanish and Zapoteco, with only bits of English thrown into the mix — keeping us on our toes!

Commemorative jicalpextle centerpiece.

What an honor it was for us to be invited to share this special day with the Mendoza family — a day filled with love and friendship and very good food!

(For more photos and commentary, check out Chris’s blog post.)

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Food with friend in Oaxaca during the last two weeks…

First we eat, then we do everything else. –M.F.K. Fisher

Tostadas de mariscos – Marco Polo, August 15, 2019

People who love to eat are always the best people. –Julia Child

Chiles Rellenos – Tierra del Sol, August 17, 2019

Food is our common ground, a universal experience. –James Beard

Mole Negro – Teotitlán del Valle, August 18 2019

Laughter is brightest in the place where the food is. –Irish Proverb

Ensalada de Papa y Pulpo — Ristorante Italiano Epicuro, August 30, 2019

The secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside. –Mark Twain

And, while we are on the topic of dining well in Oaxaca, we are all looking forward to the long delayed, but eagerly anticipated, Tercer Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales de Oaxaca (3rd Gathering of Traditional Oaxacan Cooks) to take place September 19-22, 2019 at the Centro Cultural y De Convenciones Oaxaca (note venue change). According to reports, there will be 60 traditional women cooks, 15 people making traditional beverages, 6 pastry chefs, and 6 makers of iced desserts.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!!!

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When I’m in el norte, I usually turn down invitations to eat at Mexican restaurants.  However, over the years, I’ve learned to follow the advice of the late great Nat King Cole and “I’ll never say ‘never again’ again.”  Thus, last month, on a stormy Friday at the height of northbound commute traffic, my stepson, his wife, and I ventured up to Yountville, in the heart of Northern California’s wine country, to try out La Calenda, the newly opened Oaxaca inspired restaurant by Michelin star chef Thomas Keller.

I admit, I was extremely leery of this project when I first learned of it.  In fact, upon reading an article in the SF Chronicle, I wrote on Facebook,  “Hmmm… How about using his celebrity and empire to help finance one of the numerous talented Oaxacan chefs to open a Oaxacan restaurant in Yountville?”  Little did I know that Keller had made inquiries in Oaxaca and wound up hiring Kaelin Trilling as the executive chef.  Kaelin is the born-and-raised-in-Oaxaca son of cookbook author, cooking instructor, and Oaxaca resident, Susana Trilling.  A good start and so I jumped at the chance to give it a try.

Flavorful and picante salsas, fresh guacamole, and crispy warm totopos.

The menu features traditional Oaxacan cuisine, but also includes nods to other regions of Mexico.  I have to say, they had me at the tortillas!

Tacos al Pastor – a Lebanese-Mexican dish that has become traditional in Central Mexico.

Sourcing corn from Mexico and nixtamalizing it on-site, the blue corn tortillas, handmade and hot off the comal, brought me right back to Oaxaca.

Tacos de carnitas – pork, cilantro, onions, with a squeeze or two of lime.

Oh, and did I mention the black mole?  Silky smooth, with the rich complex flavors I have come to love and appreciate.  Though we didn’t order the braised beef cheek in mole chichilo, we asked for a taste, which was promptly provided.  I explained to my family that this Oaxacan mole is 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 is only served on special occasions, such as weddings, christenings, and when the crops have been harvested, etc.  It was delicious and, as they should be, the flavors were multilayered.  Next time…

Pollo (chicken) in mole negro.

Everything on the menu tempted us and we ordered way more food than I thought we could possibly eat — but it was so good, we did!  (Photos are only a sample of what the three of us tucked into.)  And, the mezcal cocktails we ordered certainly got the evening off to a delightful start!

Traditional flan with caramel sauce — creamy, smooth, and divine!

When we went to La Calenda, I was nearing the end of a month-long visit in el norte and the sight of barro rojo (red clay) bowls from Oaxaca and glassware from Xaquixe Glass (the same glasses that sit on my Casita Colibrí kitchen shelf), along with the smells and flavors, had tears welling up, as a wave of homesickness came over me.  But, then it passed and the joy of feeling “at home” even in Yountville, California set in.  And, more good news:  The prices, were extremely reasonable for the quality and location — in the ballpark of upscale restaurants in Oaxaca, as opposed to upscale in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Seeing stars at the entrance to La Calenda.

(ps)  Though I’ve had this blog post in the hopper for a few weeks (ever since my return to Oaxaca), it was the recent article by food writer, Cristina Potters, The Traditional Mexican Kitchen :: Is It Authentic, or What?, that prompted me to finish and post it.  La Calenda can definitely be described as having its roots in the traditional.

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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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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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Lunch coming down out of the mountains in Colorado…

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Tacos at Carniceria Sonora in Clifton, CO

Back in Oaxaca in time for a comida of September’s traditional dish…

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Chiles en Nogada at Las Quince Letras Restaurante in Oaxaca de Juárez

And, not to be left out, Argiope showing off her freshly caught brunch…

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Flies or bees or one of each on the terrace at Casita Colibrí

Gals, be they human or arachnid, have got to eat!

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Sunday was the last day of B’s Week in Oaxaca and he had some last-minute shopping to do.  Family back home had requested a stack of tlayudas (also spelled, clayudas), the 12″ diameter handmade and dried tortillas, and quesillo, Oaxacan string cheese.  The closest mercado to B’s hotel was Mercado de la Merced.  It’s one of the best in Oaxaca city — selling fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and dried chiles, healing herbs and incense, meats and poultry, breads and cheeses, baskets and oil cloth, housing juice bars and small restaurants (like the well-known Fonda Florecita), and more — almost everything one could ever need.  These mercados make shopping social and fun — way more enjoyable than impersonal supermarkets and shopping malls.

After purchasing the requested items and wandering up and down the maze of aisles, we returned to B’s hotel to off-load the cheese (hotel’s refrigerator) and tlayudas (spread out on the bed to dry).  Our appetites having been stimulated, we walked across the city to the off-the-beaten-path location of Criollo, the year-old creation of Chef Enrique Olvera (Pujol in Mexico City, Cosme in New York), Chef Luis Arellano (originally from the Cañada region of Oaxaca), and architect Javier Sánchez.

It was a good thing we were famished, as the 7-course tasting menu was more than enough.  However, each plate brought such deliciousness, we happily continued on.  And, the setting?  While on an extremely busy street, once one steps inside this modern take on the traditional colonial courtyard, a sense of peace takes over.  Sated, we wandered to their orchard at the back of the restaurant, where we were warmly greeted and offered a cup of poleo tea brewed in the outdoor kitchen set in the orchard.  Our hostess explained this kitchen allows for the traditional preparation of some of the menu items.  In addition, she pointed to another building that she explained was going to be a culinary bed and breakfast.

By the time we left Criollo, it was late afternoon.  Before B returned to his hotel and I to my apartment, we marveled at what a full, delicious, and delightful six days it had been.

Just a note:  A week isn’t nearly enough time to experience all that Oaxaca city and surrounding villages have to offer.  We never made it to the Sunday market in Tlacolula de Matamoros, Hierve el Agua, Centro de las Artes de San Agustín (CASA), the alebrije pueblos of San Martín Tilcajete and San Antonio Arrazola, San Bartolo Coyotepec for their black pottery and Museo Estatal de Arte Popular de Oaxaca (State Museum of Folk Art (MEAPO), Santa María Atzompa for green pottery and the archaeological site, the Pueblos Mancomunados of the Sierra Norte, and then there are the mezcal palenques in the valley of Oaxaca.  I guess B will just have to come back!

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