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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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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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As I’ve previously mentioned, my grandson loves skeletons and skulls AND he also loves Oaxacan chocolate.  Recipe for the perfect gift to take to him:  Go to my favorite chocolateria, Conchita (local # 210) inside Mercado 20 de Noviembre.

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Take 1 kilogram of chocolate beans, add 1 kilogram of sugar and 25 grams of cinnamon sticks, and mill in the Mexicano embalado.

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Bring home a plastic bag full of warm chocolate, spread out on a cookie sheet, let cool, then cut and stamp.

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A recipe for the perfect gift to bring to my Day of the Dead loving, chocoholic grandson.

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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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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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As the last couple of posts hinted, this year, instead of the city, I spent much of Semana Santa (Holy Week) in one of my favorite places — Teotitlán del Valle.

This was only the beginning.  It was a colorful, moving, and delicious experience!

 

 

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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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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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A pause in the Cuba coverage to echo Dorothy, “There’s no place like home” — especially if that home is Oaxaca.  I needed (yes, needed!) chocolate and coffee and, thus, headed toward the Benito Juárez and 20 de noviembre mercados.  As always, even just a grocery shopping trip is a feast for the senses.

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First, a calenda on Calle Independencia of students, academics, and workers to launch the registration of candidates for rector of Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca (UAJBO).

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A peek into el pasillo de las carnes asadas (ahhh, the smells) in 20 de noviembre mercado, while waiting for my chocolate guy to finish with other customers.

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A look at the finished murals (and merchandise) in a newly opened shop at Calle Macedonia Alcalá 100.

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Stopping to gaze up at the “Aves Sin Paraíso” exhibition above the Alcalá.

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Almost back to Casita Colibrí, a new stencil at the corner of Morelos and Tinoco y Palacios.

By the way, I got the chocolate, but couldn’t find my coffee guy in the maze of temporary stalls set up on the streets surrounding the Benito Juárez mercado (it’s undergoing a much-needed renovation).  There’s always mañana — I’m not completely out, yet.

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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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As you know, I love the food of Oaxaca.  However, having spent most of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area, home to cuisine from all over the world, there are times when the palate craves a little international flavor.  So, I was delighted to finally try the Indian restaurant, Mini Taj, located in the Plaza Bugambilias building at Garcia Vigil 304, between Matamoros and M. Bravo.

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Opened in 2012 (yes, I’m late to the party), it is the delicious creation of Chef Ramesh Chawla.  Originally from Haryana, India, he was born into a caste of chefs and has been cooking and refining his talents since he was twelve years old.  Chef is very exacting in his flavors and travels to the USA every two months to personally source the herbs and spices needed for his recipes.

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It is well worth it.  The Chicken Tikka Masala that I had last week and the Lamb Korma and Lamb Rogan Josh that my amiga J and I shared today were all exquisite.  The Steamed Basmati Rice and Naan were perfectly prepared and the Mango Lassi is one of the most refreshing beverages one could ever hope to drink.  If you don’t believe me, check out the rave reviews on Trip Advisor.  So get thee to Mini Taj and never mind the current road construction.

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Mini Taj is open 11 AM to 10 PM, Monday through Sunday.  Spread the word and, as their website says, “Be prepared to be blown away.”

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Day three of Oaxaca Sabe took me to meet a gal pal for comida at El Olivo.  She has become a regular there but I hadn’t yet been to their new location on Constitución and was pleasantly surprised by the sophistication and warmth of the space.  After several sips of a nice glass of Tempranillo (included in the prix fixe menu) and conversation, our divine starters arrived…

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Rollo de quesillo relleno de huitlachoche con puré aguacate y ensalada de arúgula (Roll of quesillo cheese stuffed with corn smut, garnished with avocado puree and arugula salad)

As I’ve mentioned before, I have become a huitlacoche enthusiast and thus savored the mushroomy corn flavors.  The main course was Ballotine de lomo de cerdo acompañado de pure de manzana y piña asada con reducción de pomelo y zanahorias horneadas (Rolled pork loin accompanied by applesauce and roasted pineapple sauce with a grapefruit reduction and baked baby carrots).  Dessert, which I “forced” myself to eat, was a yummy Tarta de manzana al cardamomo (Cardamom apple tart).

Then there was yesterday’s comida with my recently returned (from el norte) blogger buddy Chris.  On the seventh day of last spring’s Oaxaca Sabe, we were tired but determined to continue our restaurant-a-day record and had somewhat randomly chosen Sabina Sabe.  It was a great decision and so was yesterday’s return.  I began with the Crema de mejillones al vino blanco con crotones de pan amarillo (Cream of mussels in white wine soup with croutons) — not very photogenic, but muy sabrosa.  It was followed by…

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Trucha en vara, asada con chimichurri de poleo (Trout on a stick grilled with a chimichurri sauce of pennyroyal)

It was my second trout meal in less than two weeks, was cooked to perfection, and the poleo offered an unexpected, but welcome, flavor to the chimichurri.  Have I mentioned, how much I love how Oaxaca Sabe affords being exposed to new restaurants and the way their chefs combine and create with familiar and new (to me) ingredients?  My dessert, was another yummy delight…

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Dulce Istmeño de yuca y piña con cada y coulis de zarzamoras (Dessert from Isthmus of Tehuantepec of yucca and pineapple with blackberry coulis)

Today, I was up early for this year’s fifth Viernes del Llano promenade and competition, where I again rendezvoused with Chris.  Once it was over, we walked up to El Asador Vasco Plaza Parque in Colonia Reforma for a Oaxaca Sabe desayuno (breakfast).  Seated on their terrace, amidst the chatter and laughter of other patrons, we were quickly provided with coffee and jugo primavera (spring fruit juice).

Our first course of copa de yogurt con fruta y granola (yogurt with fruit and granola) was layered in a wine goblet, with small bowl of honey and honey dipper to the side.  It was lovely to look at, but after an hour and a half of taking photos of the young women parading around the statue of Benito Juárez in Llano Park, neither one of us remembered to take out our cameras until we had finished it.  However, we were camera-ready for our main course…

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Huevos César (Bacon coddled egg on a potato pancake served of a bed of greens)

Coffee was refilled and the final and sweet course arrived.  Though I’d already eaten more than I ever eat for breakfast, I did manage a few bites of the panqué de naranja con mermelada de la casa (Orange cake served with a red fruit marmalade).  The entire meal was a delicious way to start the day!

Mañana?  Who knows where Oaxaca Sabe will take us…

 

 

 

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Early this morning, I bid my BFF a fond farewell after a fun, freezing (more about that another day), and food filled two weeks.  Delicious dining options are few and far between in her neck of the woods — the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska.  So, the aforementioned cooking class and restaurants were at the top of her list.  We made the most of her time here with comidas at Biznaga, Las Quince Letras, Restaurante Catedral, and Zandunga, along with some tasty street food up in the mountains in Capulalpam and Llano Grande (the chilly part of her visit).

And, as luck and good timing would have it, Oaxaca Sabe (Oaxaca’s version of restaurant week) opened two days ago.  Thus, it was Tres Bistro on Monday.  She had the “Aire” (Air) and I had the “Mar” (Sea) menu.  All of our choices were prepared and presented to perfection and left both of us stuffed and smiling.

Rollitos de salmón al eneldo (Salmon rolls with dill cream cheese)

Rollitos de salmón al eneldo (Salmon rolls with dill cream cheese)

Captura del día rellena de mariscos (Fish of the day stuffed with seafood)

Captura del día rellena de mariscos (Fish of the day stuffed with seafood)

Panna cotta de coco con coulis de jamaica (Coconut panna cotta with a coulis of hibiscus flowers)

Panna cotta de coco con coulis de jamaica (Coconut panna cotta with a coulis of hibiscus flowers)

Tuesday, we had planned to go to Casa Crespo but when we arrived at 3 PM, they explained the Oaxaca Sabe menu would not be ready until 6 PM, because they were conducting a cooking class.  There were rumblings coming from our stomachs and BFF had to finish packing, so we opted not to wait and, instead, took ourselves to La Olla.  We ran into chef/owner Pilar Cabrera as we arrived, were seated upstairs, and were greeted from across the room by expat foodie friends, who were also enjoying the Oaxaca Sabe menu.

BFF began with the Ensalada de tomates criollos, quintoniles cenizos, arúgula y aderezo de tomate riñon (salad of native tomatoes, native Mexican greens, arugula, with a tomato dressing) and I had the Sopa de garbanzo (garbanzo bean soup).  I was expecting a heavier creamy blender soup, but this was an extremely light and flavorful broth.  However, it wasn’t very photogenic, so I will leave it to your imagination.  On the other hand, my main course and dessert both looked lovely and tasted yummy.

Camarones al mojo de chile meco (Shrimp with dried smoked chiles)

Camarones al mojo de chile meco (Shrimp with dried smoked chiles)

Panacotta de tejate (Tejate flavored pana cotta)

Panacotta de tejate (Tejate flavored pana cotta)

By the way, BFF raved that her main course of Amarillo con flores de calabaza rellenas de requesón (Squash blossoms stuffed with cheese in a yellow mole sauce) had the lightest tempura-like batter she had ever tasted.

Oaxaca Sabe again so soon?  Yippee!!!  Today, I’m off to El Olivo with another friend.  I’ll keep you posted…

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Can you believe it?  It seemed that no sooner had last month’s Oaxaca Sabe culinary adventure concluded, than the seventh annual Saber del Sabor: Festival Gastronómico 2015 kicked off.  This past Friday, the Plaza de la Danza was tented and decorated for a buffet dinner prepared by cooks from the eight regions of the state of Oaxaca.

For only 300 pesos (approximate $18.50), one could feast on a mind-blowing and waist-expanding galaxy of gastronomic delights.

Menu inauguacion Saber del saborThe dinner seeks to recognize and promote Oaxaca’s traditional cuisine.  Always a highlight are the maestros of barbacoa, who brave blistering heat and eye-stinging smoke as they turn and tend the spit-roasted piglets, lambs, and chickens.   Alas, this year by 8 PM the line was too long and I elected to miss these always succulent and mouth-watering delights.  However, I was in no danger of starving!

Of course, the chefs were the stars of the show and young and old alike savored their creations.

This year El Saber del Sabor is honoring two regional chefs:  Young chef, Ixchel Ornelas from Tlaxiaco, in the Mixteca Alta region of Oaxaca and Teotitlán del Valle’s own, Abigail Mendoza, who has done so much to promote and bring respect for Oaxaca’s traditional indigenous methods and flavors.

The festival continues with lectures, workshops, and gourmet meals prepared in the kitchens of Oaxaca’s top restaurants by celebrated chefs from all over Mexico — as well as a couple from Spain and the USA.

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