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Posts Tagged ‘food’

An hour south of Oaxaca city, the Zapotec village of San Antonino Castillo Velasco has much to recommend it. Besides the fields of flowers raised to decorate graves and altars throughout the valley and inspire elaborate floral designs on its blouses and dresses, the cocineras (cooks) of San Antonino serve a distinctive and delicious Empanada de Amarillo — a dish I never miss and one that has earned the village the (perhaps self-proclaimed) title, “world capital of the empanada.”

The main ingredients of the filling are pork broth, chile guajillo, masa, manteca, and cilantro. However, undoubtedly each cook adds her own secret seasoning(s).

Hot off the (tortilla) press, tortillas are placed on the comal to cook.

Once they reach the correct texture, the filling is spooned onto the tortilla and it is folded in half to be cooked, flipped, cooked, and flipped again until ready to serve.

The empanadas are traditionally served on a bed of lettuce and garnished with radishes and lime wedges and there is usually a small dish of pickled onion slices to further enhance the flavor. Yes, I ate the whole thing and it was riquisima!

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Located in the main entrance to the 20 de noviembre market, the mural by César Villegas González raises THE issue we should keep in the forefront of our minds when we set out to go grocery shopping.

Alimentación mortal — Food that can be deadly?

Or, Comida de los Dioses — Food of the Gods?

I choose to take a ride on the magical metate!

The mural was inaugurated in March 2019 as part of the “Vive tu Mercado 2019” program which seeks to promote the cultural and gastronomic riches found in the city’s mercados.

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Sunday, I headed up into the clouds for the 19th Feria Regional de Hongos Silvestres (Regional Wild Mushroom Fair) in San Antonio Cuajimoloyas. Friends had hired a van and driver to take us on the steep winding climb into the Sierra Norte. An hour and a half after we left the city, we arrived at our destination, 10,433 feet above sea level. Cuajimoloyas has an ethereal feel and seems like a world apart from the valley below.
       
Baskets of fresh mushrooms with shiny orange caps and mushrooms resembling coral, trumpets, cauliflower, and flower petals beckoned. And the aroma of grilled mushrooms, mushroom tamales, mushroom empanadas, and chile relleno stuffed with mushrooms stimulated the appetite.
There were dried mushrooms in bulk and in little cellophane baggies for purchase.
Mushrooms aren’t the only produce the region is known for — delicious apples and new potatoes are grown in these chilly mountains.
And, there there were local crafts for sale and a couple of kinds of mezcal to taste (and buy).
I came home with apples, potatoes, a bottle of the lovely A Medios Chiles mezcal made from the wild Jabalí agave, and 30 grams of dried mushrooms. While the mushrooms weren’t of the “magic” variety, the experience certainly was!
“Mushrooms were the roses in the garden of that unseen world, because the real mushroom plant was underground. The parts you could see – what most people called a mushroom – was just a brief apparition. A cloud flower.” ― Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood

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Today found me (courtesy of blogger buddy Chris) savoring market day in Tlacolula de Matamoros.  The Sunday market is one of the oldest continuous tianguis in Mesoamerica, a commercial center for the neighboring communities, and a beehive of energy and activity.

There is food…

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Chiles and more

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Chickens roasting on an open fire

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A bounty of fruit

Necessary cooking equipment, Oaxaca style…

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Gourds for measuring and serving, palm fans for fanning the cooking flames, and brushes for moving ingredients about the comal

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Metate for grinding corn, chocolate, dyes, etc.

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Molcajetes necessary for crushing and grinding herbs, spices, and making the best salsas and guacamole

And, most of all, people…

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Poultry shopper and hammock seller

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Tortilla vendors

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Garlic vendor

Market day in Tlacolula is chicken soup for my soul.

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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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