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Posts Tagged ‘tea towels’

The marathon that was La Guelaguetza 2019 has been run and not a day too soon for most residents. It was an exhausting and at times grueling two weeks — so much to do and so little time — streets choked with traffic and sidewalks clogged with people. According to state government figures, at its height, hotel occupancy reached 97%, which I’m guessing doesn’t include the growing Airbnb presence.

Woman pouring tejate

My participation ended as it began with food and drink — at the 13th annual Feria del Tejate y el Tamal. Fortunately (for me), it’s held at the Plaza de la Danza, only a block away from Casita Colibrí. On July 30 and 31, seventy five women of the Unión de Mujeres Productoras de Tejate de San Andrés Huayapam came to my neighborhood to prepare and pour this prehispanic drink for the thirsty and curious.

Tejate with rosita de cacao blossoms

Tejate is a labor-intensive frothy, refreshing, nutritious, and (supposedly) aphrodisiacal non-alcoholic beverage made from corn mixed with tree ash, cacao beans, mamey seeds, rosita de cacao (Quararibea funebris) flowers, and peanuts or pecans (depending on the season).

Preparation takes at least twelve hours, as the beans, seeds, flowers, and nuts must be toasted on a comal and corn must be nixtamalized.  Ingredients are taken to a molino to be milled, then kneaded together, left to cool, eventually being hand-ground on a metate to make a thick paste — which is then thinned with water and (literally) mixed by hand.

jícaras

Tejate is traditionally served in brightly painted gourds (jícaras) which fits right in with this year’s effort by the feria organizers to eliminate the use of plastic, in keeping with recent legislation in Oaxaca to prohibit the sale and use of most single use plastic and styrofoam containers. Known as the beverage of the gods, as it was once reserved solely for Zapotec royalty, today tejate is for everybody and is also being made into cookies, ice cream, and nicuatole (traditional Oaxacan corn-based molded dessert).

nicuatole de tejate

However, this food fest wasn’t just about tejate. The other headliner of this event was the versatile tamal. Numerous varieties in steaming pots sitting on anafres (portable cooktops) sat behind rows of banquet tables filled with giant serving baskets covered in colorfully embroidered tea towels. Proud cocineras (cooks) listed their offerings and provided free samples to taste-test.

embroidered tea towel

Where to begin? There was a mind-boggling selection of tamales — at least a dozen kinds to choose from. Many are readily available daily at local mercados (of course, each family puts their own unique spin on the basic recipes). However, here in the city, tichinda (fresh water mussel) tamales are rarely seen. I tasted and they were yummy.

list of tamales

My primary goal, when it came to tamales, was “para llevar” (to go) and I came prepared with my own containers. On day 1, I wanted to bring home tamales for the staff who works at my apartment complex and a couple of carpenters who were onsite building door and window screens for a friend’s apartment. I made several rounds of the numerous vendors, studying their offerings (along with their lovely tea towels) and then just dove in! Besides buying a tamal de camaron (shrimp) for myself, I bought a mole verde (chicken with green sauce) and a mole negro (black mole sauce with chicken) for each the crew back home, along with tejate cookies for their dessert!

On day 2, I was in search of tamal de chichilo, 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’s one of my favorites and isn’t usually seen in the mercados, as it is usually reserved for special occasions such as weddings and baptisms or when the crops have been harvested.

tamal de chichilo

Besides eating a tamal de chichilo as soon as I returned home and another for dinner last night, six more currently reside in the freezer compartment of my refrigerator. Ahhh, preserving and celebrating the prehispanic riches of tejate and tamales — a couple of reasons why Oaxaca is a food lovers’ paradise.

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As the name implies, the Feria del Tejate y el Tamal also featured tamales, along with yesterday’s blog post subject, Tejate, “Drink of the Gods”.

embroidered tea towels

Tamal vendors from San Andrés Huayapam stood behind long tables lined with tin buckets, giant pots, and baskets covered with colorfully embroidered towels hiding every kind of tamal imaginable.  There were mole negro (black mole) tamales wrapped in banana leaves…

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And… flor de calabaza (squash blossom), amarillo (yellow mole), verde (green mole), chapulín (grasshopper), frijol (bean), and chepil (a wild herb) wrapped and steamed in corn husks.  The local newspaper reports there were also fish and shrimp tamales.  Darn, I didn’t even see them!  Though not a surprise because it was quite a scene as crowds amassed in front of the vendors placing their orders.  It reminded me of the lyrics from the Neil Diamond song, Sweet Caroline:  Hands, touching hands, reaching out…

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I don’t really have a favorite — they are all so uniquely special.  However, because chichilo mole originated in San Andrés Huayapam and is only served on special occasions (weddings, christenings, harvesting of crops), I always make sure to bring home a couple.  Chichilo 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.  They are so yummy!

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The prehispanic riches of tejate and tamales — a couple of reasons why Oaxaca is a food lovers paradise.

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There is SO much going on in Oaxaca right now that the doing isn’t leaving much time for the writing!

However, I’ll give it a try with today’s Feria del Tejate y el Tamal.  The festival is part of an effort to preserve the food culture of the Zapotec.

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What, you may ask, is tejate?  It’s a frothy, refreshing, and nutritious non-alcoholic pre-Columbian beverage made from Nixtamal corn mixed with tree ash, toasted cacao beans, mamey seeds, and Rosita de Cacao flowers.  The sale of tejate is the main economic activitity in San Andrés Huayapam, located about 7 miles north of the city, and it is prepared and served by the tejateras of the Unión de Mujeres Productoras del Tejate.

Then, of course, there were the tamales — in tin buckets and giant pots covered in layers of tea towels, many colorfully embroidered.  So many vendors anxious to reach into the steaming buckets and so many varieties to choose from.  Where does one start?

Blogger buddy Chris recommended the Rajas and Verde from the gal “down at that end,” a taste of a friend’s Flor de Calabaza added that to the list, Mole is a given, and I had to find Chichilo.  The latter is one of the seven moles of Oaxaca, it is only served on special occasions, such as weddings and christenings, or when the crops have been harvested.  Chilhuacle negro, mulatto, and pasilla chiles; blackened tortillas and seeds of the chiles; and avocado leaves (the latter imparting a subtle anise flavor) give it its distinctive flavor.  After three unsuccessful attempts, eureka, I found it!  And so I returned home with five mouth-watering tamales.

Platter with 5 tamales

Speaking of ingredients like corn, cacao, chiles, and calabaza, for a graphic of foods Mexico gave to the world, click HERE.

¡Buen provecho!

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