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Posts Tagged ‘traditional cuisine’

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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The long-awaited 3er Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales de Oaxaca (3rd Gathering of Traditional Oaxacan Cooks) opened yesterday in the Centro Cultural y de Convenciones de Oaxaca (CCCO) — the new convention center.

While not nearly as convenient for yours truly as the previous two, which were held only a block away in the Plaza de la Danza, the Cocineras event had rapidly outgrown the old space and this site was more than adequate.

The gathering showcases 60 cooks, representing the 8 regions of the state, preparing more than 200 typical Oaxacan dishes — including desserts and beverages. Prices for each dish are reasonable and there is plenty of seating.

In addition to dining and drooling, there are cooking and craft workshops, educational conferences, and area where one can purchase kitchen and table related products, along with various packaged foodstuffs.

By the way, even the Zapotec God of Rain, Cocijo, blessed the opening with a much-needed downpour, but the rain didn’t dampen any spirits!

The Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales runs through Sunday, September 22, food stalls are open from 1:00 to 8:00 PM daily, and entrance is free.

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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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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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