Emblematic of Oaxaca and its mezcal culture, sal de gusano (worm salt) and a wedge of fresh orange are the truly Oaxacan accompaniments to a shot of what Mexicans call la bebida de los dioses (the drink of the gods). And yes, sal de gusano is made with sea salt, ground chile, and ground dried maguey worms. I promise you that it is delicious.
The last morning of Mexico Cooks!' recent stay in Oaxaca (invited by Mexico Today), I grabbed a friend who's working with the initiative and headed off to the city's famous Mercado Benito Juárez. The market is in many ways similar to but in many ways different from the traditional markets of Mexico's Central Highlands, those that Mexico Cooks! knows best. Both my friend and I were fascinated by what we saw and learned while we were poking around among the stalls.
The large carved bowls at the top of the basket and several of the smaller carved bowls to the lower right--including the laquered red ones--are actually jícaras (dried gourds). Jícaras are traditionally used for drinking mezcal. Around the edge of the basket you see sonajas (rattles), in this case whole dried gourds on sticks. The seeds dry inside the gourds to provide the sound effects when you shake the stick.
Rural Oaxaca grows chiles of all kinds, including some that are unique to the state. These are dried chile chilhuacle negro, arguably the most expensive chile in Mexico. Retail price? Eight hundred pesos the kilo--about $75 USD for 2.2 pounds, at today's exchange rate.
Bags, bags, and more bags--all plastic--sell at two adjacent market stands. The bolsas (bags) range from the little zipper change purses in the basket at lower right to the big woven market bags on the left and at the rear. Mexico Cooks! came home with two of the big ones.
Mexican chile terminology is filled with contradictions. These are chiles pasillas oaxaqueños (Oaxacan pasilla chiles). Chiles pasillas are different sizes, shapes, colors, and flavors depending on where you are in Mexico, but these are unique to Oaxaca.
Chile de agua (literally, water chile) is another specialty pepper from Oaxaca. Some folks say its heat is medium, some folks swear it's hot as hell, and everyone agrees that it's very difficult to find outside Oaxaca. Look back a few weeks on Mexico Cooks! to see a wonderful use for these small chiles. I loved the flavor and the picor (heat factor).
Three of Oaxaca's famous moles. These are sold as pastes, by weight. You simply reconstitute them with chicken broth at home and serve them with the meat of your choice. Mexico Cooks! is crazy about carne de cerdo con mole negro (pork with black mole).
We'll come back to Oaxaca, just to give you a sample of marvelous food and drink--next Saturday morning, right here at Mexico Cooks!. Be ready for more regional Oaxacan specialties.
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Disclaimer: Marca País-Imágen de México is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination. This program is designed to shine a light on the Mexico that its people experience every day. Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating content for the Mexico Today program. All stories, opinions, and passions for all things Mexico that I write on Mexico Cooks! are completely my own.