Good friend and chef Rodolfo Castellanos with his adorable daughter Elisa. Chef Rodolfo owns Restaurante Origen in Oaxaca. He and his wife, Lisette, asked me to join them for comida (the main meal of the day) at Oaxaca's Restaurant La Teca, where chef Rodolfo ordered an incredible meal for us.
While in Oaxaca with a writers' group, I took a little time away from that group to visit another group: several culinary-world friends who live and work in this southern Mexico city. I played hooky to eat on Friday with Pilar Cabrera at her wonderful restaurant La Olla, and on Saturday with chef Rodolfo Castellanos and his family at La Teca, a restaurant specializing in cooking from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
The Isthmus of Tehuantepec is the skinniest part of mainland Mexico, lying between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Prior to the opening of the Panama Canal, it was the most important route for goods working their slow way across the relatively flat lands between the two bodies of water. Partly in Oaxaca, partly in Chiapas, partly in Tabasco and partly in Veracruz, the territory has its own legends, its own history, and its own cuisines.
You may not be aware that you are already familiar with the native dress of the Tehuanas, as the women of the isthmus are known. Above, a Frida Kahlo 1948 self portrait, dressed as a Tehuana. Image courtesy of: http://www.earlywomenmasters.net
Just off the beaten tourist track in Oaxaca, Restaurant La Teca serves outstanding food from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The welcoming owner and cook, Señora Deyanira Aquino, will make sure that you eat your fill of her marvelous regional cuisine.
The cooking of the Isthmus is traditionally corn-based and idiosyncratic. Most ingredients are indigenous to its hot lowlands (for example, armadillo and iguana) and its proximity to the sea: fresh and dried shrimp, fresh fish, and other creatures from the ocean depths.
Tamalitos de cambray from Tehuantepec, savory-sweet tamales made of chicken, raisins, olives, almonds, and capers.
These are molotes de plátano macho (small, sweetly ripe plantain croquettes) topped with crema de mesa (table cream) and queso fresco (fresh cheese). The three of us shared an order of four molotes. We kept dividing the last one into smaller and smaller pieces so that one of us did not hog the whole thing--although each of us would have!
Next course at La Teca: a taco filled with a small chile pasilla oaxaqueño relleno (a regional dried chile, reconstituted, stuffed, and fried). It doesn't look like anything special, does it? If you could just enjoy the fragrance, I assure you that you would want to lick your monitor.
The owner and chief cook at La Teca is Sra. Deyanira Aquino, born and raised in the Isthmus. Women of the region are called 'tecas'--from Tehuantepec--hence the name of the restaurant.
You are probably well aware of the mythical seven moles of Oaxaca, and although the state is best known for those, there are many other less-well-known but equally wonderful dishes available to visitors. By all means go see Sra. Aquino at La Teca; you will be as thrilled by everything you eat as we were. This is not fancy, high-end designer-plated food. Your palate will be delighted by traditional Tehuantepec home-style cooking. And oh my god, you might exclaim, did the three of you really eat all that? We most assuredly did, every bite, and so will you.
Restaurant La Teca
Calle Violetas #200-A
01.951.515.0563 (from within Mexico)