In Oaxaca, the state's fine regional drink--mezcal, la bebida de los dioses (the drink of the gods)--is almost as common as water. Whether enjoyed from a shot glass or sipped from a traditional jícara (a small dried half-gourd), the smoky taste of mezcal combines perfectly with sal de gusano (worm salt, pictured above in the clay bowl) and fresh orange slices.
A couple of years ago, Mexico Cooks! was invited to Oaxaca as a guest of Mexico Today, a new Mexican government initiative designed to promote all the best of Mexico to the world. Twenty-four diverse writers--all with a passion for Mexico--met in Oaxaca to bond and to learn about the new program we would soon be representing to our readers. As you might imagine, Mexico Cooks! thought what's cooking in Oaxaca was one of the major highlights of the trip.
We experienced our first Oaxaca cena (late-evening supper) at Pitiona, the new and highly touted restaurant owned by young Chef José Manuel Baños Rodríguez. Along with several other courses, he served our group this estofado de carne de res con mole (braised beef tongue with mole). The three pale-green globes are olive liquid that burst in the mouth to release the pure essence of green olive. The beef? Delicious, tender tongue. Some of our group could barely believe that beef tongue, of all things, could be so wonderful.
My good friend Lisa Coleman, went with me the next day for a relatively light comida (the main meal of Mexico's day) at Pilar Cabrera's marvelous restaurant, La Olla. Our first course was a plate of four of these tostadas callejeras (street-food-style tostadas). Not one smidgen of anything--not tomato, not guacamole, not lettuce, not the crispy corn tostada and certainly not the delicious Oaxaca-style chorizo (spicy sausage)--remained on the plate after we finished the course.
Chef Alejandro Ruiz closely supervised the preparation of a beautiful and amazingly delicious Saturday-night cena for a special group. A candle-lit mezcal and jamaica (infusion of hibiscus flower) martini started our elegant meal at Restaurante Casa Oaxaca.
The Casa Oaxaca cebiche (marinated raw fish) appetizer, served with mango cubes, onion, cilantro, and an espejo (literally mirror, but in this case, a pool) of marinade that included jugos de limón y maracuyá (key lime and passionfruit juices). This socko flavor combination was the hit of the night for me.
Next week: a delightful restaurant for home-style regional Oaxacan cuisine.
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