Day Three of Mexico Cooks!' February 2016 Oaxaca tour started with a superb breakfast at the municipal Mercado de la Merced. For starters, we ordered hot chocolate, traditionally made with water rather than milk, and frothed to a fare-thee-well. The bubbles lasted to the last drop in the cup and the flavor and texture were swoon-worthy. Pan de yema (egg yolk bread), iconic to Oaxaca, came with the hot chocolate. When you're in Oaxaca, be sure to have at least one breakfast at Fonda Florecita in the market; it's the only place to be on a Oaxaca morning.
Breakfast's main course: cecina enchilada (semi-dried beef flavored with spicy red sauce and then grilled), accompanied by enfrijoladas (tortillas dipped in anise-y black bean sauce, then topped with queso fresco and slivered onions). The anise-y flavor of the black bean sauce comes not from anise, but from the dried, powdered small leaves of the aguacate criollo (native avocado). All this and a huge glass of freshly squeezed orange juice got our day off to a bang.
After breakfast, our driver took our tour group to San Bartolo Coyotepec, the original home of Oaxaca's unique and famous barro negro (black clay). We spent most of our time in San Bartolo at the Museo Estatal de Arte Popular de Oaxaca (MEAPO), where many of the museum-quality pieces are actually for sale. Enriqueta López García made this huge cántaro de rosas (water jug decorated with roses); the piece measures more than two feet high. Barro negro is actually light grey prior to firing. After the clay is prepared by grinding and kneading, each piece is formed either on a pre-Hispanic wheel or in a mold and then dried in the sun for several days. The piece is then polished with a stone to bring out the color and the shine; after polishing, it is again dried for several more days. Once thoroughly dry, the piece is ready to be fired. During firing, it acquires its glossy metallic black finish. A high-quality piece like the one in the photograph can take a month or more to create.
Our next stop was San Martín Tilcajete, where I had arranged for the group to visit Maestro Jacobo Ángeles and his wife María, makers of world-renowned hand-carved, hand-painted copal wood alebrijes (realistic and fantasy animals). Jacobo and María are arguably the most successful alebrije makers in the village, although others have also had considerable success. They have a large workshop where Jacobo gives fascinating demonstrations of ancient aniline dye-making techniques. Although other alebrije makers have switched to modern acrylic paints, Jacobo Ángeles remains faithful to original aniline dyes. Due to the success of Oaxaca's alebrijes in the world crafts markets, approximately 150 households now make the majority of their annual income in their manufacture. Photo courtesy Chiripa.
The road from San Martín Tilcajete took us back to Oaxaca city, where we enjoyed a marvelous comida (main meal of the day) at La Teca. In the photograph, you see a plate of ikake, a fruit in conserve that was one of our desserts. The cooked consistency of the fruit is similar to that of a cooked plum, and the stone is nearly as large as the fruit itself. Mexico Cooks!' spelling may be incorrect; the name of the fruit does not appear to be Spanish, but is most likely a transliteration of a Zapotec word. If you are familiar with this fruit, please email me! You can read here about all of the delights of La Teca's wonderful food from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. It's one of my favorite restaurants in all of Mexico.
Restaurant La Teca
Calle Violetas #200-A
01.951.515.0563 (from within Mexico)
Next week: Day Four of Mexico Cooks! 2016 winter tour to Oaxaca, in which we visit the best market in Mexico and are privileged to eat with Abigail Mendoza.
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