Sra. Martina Escobar Montero, gracious owner at Restaurante Catedral, welcomed our press group to Oaxaca with the city's typical hospitality. Pictured here at the bountiful buffet featured each Sunday at the restaurant, Sra. Escobar is flanked by (l) Carlos Contreras and (r) Faustino Hernández, both members of the restaurant team. Catedral, which opened originally nearly 40 years ago, finds itself in an enviable position: one of the best traditional restaurants in Oaxaca. Sra. Escobar has been at the helm for all those years. Mexico Cooks! has eaten there many times, and knows that the food, service, and ambience are impeccable.
The minute our press buses rolled into Oaxaca's Centro Histórico, we drove immediately to Restaurante Catedral, at the corner of Calles García Vigil and Morelos. We were immediately seated for the Sunday buffet in one of the sunny dining rooms. The mole negro (above), known in Mexico as el rey de los moles (the king of moles) was just one of the huge variety of dishes available from the buffet; Sra. Escobar told us that her delicious version is a generations-old family recipe; the layers of flavors in the mole combined to send us all to the moon.
Oaxaca's mole verde is one of my all-time favorite dishes, and the mole verde prepared at Restaurante Catedral is no exception. In my opinion, it was tied for first place with the mole negro. If you'd like to try making mole verde at home, you'll find a recipe in this Mexico Cooks! article from 2016.
After a full afternoon of press activities, our hosts took us all to the wonderful Tlayudas Doña Flavia, near Santa María de Tule, for tlayudas. The tlayuda is a very thin, large-diameter corn tortilla, specialty of Oaxaca. The tlayuda is prepared by spreading it with a smallish amount of asiento (ah-see-EHN-toh, the fat that's left in the bottom of the pot after rendering fresh pork lard; asiento is thick, deep brown, and full of tiny crispy bits of pork); that layer is then smeared with cooked and smoothly ground black beans. On top of that, you get a lot of quesillo (Oaxaca cheese). The tlayuda with its layers is then folded in half and, in this case, toasted over wood fire. If you've chosen a portion of meat to go with your tlayuda, it's also grilled and served on top. The tlayuda is cut in half so it fits on your platter (yes, platter) and served to you with pipicha, a Oaxacan herb that is meant to be torn apart and stuffed into each half. Use table salsa--red or green--as much as you like, and a pinch of salt if needed--to boost the layers of flavor even further. If you're in Oaxaca and hungry at night, Tlayudas Doña Flavia is the place to go.
Each of these tlayudas measures approximately 12" to 14" in diameter. They're ready to be prepared for desayuno (breakfast), comida (Mexico's main meal), cena (supper), or for a filling snack, any time of the day.
The following two days, we of the press crew ate our comida at the Encuentro--which was, after all, why we were in Oaxaca. Please be sure to see some of the highlights of what we ate here. Our second night in Oaxaca, our hosts had arranged a late-evening cena at Mezquite, a 'modern Mexican' restaurant, open just since February 2017, at García Vigil 601-A, Centro Histórico. The restaurant served us a variety of mezcales to taste, then a good selection of their appetizer/taco offerings.
A platter of Mezquite's delicious molotes bathed in mole and topped with cheese, sprigs of beautiful green verdolagas (purslane), and thinly slice radishes. These molotes were made of partially ripe plátano macho (plaintain) that is cooked in its peel and then smashed into a purée. The cook then forms it into a slightly elongated oval, fills it with (in this case) quesillo (Oaxaca cheese), lightly flours each one, and fries each one until it is golden brown. Are they delicious? Yes, indeed they are!
Although we ate and drank on the rooftop at Mezquite for nearly two hours, some of the moments of looking at the glorious illumination of Oaxaca's Templo de Santo Domingo managed to distract me from so much food, delicious though it was.
Sra. Deyanira Aquino, otherwise known as "La Teca" (a woman from the town of Juchitán, Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca) and owner of the marvelous restaurant also called La Teca, talked with me for a few minutes after giving a conference on the last day of the Encuentro. At the end of our chat, she said, "You mean you won't be able to come to the restaurant this time?" I told her I'd try, but the chances were slim. Press time was almost entirely accounted for by Encuentro activities. How disappointing for both of us! Shortly after our chat, though, a miraculous few hours opened up and I and a group of women friends from Mexico City were able to make the time to have cena at the restaurant with Sra. Deyanira. Our time with her was the icing on the cake of our days in Oaxaca!
We started as always with the fine mezcal served at La Teca. It's traditionally accompanied by orange slices or chunks which one sprinkles with sal de gusano (the truly delicious sal de Colima [sea salt from the western coastal state of Colima] combined with a finely ground secret mix of hot red chiles plus roasted and ground red maguey cactus worms). What, worms? Yes, and if you ever have a chance to try sal de gusano, please don't look askance. It's terrific and the flavors are all but addictive!
Among a selection of seven or eight different and marvelous dishes that we ate, La Teca's tamales de cambray stand out in my mind. These are a specialty of the Isthmus: filled with ground meats, potatoes, and a selection of fruits, the mixture moistened with mole and wrapped first in rich masa (corn dough) and then in banana leaves to steam, tamales de cambray are a delicacy not to miss. Just writing about them makes my mouth water!
Mexico Cooks! hopes you've enjoyed seeing the food, traditions, and people at the Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales de Oaxaca. The minute I know the dates for 2018, I'll let you know--and anyone who wants to come along with me, please let me know!
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