The 2nd Annual Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales de Oaxaca was about food, of course--more than 300 different and delicious dishes, prepared and served by about 85 of Oaxaca's finest traditional cooks, from all eight regions of the state of Oaxaca. The event was also food for the heart and soul, an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and colleagues and to meet people who were sure to become close to us. Lifelong cocinera tradicional (and owner with her husband, Fidel Méndez) of Oaxaca City's Restaurante Las 15 Letras, my beloved and beautiful friend Celia Florián (above) is the person in charge of organizing and overseeing the Encuentro. She works in tandem with Adriana Aguilar, director of the Oaxaca City Tourism Department, and with Myriam Corro Niño de Rivera of the same agency, as well as with an entire team of incredibly organized and dedicated people, to bring the Encuentro to fruition each year. It takes the steady hands of people passionately devoted to an event to bring it to such a high state of art. Photo courtesy Lourdes Rosas. All other photos copyright Mexico Cooks! unless otherwise noted.
At the early-April Mexico City press conference before (and about) the Encuentro, key members of the organizing committee along with two cocineras tradicionales, without whom there would be no Encuentro. Left to right: Sra. Dolores Ofelia Martínez Pacheco, Oaxaca; Sra. Celia Florián; Sra. Adriana Aguilar; Myriam Corro Niño de Rivera; Sra. Margarita Carrillo de Salinas; Sra. Catalina Chávez Lucas.
The irrepressible María del Carmen Gómez Martínez, cocinera tradicional from Tlahuitoltepec, Sierra Norte, Oaxaca. Due to her wonderful charisma and her delicious array of regional dishes (empanadas de frijol, several types of tamales, caldo mixe, and the spectacular tepache con espuma roja (pictured below, all from the Sierra Norte), her stand at the Encuentro was always crowded with fans. Photo courtesy Silvana Salcido Esparza.
One of the delicious traditional preparations little known outside regional Oaxaca and made by María del Carmen Gómez is this tepache con espuma roja, a slightly fermented drink made with pulque, panela (raw brown sugar), and a thick foam made of ground corn, chocolate, and achiote. Achiote is a spice/coloring agent usually associated with comida (food) from Yucatán, but it is also used in Oaxaca. To the left, blue corn tortillas.
Sra. Concepción Abrego Rivera, cocinera tradicional from San Pedro y San Pablo Teposcolula, in the Mixteca region north of the city of Oaxaca. Sra. Abrego is holding hoja de milpa, long corn leaves used to wrap a kind of regional tamal.
Chile relleno mixteco prepared by Sra. Abrego. The chile she used was the small, dried chile pasillo oaxaqueño, reconstituted, filled with delicious picadillo (in this case, a savory and fruited hash), then covered with egg batter and fried. The sauce, which makes my mouth water just seeing the picture, contains almonds, capers, olives, pineapple, and typically sweet and sour seasonings. This dish was among my top three favorites at the Encuentro. I liked it so well I ate it two days in a row and wish I could have it for my comida (Mexico's main midday meal) today!
A group of colleagues and friends in Mexico's culinary world: left to right, long-time journalist Celia Marín Chiunti, extraordinary professional photographers Sergio Mendoza Alarcón and Bertha Herrera, and delightful writer/editor Marichuy Garduño. Seeing each of them--and particularly having the opportunity to spend this time together eating, laughing, and catching up on the latest news--was a sweet treat indeed.
Abigail Mendoza Ruíz in her outdoor home kitchen, preparing just a small amount (!) of mole negro for a fandango (huge Oaxaca-style party) in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca. In the background, you can see a large pedal loom; the Mendoza Ruíz family are well-known as wool rug weavers as well as cooks. Mexico Cooks! was privileged to have been among the women invited to the day-long fiesta.
Rufina Mendoza Ruíz (back to camera) and Marcelina Mendoza Ruíz as they prepare plates of enmoladas for eager diners at the 2018 Encuentro. Their glistening hair is braided with red ribbons typical to Teotitlán del Valle. The braids are often wrapped together on top of a woman's head, as you can see in the photo of Abigail Mendoza making her mole negro. Photo courtesy Silvana Salcido Esparza.
Enmoladas con mole negro (tortillas dipped in black mole, then rolled with chicken and topped with more mole negro, thinly sliced onion, chopped parsley, and fresh cheese) as prepared by the delightful Mendoza Ruíz sisters: Abigail, Rufina, and Marcelina. The Mendoza Ruíz family are lifelong residents of Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, about 30 minutes south of Oaxaca City.
Chilecaldo, shared with me by my lovely Mexico City friend, Ruth Fajardo González. The reddish-brown chile chilhuacle rojo to the left in the bowl gives the caldo an inimitable taste: no other chile is like the chilhuacle. In the case of the chilecaldo, the chile is used when fresh. If you need this chile dried, (it has black, red, and yellow varieties) and live outside Mexico, it's sometimes available online. Ruth generously let me taste the soup--the broth alone was deeply flavorful and spiced perfectly by the chilhuacle. This regional caldo was prepared by cocinera tradicional Sra. Mayra Mariscal Hernández, of San Juan Bautista Cuicatlán, where most of the chilhuacle chiles are produced by just five producers, in the Cañada zone of Oaxaca state.
Beloved friends--we took a brief break from stuffing ourselves to have our picture taken. What joy to be together at the Encuentro! Left to right: Celia Marín Chiunti and (standing, in red) Sonia Ortiz, founders of the wonderful Youtube channel Cocina al Natural, (seated) Mexico Cooks!. Standing, Rafael Mier, found of the profoundly important Facebook group Tortilla de Maíz Mexicana (if you haven't joined, please add your name to the group's nearly 350,000 followers!) and Silvana Salcido Esparza, six-time James Beard nominated chef (Best Chef Southwest USA) and owner of restaurants Barrio Café and Barrio Café Reserva, Phoenix, Arizona. Photo courtesy our long-suffering waiter, who pushed his way through the crowds to deliver drinks, food, and photographs!
Our group of many friends shared this newly made fresh cheese. The cheese was wrapped in the large leaf you see; the leaf left its imprint on the cheese and kept the cheese moist and cool. We ate it all, of course.
Everybody loves mezcal from Oaxaca and it's always good to taste whatever brand or variety is offered. Click on this or any photo to make it bigger so you can see it better; here, the priest has a tasting glass in each hand. As the saying goes, "Una vez al año no hace daño." (Once a year does no harm.) Mexico Cooks! saw him in the Market section of the Encuentro.
Vendedor de gardenias (gardenia seller) at the Encuentro. He walked by every table and sold many bouquets of fragrant gardenias.
Next week, Days 3 and 4 of the Second Annual Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales de Oaxaca. We're only halfway through--and the festival just kept getting better. Days 3 and 4--well, you'll see. Remember to come back to read more!
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