Oaxaca's Mercado de la Merced. It's small compared to the city's downtown Mercado 20 de noviembre, yet quite complete in its offerings and is arguably the most traditional of Oaxaca City's markets. You'll find everything from freshly baked pan de yema to--well, to anything you might need from a market. The Merced also has a number of excellent fondas--small, often family-run restaurant stands where one can eat well for a relatively low price. The market is at the corner of Calles José María Morelos and Leandro Valle in the city of Oaxaca.
We started our morning at the famous Fonda Florecita inside the Mercado de la Merced. Foamy hot chocolate was the envy of this piggy bank. Although I have eaten here with great pleasure on many other occasions, none of us were too happy with breakfast today. We finished fairly quickly and took a walk through the market to see what was available and interesting.
These oval, "pleated" tomatoes are shaped almost like kidneys--hence their name, jitomate de riñón (kidney tomatoes). They are endemic to Oaxaca and have a slightly different and more intense tomato flavor that gives a truly special taste to the dishes in which they're used.
On the left, locally grown granadas (pomegranates). On the right, a tiny fruit called jiotillo, similar to its large cousin, the pitaya.
Anywhere you wander in Oaxaca, you'll find chapulines (grasshoppers) for sale. They come toasted with salt, chile, and a little jugo de limón (juice of Mexico's most common lime). These are my favorites, the tiniest ones. Sprinkled into a quesadilla, served with guacamole, or as a botana (snack) on their own, they're delicious. Yes, they really are.
What we see in Mexico is often a surreal juxtaposition of objects. Here, a market vendor displays raw chickens with their feet splayed out below a huge and beautiful magnolia flower, still on its branch. And why not.
Left to right: locally grown and freshly harvested ajo (garlic), an enormous green pod--close to 18" long--called cuajinicuil, tiny green miltomates in a plastic bag, and granadas (pomegranates).
Later we cut the cuajinicuil open at the edges to see and taste the edible parts inside. The raw, fluffy, white, fibrous material protects the green seeds and is the part that's eaten as a sweet fruit. The green seeds, which are just under two inches long, can be cooked and eaten, but are not eaten raw. We and several friends tried the white part and pronounced it delicious and refreshing.
Outside the market, newly laundered jeans hung on a chicken wire fence to dry.
We grabbed a cab from the market to the Plaza de la Danza in Oaxaca's Centro Histórico to continue with Day Three at the Second Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales de Oaxaca.
Just inside the entrance to the event, we saw this wonderful example of ingenuity: a wheelbarrow, converted into a fogón (fire enclosure, the flames are just visible)--complete with a cal (builder's lime) coated clay comal supported by bricks for preparing tortillas. The use of cal gives the surface of the comal a non-stick coating. Cocinera tradicional Sra. Martina Sánchez Cruz of the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca, was in charge of preparing the tortillas. We'll see more of doña Martina next week, in a special event at the Encuentro. "Doña" is an honorific given to women (it's "don", for men) as a sign of respect.
Ceviche made from wild mushrooms by young cocinera tradicional María del Carmen Gómez Martínez from Tlahuitoltepec, Sierra Norte, Oaxaca.
Garnachas--in this case, five small tortillas similar in size and shape to the antojito known as sopes, served with frijoles negros refritos (refried black beans), and with picadillo, among other toppings, all accompanied by delicious crumbled cheese and verduras encurtidas (pickled vegetables). Served with choice of salsas.
Cocineras from the Zona Triqui, west and slightly to the north of the city of Oaxaca City. The indigenous Triquis live in some of the most remote villages of Oaxaca state; outside their region, their food is very little known. These women, and several other Triqui women, traveled with some difficulty to bring their cuisine to the Encuentro. They were unfortunately disappointed in the public's limited understanding and acceptance of the food they prepared.
We were much enamored of each community and region's typical dress and hairstyle. Unfortunately I don't have notes to indicate some of the communities. There was simply too much to see, to much to hear, too much to experience, and above all, too many people crowded into booths to take highly detailed information.
Making tortillas with a press.
These beautifully dressed and coiffed cocineras tradicionales are anticipating what writer/chef Margarita Carrillo de Salinas will say as she takes notes on what the food they prepared and served in their stand.
Panza rellena con barbacoa (sheep stomach stuffed with meat and spices and then long-cooked). The panza had just been removed from the cooking vessel and cut open. The fragrance was delicious! The panza, along with several other dishes made of sheep, was prepared and served by cocinero tradicional Sr. Irving Sergio Clemente Villegas from Villa Tejuapam de la Unión, Teposcolula, in the Zona Mixteca. Men rather than women are almost always in charge of making barbacoa. Each molcajete (volcanic stone grinding vessel) filled with traditional green and red salsas was actually bigger than the panza itself.
One other barbacoa expert was selling his wares at the Encuentro. Sr. Alejandro López Cosme from the Villa de Zaachila in the Valles Centrales prepared Niño Envuelto made of barbacoa de res (beef barbacoa) or barbacoa de cerdo (pork barbacoa). Niño Envuelto translates literally to "a child wrapped up" and is the term used for making a jelly roll, so you can imagine how the meats are prepared for this dish. The beef is cut very thin, the way tasajo is cut, and well-seasoned. Then it's rolled around vegetables, layer upon layer, in a covering of native avocado leaves; the native avocado imparts an anise flavor to the meat. Then it's slathered with a concoction made by don Alejandro, covered, cooked for several hours, sliced, and served with salsa. Photo courtesy El Universal.
Cocinera tradicional Sra. Faustina Lucía Valencia Sánchez from San Antonino Castillo Velásco in the Valles Centrales, preparing chocolateatole early on the morning of the fourth day of the Encuentro. Sra. Valencia generously took the time to instruct us in the specifics of this uniquely Oaxacan drink. The foam for the drink, made of a particular kind of cocoa beans that are buried underground to ferment for as many as eight months--along with ground, toasted wheat, sugar, cinnamon, water, and other ingredients--is made separately from the atole itself, which is white. The foam is whipped until quite stiff with a special molinillo (chocolate beater) which has no loose rings. Once the foam is ready to be used, it will hold its shape for several hours or more. To serve the drink, one's cup is first filled with atole blanco, and then the thick, heavy foam is heaped on top. The foam is often made some time prior to the day it will be served, and then dried solid; when the festivities are about to start, the dried hunks of foam are ground to powder, sprinkled with water, and beaten again to use on top of the atole blanco (white atole).
Cacao fermentado (fermented cacao beans), the principal ingredient for Oaxacan chocolateatole. You might be familiar with champurrado, the chocolate atole (note separation of the words) made in many parts of Mexico. Chocolateatole is not champurrado, it is a drink unique to Oaxaca.
Grinding the fermented cacao beans on a metate to prepare for the foam for chocolateatole.
Chocolateatole oaxaquéño, topped with a large amount of extremely thick chocolate foam and ready to be drunk.
The Encuentro offered four full days of academic conferences in addition to offering food from every region of Oaxaca. We heard panel conference about El Quehacer de una Cocinera Tradicional (The Tasks of a Traditional Cook), moderated by chef Margarita Carrillo de Salinas; about La Cocina Oaxaqueña como Patrimonio del Estado de Oaxaca y la Importancia de Preservarla (The Oaxacan Cuisine as a Heritage and the Importance of Preserving It), presented by teacher, writer, and designer Claudio Sánchez Islas; El Maíz Como Patrimonio Gastronómico (Corn as a Gastronomic Heritage), presented by Maestro Rafael Mier Sáinz Trapaga (photo above); and Conversario de Cocineras Tradicionales del Estado de Oaxaca "Historias de la Vida" (A Conversation Among Traditional Cooks from Oaxaca: Life Stories, again moderated by writer/chef Margarita Carrillo de Salinas.
The group of eight cocineras tradicionales who willingly shared their life histories. Left to right: Sra. Carina Santiago Bautista, Sra. Faustina Lucía Valencia Sánchez, Sra. Martina Sánchez Cruz, Dra. Ana Laura Martínez (director of the Culinary Arts School in Tijuana, Baja California); Sra. Dolores García Arroyo; Sra. María Sarah Gómez Galán; Sra. Emma Méndez García (holding the microphone), Sra. Elena Tapia Flores (in the white cap), Sra. Porfiria Bautista López, and chef/writer Margarita Carrillo de Salinas, the moderator of the panel. This conference was so moving that we in the audience wept unguardedly as these women spoke. They opened their hearts and minds to tell us who they are, why they cook, and the incredible deep personal meaning their cooking holds for them, for their children, and for future generations. It was an honor and a privilege to be present.
At the end of that conference, cocinera tradicional Sra. Emma Méndez García, from Huautla de Jiménez, La Cañada zone, sang her gratitude to the audience with this song in her native Mazateco language. Sra. Méndez prepared five distinct dishes for the Encuentro, among them pipián con huevo duro (a seed-based sauce with hard-boiled eggs), tamales with tesmole (a pre-Hispanic recipe), and quelites (native greens).
On that beautiful note, we'll stop until next week. Come back on June 9, 2018, to enjoy Mexico Cooks! final report about the Second Annual Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales de Oaxaca. We're going to visit 70 cocineras traditionales as each of them prepares tamales important in the region where each cook lives. You know that I've been to many, many of Mexico's fantastic food events, but I have never been so bowled over as I was by the tamales demonstration. Don't miss it, right here in one week.
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