Central de Abastos was. It's huge. Don't expect to see it all, they told me. You're going to get lost and you have to be okay with it. I'm a fan of Mercado de la Merced in Mexico City, so my eyes light up at this kind of talk. I got to the market around noon, and my friends were right. I couldn't see anything from where I'd been dropped off; clothing vendors, shoe sellers and people selling remote controls and batteries stretched on and on. I asked a young woman where the food was and she looked confused -- it was like she'd never been there before. (Was this place really that big?) Eventually I found the main market building and it looked pretty similar to what I've seen in Mexico City, with some extra additions: long, stringy tripas dangled from rods at the meat stands; chile vendors sold costeño and amarillo and three types of chile pasilla oaxaqueña, separated by size. The sweet bread vendors sold pillowy pan de yema and these oval-shaped breads with bubbly tops, sprinkled with pink sugar. The real action was outside at the tianguis. The Central has a tianguis every Tuesday, which means vendors, many of them women, set up outside with their wares displayed on plastic tarps. There were so many vendors, I couldn't see where the line ended. They sold mountains of chiles de agua and baskets of heirloom tomatoes, and stacks of fresh basil, rosemary, poleo, chepiche. They sold pitayas and teeny cactus fruits called jiotilla, the size of kumquats. One group of vendors sold panela, unrefined cane sugar, in massive brownie-sized blocks. Further down about 30 women in aprons sat on stacks of newspaper and tied bundles of garlic together. Past them, perhaps a dozen more sat and tied bundles of spring onions. In between it all, ambulant vendors hurried by, selling Oaxacan oregano and cal in rock form. "Quiere la cal, doña? Doñita, la cal!" After about two hours, I'd loaded up two bags with purchases (there's a clay artesanía section too, where I bought two comales de barro), and refueled with an empanada de coloradito. I scribbled down a few notes in my notebook and the last line was: "Just. Totally. WHOA." If you're into food and you're visiting Oaxaca City, you must stop by. My food friends in Oaxaca tell me Tuesday is the best day. How to get there...A few friends in Oaxaca warned me about how crazy-insane the
The highlight of my trip to Oaxaca was the one-day cooking class I took with Reyna Mendoza. She’s a Zapotec woman who lives in Teotitlán del Valle, a small town about 45 minutes from Oaxaca City. She’s been making Mexican food by hand since she was a little girl. Mendoza has impressive credentials. She is heartily endorsed by Rick Bayless; she’s also worked with Ricardo Muñoz Zurita and Pilar Cabrera of Oaxaca's Casa de los Sabores. I wanted a course in Spanish, and Reyna's class seemed like a good fit for me. We'd get to cook in her outdoor kitchen, grind mole by hand on her metate and shop at the Teotitlán market. I showed up at her house bright and early one weekday morning, around 9 a.m. (Just a few minutes late because I actually believed the "shorcut to the Teotitlán Centro" sign off the main road.) She grabbed her straw basket and we set off for the market, which was about five minutes from her house. We passed other women in aprons and braids and rebozos, their market baskets tucked under their arms, too. Unlike the market in Tlacolula, the Teotitlán market seemed quiet and full of locals. I only saw one woman with European features; everyone else had mocha skin, inky hair, braids and rebozos. The market comprised two to three large, open rooms. Chiles, purple ejotes, purple tomatillos, onions and other produce lay stacked on large concrete tables. Prepared food sat in another room, with bundles of flautas and pots of rice and black beans. In the room beyond that, vendors sold herbs and roots and piles of sweet bread. The shoppers, almost exclusively women, loaded their baskets with everything they needed for the day. (Reyna specifically mentioned that to me: cooks here prepare everything fresh daily.) People talked and laughed and greeted each other in Zapotec. I made the mistake of saying “Buenos días!” to one vendor and she looked at me strangely. Reyna murmured to me: “People speak Zapotec here.” She taught me how to say “buenos días” in Zapotec: zac xtili. (I pronounced this Sock SHEEL-ee.) Suddenly I longed for a market basket too, and I asked Reyna if she knew where I could buy one. We walked to a stand in the next room, where I spotted a grand, oval thing with a sturdy handle, perfect for carrying a day’s worth of provisions from my local tianguis. The price was steep -- 250 pesos. Did I really need this basket? I tried to picture myself walking down the street in Roma, clutching the basket amid the street vendors and rumbling peseros. It could work, I decided. I bought it and didn’t try to bargain. We bought sweet bread to snack on, and we picked up the tomatillos, cilantro and avocados we’d need for the salsa later. I bought some purple-tinged ejotes, just because they looked kind of like dragon’s tongues. We walked back to Reyna’s house clutching our baskets. In front of us, three women carried their provisions on their heads. I’ll get to the cooking portion tomorrow, but here are a few more pictures of the market. ...
My visit to Tlacolula made me think a lot about the type of traveler I am. Now that I have a fancy camera, I bring it everywhere, so I can take pictures to show all of you people. (And to show my parents and friends.) But really, why is it so important for me to take pictures where I'm traveling? Is taking pictures ever exploitative, even when I don't mean it to be? The Tlacolula Market, held Sundays in the town of Tlacolula outside Oaxaca, has some interesting prepared foods and produce. But the people-watching is what makes Tlacolula an experience. Dozens of Zapotec women in colorful headscarfs and ribbon-wrapped braids walk around chattering in their language, selling bowlfuls of tejate, bunches of garlic with the stems still attached. They also buy and sell live turkeys. I'd never seen anything like this before. I desperately wanted to take portraits of these women, but I couldn't work up the guts to ask. (The photos above were shot secretly.) Instead I took pictures of food. About half the vendors I dealt with seemed upset even by that. One woman called out to me -- "Señora!" -- after I took a picture of her roasted chicken from across the aisle. When I told her I couldn't buy a chicken, she grumbled. So I offered to erase the photo. At another stand, I bought a kilo of criollo corn. The man selling it gave me a curt nod and didn't look at me when I asked if I could take a picture of it. Crayton asked me: Why are you so upset? They're vendors who make their livelihood off of selling food, and they're annoyed with tourists who don't buy anything. "But I am buying stuff!" I fumed at him. Except... not a metate. Seeing a line of them painted with flowers made my heart flutter, so much that I wanted a photo. I asked the vendor politely and she nodded and looked a bit annoyed. I wanted to give her something, but handing over 20 pesos seemed rude. I'm not sure she would've taken it. What it came down to was, yes, I had a camera, but I didn't like being treated like a rude tourist. Was I acting like one, just because I had a camera? Should I have not taken any pictures at all? I cared deeply about Mexican food and culture, and to arrive at Tlacolula and be treated like an outsider stung. But obviously I was an outsider. I didn't speak Zapotec and I didn't live in Tlacolula, and these people weren't making a dime from me. To just tromp in and expect them to cater to me didn't seem respectful either. A handful of the vendors I spoke to were really nice. The woman who sold me dried beans and tamala squash seeds said I couldn't Tlacolula without trying higaditos, which were a kind of egg guisado made with shredded chicken and tomatoes. It didn't have any liver, contrary to the name. Crayton and I shared a bowlful at a little fonda called "Juanita," inside the big market building. We also split a chocolate atole, which was nothing like the thick, overly sweet champurrados of Mexico City. This one was fluffy and light, full of pieces of corn. We also tried tejate, which is a pre-hispanic drink made from cacao, corn, and ground mamey seed called pixtle. It was viscous and not very sweet, which I liked. I also liked drinking it out of a jícara, a traditional bowl made from a squash gourd. A few days after my visit to Tlacolula, I visited the market in Teotitlan del Valle, another tiny town outside Oaxaca City. This time my guide was Zapotec -- a fabulous local cook named Reina Mendoza. The difference was noticeable: every vendor smiled at me, and one woman laughed when I said "thank-you" in Zapotec. (Reina told me how.) So my question for you is: What's the answer here? Is it a matter of not bringing the camera at all, and not writing this blog post out of respect for the people who sell their food and don't get paid directly by Internet attention? In a perfect world, I could've hired a Zapotec guide to take me around Tlacolula. Or paid some type of photo fee to take pictures. But neither of those things were options. What would you have done?
We spent two hours at the Tlacolula market outside Oaxaca City this morning, and the dessert above is one of the best things we tried. It's called calabaza batida and it's squash -- the tamala variety, as it's known locally -- cooked with water and piloncillo until it's thick and saucy. The mixture is then topped with pozole corn. I have lots more pictures to share with you, but I'm going to go read on the lounge chair while it's still light outside. This is supposed to be a vacation, after all... even though I brought my computer.
I didn't know much about Patzcuaro, Michoacán until a few months ago, when I decided to pitch a story based here. So here I am this weekend, working on said story. Arrived at noon today and I'm already in love with this town. It's hilly, and walkable, and all the buildings are rustic and topped with red-tiled roofs. Cars bump along on cobblestone streets. Just a few minutes ago, I saw a group of girls, probably 10 years old, walking down the street clutching colorful poofs of foklorico dresses. They were gabbing and all of them wore lipstick and eyeshadow. I'm staying at a rustic, quiet inn. All the rooms face this courtyard. For lunch, I ate my weight in mercado food, including a 15-peso cocktel de pulpo and camarón, sprinkled with diced habanero. (And a tostada. And a corunda. And a corn-on-the-cob with lime and chile. And queso ice cream streaked with boysenberry marmelade.) Stopped by the basilica, and saw this chapel.... I forgot how blue the sky could be. Which is kind of sad. Just went through my pictures and almost all of my pictures them are of plants, or the sky. Exhausted from waking up at 5:45 this morning. Gonna have a glass of wine and go to bed. Tomorrow I'm off to a yoga class... in my pajama pants, since I didn't bring any yoga clothes. Who knew they had yoga in Patzcuaro?
market in Coyoacán, which supposedly specializes in seafood. (And they have interesting stalls that sell honeyed lime peel.) We found a cute cafe and sat out on the patio, and gorged ourselves on ceviche, seafood cocktails and smoked marlin tacos. After lunch I bought some of that honeyed lime peel. It tasted pretty much like... lime peel. Oh well. On Saturday, hubby and I went to Contramar, one of the best seafood restaurants in the city. Half the menu is appetizers, which is great because you can try a bunch of stuff at the same time. We had the tuna tostadas, with a smidge of creamy chipotle sauce and crispy onions; the pulpo a la gallega, drizzled in spicy oil that cried out to be sopped up with a hunk of country bread; and the crab tacos, huasteca style, garnished with large slices of avocado. Plus we had wine. And bread. And a slice of fig tart for dessert. During the entire meal, I felt like I was emitting rays of sunshine. I already told Crayton we're going back for my birthday. For the food porn lovers, there are more pics after the jump. ...I'm a huge seafood lover, and lately I've been in heaven. Last Friday, my friend Alice and I went to the