Home Cookin'
    
Avatar

GNR Czar Emeritus
#1
Posted May 31st 2007, 3:39pm
A few years ago, the legendary RST posted some Oaxaca information for me on another board, and then I posted on my trip. Some people have expressed interest in this information from time to time, and to be truthful, I think Richard's post, which he gave me permission to copy, is wonderful. So here, in a few parts, are those posts from 2003. Thanks again, Richard.
_______________________________________

d
Feeling (south) loopy
Avatar

GNR Czar Emeritus
#2
Posted May 31st 2007, 3:39pm
this post is from 2003

A few quick notes on Oaxaca (for dickson)

Hey David,
Sorry it took so long to reply. I remember that you said in your email that you're leaving on the 28th (that's tomorrow!) I hope that you catch this before your flight and that you find these few notes helpful.

Oaxaca is one of the greatest food cities in Mexico. There is just simply an astounding number of places to enjoy sublime cooking. Even if I had the time, I could not possibly list them all. I'll try to list a few interesting places that I think would be convenient for you to get to from the hotel that you told me you will be staying at.

There are two famous markets in the city, the Central de Abastos near the 2nd class bus station and the Mercado Juarez/20 de Noviembre, just a block south of the zocalo. All the guidebooks list only these two and neglect to add that there are several other tiny neighborhood markets, many of which hide a few gems of their own.

One of my favorites among the smaller markets is just up the street from Hotel Golondrinas. The market is called Sanchez Pascuas and is about 3 or at most 4 blocks north on Tinoco y Palacios. The main entrance is actually on Porfirio Diaz but I am very sure that there is a back door on Tinoco Palacios. This is a really mellow place and never very crowded as the stalls are widely-spaced. In Oaxaca, I usually stay at a hostel on Cosijopi and so I consider this MY own personal neighborhood market.

There is a handful of fondas (food-stalls) on the T y P side of this market and a couple of excellent bakers towards the front. But the jewel of this market is the stall that offers quesadillas/empanadas. It's really nothing more than a couple of tables/benches and a comal set against a wall (the first dividing wall on the right if you come in from T y P). Try to sit right in front of the comal so that you can watch the senora pat out your tortillas and griddle-bake them on the lime(cal)-seasoned/lime(cal)-whitened comal. In the meantime, the other senora will probably be trimming the squash blossoms and getting the quesillo and epazote ready for your quesadilla de flor de calabaza. Since we have discussed and argued this little detail at length on the Chicago board, note that only the trimmed petal (the yellow part) and not one bit of green (calyx, stem, pistil) is used here. This is one of the finest quesadillas de f de c I have tried anywhere but make sure to try their other quesadillas as well (specially the empanada de mole amarillo). There is an excellent vendor of tamales sitting right next to them with a wide assortment of typical Oaxacan tamales, including tamales de chepil (we've discussed this herb on our board). If I remember correctly, the list of tamales is actually painted right behind them on the wall.

Re: Clayuda/Tlayuda

This is arguably the most glorious of Oaxaca's many street food forms. It's unique, it's delicious, it's beloved by all and could be found everywhere. Yet strangely enough, I have never seen a reference to it in any guidebook or food-listing for this city. Could all these gringo-tourists possibly be so stubborn about insisting on eating only their stupid resort-style fish tacos and California burritos and their fajitas that they could actually miss this splendor right in front of their eyes? I'm not going to describe it again as we've discussed this extensively on our board. The tlayuda itself (a thin masa "wafer" or disc, about a foot in diameter) could be bought from ladies sitting on the floor near the entrances of Mercado Juarez and crying "blandas, tlayudas". These blandas ("the" tortilla of Oaxaca) and tlayudas are still made painstakingly, in the traditional manner (metate etc) and only from the purest strains of corn. Several places around the market offer the "tlayuda preparada". That is, they turn those tortilla-discs (which look intriguingly a little bit like Mario Batali's Sardinian carta da musica) into the famous snack. They start by smearing one side of the tlayuda with asiento (see Chicago board) and black bean paste and stuffing it with queso natural and a choice of tasajo (air-dried beef) or cecina (in Oaxaca, cecina is always pork). The tlayuda is then crisped over coals on a small grill before being folded over like a quesadilla. During fiestas, dozens of vendors of this specialty will set up make-shift shops in the main plazas and in front of churches.

A personal favorite of mine for tlayudas is a rather evocative place open only from 8 to 12 at night. The address is:

Tlayuderia Las Reliquias
Morelos 402

This is very close to your hotel (Morelos is 2 or 3 blocks to the south). It's on the south side of the street, east of La Soledad and within a block of the corner of T y P and Morelos. You might consider a tlayuda here as a possible late-night snack. This tlayuderia is actually a little atypical bec it is set-up (as a kind of side business) in someone's private house. You enter through an old wooden gate, cross a beautiful courtyard and head for the corner of the patio where the entire extended family encompassing several generations is sitting glued to the latest episode of some soap opera on the small TV. Someone will offer you the choice of the excellent tasajo or the cecina marinated in guajillo, fan the coals and make you your delicious tlayudas, all the while keeping one eye on the drama. There are a couple of tables and plastic chairs in the middle of the courtyard where you can enjoy your food right under the stars.

Alternatively, you could make this your dinner and then head a few blocks west to the nieverias in front of La Soledad church for dessert. The ice creams here are renowned and are still frozen and churned in the old way. You can see the garrapineras/barriles (holding salted ice) all in a row on the counters. Most of these vendors offer up to 3 dozen (!) different flavors including (in season) such tropical fruits as zapote negro, chicozapote, mamey, as well as "rose petal" (from the rosa de castilla). Note that they start from fresh fruits/flowers and do not use purees, preservatives etc. When I was last in Oaxaca in January, these places started closing down by 8 and I am not really sure when they start keeping late (summer) hours again. There is an excellent bookstore + cafe + internet cafe at the corner of the lower part of the plaza but they were also closing down by 8 in January. La Soledad is one of the greatest of Mexican churches and is home of the patroness of the city (la Virgen de la Soledad). It should (along with Santo Domingo church) definitely be in any visitor's itinerary of the city. The part of the La Soledad plaza that is elevated (going up towards Morelos) is called Plaza de las Danzas. At night, there are usually (traditional) dance or theater troupes practicing out in the open. Sit and people-watch on the steps of the plaza while enjoying your "nieves" as an unforgettable way to end your day.

****

I am going to make some tea and will be right back.
RST
Last edited by dicksond on May 31st 2007, 3:47pm, edited 2 times in total.
Avatar

GNR Czar Emeritus
#3
Posted May 31st 2007, 3:40pm
this post is from 2003

(continued from previous post)

Re: Central de Abastos

This is the great market of Oaxaca, a huge chaotic sprawling affair. Not as "cute" or as "photogenic" as Mercado Juarez but a must for anyone passionate about food. You can actually walk there from the center of town in about 20 minutes but the buses going there pass right in front of your hotel on Tinoco y Palacios (look for signs saying "Central" or "Abastos"). This might be a good chance for your kids to experience a Mexican bus ride (I think the fare is US$.35 or so pp). A taxi will bring you back to the center or to your hotel for about $2 or $3.

Most guidebooks will tell you that Saturday is market day. This is certainly THE great day when Oaxacans from every corner of the state, representing many different ethnicities, speaking a dozen different languages (not to speak of the many dialect forms), wearing colorful dresses, and bearing the most astonishing range of traditional crafts, descend on the city. But it's still a great market on any other day of the week and I would argue that Tuesdays and Fridays (which are the actual days for the food/produce market) are even better days for pure food-hunting as one would then not be as distracted by all the superb handicrafts around.

The market is divided into several section: the zona humeda (wet market), the dry goods area (zona seca), an extensive area of food stalls, plus a large loading/storage area (zona de bodegas). After several visits, I think that I now have a sense of its floor plan and wish that I had a way to sketch it right here onto the computer. There are few orienting points or distinctive markers within the market and at first it will seem as if you are just going around and around aimlessly. I promise you that you WILL get lost. Just don't worry about getting lost, then, and go ahead and just concentrate on looking at stuff. When you are ready to move on, just ask anyone where the "Central de autobuses" or Mercaderes (see below) is located (the 2nd class bus station is across the street) and you should get back on track in no time.

The food-stalls (fondas) in the eating area of this market offer an even more extensive range of everyday dishes than the fondas at Mercado Juarez/20 de N. The food at Juarez/20 de Nov represents the most beloved, the most famous of Oaxaca City's everyday dishes/of its "comfort food". There you will find dishes such as chichilo de res, pollo almendrado, enfrijolada, entomatada, enmolada, verde de espinazo etc, dishes generally considered standard-bearers of the cuisine. The fondas at Abastos go beyond those favorites to encompass even more down-home items (for instance, humble dishes made with dried shrimp or with sardines). To someone who is starting out to explore Oaxacan cuisine, I would recommend concentrating first on Juarez/20 de N to get a good grasp of the classics (more on these below). But for those ready for unique adventures, there is certainly no end of things to tease out and discover at Abastos.

The celebrated "Indian" market is in that open part of the market complex next to Mercaderes Street (catch a cab on Mercaderes to get home). It is actually one extraordinarily long "sidewalk" lined with two (or more) long long long rows of vendors with their wares or produce displayed right on the ground. It is a procession of glory: a breathtaking show of abundance and plenty. As many of the older "Indians" do not even speak Spanish, it can also seem like a contemporary version of Babel.

As Mercado Juarez/20 de N is right in the heart of the city, is frequented by tourists and patronized by the middle-class, the produce here tends to be the most beautiful but also tends to be of the type whose stock can be consistently replenished. Abastos, being much bigger, is less brilliantly focused and "edited", but the massiveness permits much more things to be represented within its realm, even those things that do not reach a certain economy of scale. In the midst of the overwhelming series, it is possible to stumble on a stall with unusual/rare fruits from naturally low-yielding trees or small quantities of off-schedule/off-season produce from an atypical terroir or the harvest from a tiny pocket of trees (or even from one tree) hiding in some mountain off the main production zones.

The "Indian" market encompasses an even more precious level of the miniscule and "small". Some of these Oaxacans walk for miles to get to the market carrying the miscellaneous vegetables or fruits from their tiny piece of land, perhaps a handful or two of a less-often-seen variety of beans, a few foraged branches of herbs or flowers. The sheer diversity of the colors and size of corn or beans, the obvious multiplicity of the genetic heritages (some heritages specific to only one single vendor) takes one's breath away. This comes close to that primal horizon of true plenty and true manyness before any standardization for the market.

David, I have never been to Oaxaca in March and so don't really know what kinds of rare herbs or fruits will be available at this time. But when I was there 2 months ago, I saw several "relatively" well-known (but still rare) things that might still be around and that you might also look out for. These include scarlet "colorin" flowers (these are used in bean dishes) in very small bunches, scarlet pea-flowers, hierba de conejo, piojitos, chepil (of course) etc.

(to be continued/going to make some more tea)
RST
Last edited by dicksond on May 31st 2007, 3:47pm, edited 2 times in total.
Avatar

GNR Czar Emeritus
#4
Posted May 31st 2007, 3:40pm
this post is from 2003

(continued from above)

Re: Mercado Juarez and 20 de Noviembre

These are actually two interlinked buildings. Juarez is a block from the sw corner of the zocalo. 20 de N is the building to its south with all the food-stalls (fondas). They are both rather well-known and there's quite a bit of description of these in the your regular tourist material.

Juarez, with all its colors and smells and sounds, is without a doubt one of the "must-do" destinations. But probe a little more beyond the apparent drama (all the roses and tuberroses, all the votive candles in front of little altars, the gorgeous mounds of fruit) and you get even deeper into the soul of the market.

Don't be shy about stopping every lady walking around selling something and asking to peek inside their basket. You don't know what kind of treasure is hidden within. Many of the unusual items (for instance: delicious fried crickets/chapulines) are openly available, but one often has to search actively for the humbler but no-less-spectacular prizes.

I was once told that there is a lady who brings down fabulous handmade wheat tortillas (apparently a rare specialty of some tiny Mixtecan community) from the mountains but have not been able to track her down.

Watch out for nicuatoles, which are jelly-like sweets set with starch hand-processed from corn. There are several ladies (hidden in dark corners) who make tejate, an ancient "fermented" drink made from corn, ground cacao, the ground pit of the mamey fruit and perfumed with the flower called "rosita de cacao". This is one of those profoundly Mexican (Oaxacan) foodstuffs that might repulse you at first because of its radical difference and because it does not have an easy reference in "our" system of taste and our categories of "deliciousness". (Other such items might include the "austere" mole chichilo or the viscous aguamiel etc.) Once you have learned to enjoy these however, you will keep thinking about them and even crave them.

In the middle of the market, there are a couple of specialists in aguas frescas (one is called "Casilda", I think). You can get fresh-squeezed juices and aguas (everyone nowadays uses agua purificada) of all sorts as well as horchata tinged a day-glo shade of pink with the addition of a bit of tuna (prickly pear) paste and nuts.

Wheat bread (rolls, pan de yema etc) at this market is of very high quality. The norm in Oaxaca (as in Puebla) is still baking/breadmaking in wood-fired traditional ovens (adobe), often using generations-old yeast starters. You might also look out for little packs of totopos, which are small round masa crackers made by flattening balls of masa against the wall of a tandoor-like oven (just as you would to make naan) and "baking" these until crisp and hard. (I saw how this is made in Guerrero and assume that the process is the same in Oaxaca.) There are neat rows of pinpricks on the surface of the totopos (as in that of matzach) which prevent "ballooning" and unevenness on the surface.

There are several mills (molinos) for chocolate and mole pastes in this market, although Abastos is probably a better place to observe the process as it is less crowded. Most families continue to prepare their moles and chocolate (toasting the individual ingredients: cinnamon, cacao) at home using recipes handed down through generations and then bring these to the market to be milled.

Bars of Oaxacan chocolate make great gifts but may be too heavy to lug around on the plane. When buying chocolate as gifts, don't forget to buy the turned-wood molinillos so that those getting this gift can "whip" it up the tradtional way at home. If you don't get to see the way chocolate is whipped and prepared while in Oaxaca, you can still go to Restaurante Oaxaca here in Chicago at Ashland and 47th and see Senora Guadalupe whip chocolate using bars they have lugged all the way from Oaxaca.

(A few more notes about the fondas of 20 de Noviembre and about memelas in one last post. Back in a bit.

David, if I don't get to this before your flight, see if you can catch the last post from an internet cafe in Oaxaca. There's an internet cafe virtually every half-block wherever you walk in the center of this city. It's about US$1 for an hour's use and generally .60 or .70 for half-hour.

Enjoy your trip and eat wonderfully!)

RST
Last edited by dicksond on May 31st 2007, 3:47pm, edited 2 times in total.
Avatar

GNR Czar Emeritus
#5
Posted May 31st 2007, 3:41pm
this post is from 2003

Report from Oaxaca - long - part 1

Finished my 8 days in Oaxaca, and thanks to the excellent info from RST, et al, and the generally good food available, I ate very well indeed. In the spirit of giving back, and in no particular order, here are some notes that might be of use or interest to others.

The hot, upscale, restaurant in Oaxaca is the Casa Oaxaca (Garcia Vigil 407, 3 or 4 blocks north of the Zocalo). If you want to go, however, reserve immediately. We made the mistake of waiting until Thursday to make a reservation for Friday, our last night. No luck, so this report is only passing along the reputation. Having said that, numerous people told me it is the best place in town.

Going to the other extreme, we found a little place on the north side of Matamoros just east of Garcia Vigil called La Tentacion. Just a few tables in a covered court (very utilitarian), which serves wonderful breakfasts for 25 pesos (less than the Fondas at the markets, more on that below). Fresh OJ, best breads I had in Oaxaca, fresh fruit cup, cafe con leche with nice touch of cinnamon, and a wide range of main dishes, more breakfasty than in the markets, from eggs any way you want, to queso fresco in salsa to frijoladas. Just a young guy and his wife, and very pleasant.

Other fun eats included the food stands on the street just north of the main market (Mercado Jaurez, just south of the Zocalo), which served lovely tacos and pozole in the evening. Maybe it was the season, but there were very nice white onions everywhere, and lots of places grilled them and then served them just sliced in half which made a nice side to the tacos for some of the family, while others liked to put the grilled onions on their tacos. In the same theme, in the Mercado de 20 Noviembre, which is the food market just south of the Mercado Juarez, if you take the northernmost entrance on the east side, you enter an aisle off the the side of the main market where little meat stands alternate with braziers. You pick the meat, they grill it, and there are other vendors who sell sides to go with it. We did not get to try this (because of a negative experience at another place in the market, and my family refused to go back, oh well), but it was generally very busy (mostly with locals, particularly in the evening) and looked quite good.

Continuing with the market theme, the big market at the south side of town, Abastos, overwhlemed us. There sure was a lot to see, explore, and eat, but I spent at least half a day there on Saturday and never could get it. In general, we all preferred the neighborhood markets, and the weekly markets in the little towns around Oaxaca, which one can easily get to via bus, or taxi (they will gladly give you an hourly rate). As we were 4, the taxi option worked very well.

Last market item - the neighborhood market that is between Tinocos y Palacios and Porfirio Diaz a couple of blocks north of Allende, I believe (maybe 6 blocks or a little more north of the Zocalo)is wonderful for food. There are about 8 fondas, and then maybe another 12 or more tables preparing food. It was recommended to me by RST on the board (I will add back that link on the next posting), and others recommended it as being noted in town for food. The quesadillas and empanadas were great as RST said, but I also ate breakfast a couple of days at the Fondas, and generally was treated very well, and ate well. On Friday, there was a row of tables selling fish, fresh and also fried right there. I did not get a chance to try that, but would like to next time. Might have been something for Easter, don't know.

This may be obvious, but I had to learn two things about proper market behavior (besides wear long pants, a white shirt and try not to look too much like a gringo touristo lout - once I did that, I discovered people greeting me on the street and the whole dynamic changed - I know this is pretty much always the case in Latin America and much of the world, but somehow I do need to be reminded). There really was not that much bargaining unless you were buying something fairly expensive (100 pesos and up), which seemed different. And I found I did better by asking the vendors what they had that was good or different, rather than telling them what I wanted or pointing. This worked even in my broken spanish, and I got much better stuff as it engaged them. Of course, on the food side, it did run the risk of them giving me the standard stuff for gringos, but I could always ask for something mas interessante, or mas picante, and it worked okay.

To be continued with even better food shortly.
Last edited by dicksond on May 31st 2007, 3:46pm, edited 1 time in total.
_______________________________________

d
Feeling (south) loopy
Avatar

GNR Czar Emeritus
#6
Posted May 31st 2007, 3:42pm
this post is from 2003

On Tlayudas and fine dining...

There were four high points to eating in Oaxaca.

Tlayudas with tasajo (salt marinated beef) or marinated pork. A Tlayuda is a large corn tortilla cooked until slightly leathery. It then is "prepared" by covering it with asiento, usually some beans, possibly some lettuce and/or tomatos, one or the other of the meats noted above, possibly some salsa, and some cheese. Then it may be folded over, and in any case is toasted a bit longer. In general, the less fancy the place, the better the Tlayuda. I had a fairly mediocre Tlayuda at Cafe La Olla (Reforma 402), and a slightly better one at La Capilla in Zaachilla (more on that, below). I had great Tlayudas at Tlayuderua Reliquarias south side of Morelos about 1 1/2 blocks east of La Soledad), which also was a high point as a meal because the atmosphere was so fun (courtyard, birds in cages, Simpsons in Spanish on the tube). My son and I had a good time with that. And also had a very nice one at a restaurant in an old ice cream parlor - a fast food joint really - just north of the Zocalo, but I just went in spontaneously, did not write down the location, and could not find it again (sigh). Thank you, RST and see his posting for more on Reliquarias and Tlayudas.

Another high point was Restaurante El Naranjo (Trujano 203 - about 2 blocks straight west of the Government Palace at the south end of the Zocalo), which was a bit of a fancy dinner our first night there. Each dish was very, very nicely done, and a great celebration of earthy flavors. A nice introduction to the cuisine of Oaxaca. Started with liver spread, roasted salsa, and citrus butter, and excellent bread. Moved on to Taquitos Santa Clara, chicken-filled fried mini tortillas, coloradito (red) mole, sprinkle of queso fresco - again the sauce on its own was exquisite. My daughter had a lovely spinach, bacon, jicama salad, with jamaica flower vinaigrette (what is a jamaica flower?), and sopa de guias, without corn, light broth, a real celebration of the squash blossom. Main courses were a blissfully rich and complex mole negro with pork (skip the meat, spoon up the mole), Pechuga de Pollo stuffed with Huazontles in Guajillo sauce, and filet of fish cooked in a banana leaf with cilantro, ginger butter. I recommend this place highly - probably the best meal we had, though the competition was stiff.

The last high point was all the ice cream stands (Niverias) in front of the Soledad. It became a nightly habit to go over and try one or two flavors. Hard to pick one favorite - either in flavor or stands, you should try all. High points were nutmeg, plum (ciruela), chocolate (of course) and corn, but cactus flower and so many others were also good. (Another good rec by RST).

A couple of other spots that were nice were La Capilla in Zaachilla which we visited while wandering about shopping and visiting Monte Alban. It is in a (former?) pecan grove. The tables themselves are beautiful slabs of wood, and you sit outside under straw awnings. There is a whole section of hammocks should it become too stressful. Their specialty is barbecued lamb, which was tasty - simple and rich, mostly just the lamb and grilled flavors. Everyone else was quite happy with their choices as well. Worth doing for the overall experience.

And the last night we ate at a little place called Maria Bonita, which specializes in traditional Oaxacan food (Alcala 706B - at the corner of Humbolt, about 4 blocks north of Santo Domingo). Pleasant family place where we were waited on by the daughters. Stuffed Flor de Calabaza, Caldillo de Nopales, Chicken with Mole Negro were my choices to say so long for now to Oaxaca, all done well. Wandering north that Friday night we passed through the aqueducts and followed a group doing the stations of the cross (it was just before Easter), which seemed a fitting conclusion.

Thanks again to everyone for making our trip much better, and I hope I have contributed to someone else's.
_______________________________________

d
Feeling (south) loopy
Avatar
#7
Posted May 31st 2007, 4:02pm
Great read! Unfortunately, much has changed in Oaxaca since the recent civil unrest. The collapse of tourism forced El Naranjo to close. Iliana de la Vega, the chef and proprietor of El Naranjo, is now here in Santa Fe giving Oaxacan cooking classes and looking for a site in the U.S. to open a new restaurant.

Bill/SFNM
Avatar
#8
Posted June 1st 2007, 11:36am
Yes, Oaxaca today is different than the Oaxaca of slightly over a year ago - the violence of 2006 badly scarred the city, and there's indications that troubles may reignite in the coming months (though if they do they'll likely be less violent).

While I like Oaxaca, I think too much is made of the city - that equally as interesting places are often overlooked by travelers because of all of the money poured into promoting Oaxaca (at the expense of these other places).

I enjoy eating at the food stalls in the Central de Abastos market more than at any of the restaurants around town.
Avatar
#9
Posted July 14th 2007, 11:07am
I spent last week in Oaxaca and found much of what Richard and David reported here unchanged.
_______________________________________

Avatar
#10
Posted July 17th 2007, 10:38pm
Yesterday was a violent day in Oaxaca - some protesters attacked police and a portion of one popular tourist hotel was set on fire, and another damaged as well; some busses were set on fire, building or two burned. The rest of the month will be tense in the city with the annual cultural festival scheduled - and a pledge by extremists to shut it down. People headed to Oaxaca will want to remain aware of rapidly changing developments and have a "Plan B" in their back pocket in case transportation links are severed (as they were at times in 2006) or other reasons present themselves necessitating a change in itinerary.
Avatar
#11
Posted December 28th 2007, 10:46pm
Apologies for bumping this thread, but I was wondering if anyone has been to Oaxaca recently?

I'm interested to know any of the places/restaurants above have changed or closed (other than El Naranjo).

I'm fortunate to be spending about 10 weeks in Oaxaca, so I'm very interested to explore many of the places described above.
Alternative Dining in CHicago

Online Information

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests