Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I ate everything in sight

Because in Oaxaca, that's what you do. You eat and pray to the Lord that Moctezuma does not wish to revenge himself on you. There are certain things you have to taste while in Oaxaca. I can spare you the grasshoppers if you are squeamish. You are also forgiven the maguey worms. I don't expect you to eat something I won't.

Chapulines with tlayuda (grasshoppers, anyone?)

But you absolutely must go to the food market and have a fruit water from Doña Casilda, whose female heirs still run the stall. You should try a new flavor for every day you stay in town, but if this strikes you as too much, you must have the agua de tamarindo, which is the best tamarind water I have ever had and I ever expect to have. You must also have the agua de chilacayote, which, if someone like Ferran Adria or Joel Robuchon came up with it, you'd be very impressed and would pay lots of money for the privilege. Here it costs less than 1 USD and it is pumpkin water with piloncillo (raw brown sugar) and it is exquisite. You can also have horchata (rice water) with tuna (cactus fruit) or agua de zapote, a black fruit that I believe only exists in Mexico. Drink it to stay, or to go in an ingenious plastic bag with a straw.
You can thank me later.

Across from Casilda are the very popular ices of Chonita, the most fabulous ice cream parlor ever, bare bones and totally authentic. The Oaxacan nieves (snows) are lighter than sorbet and are unbelievable, and come in flavors like burnt milk, roses, avocado, corn, mezcal and every fruit known to Latin man. They are tasty, refreshing and hand churned.

The flavors of Oaxacan ices at Chonita.

Ices on the street. We had the Leche Quemada, which tastes exactly like burnt milk and sugar.

You of course, will try mezcal, which is an amazing smoky hard liquor that has become fancy schmancy but is the drink of the poor, made from maguey cactus and which will cure everything that ails you (in small doses). This you have as a shot like tequila, with sal de gusano (here pictured with a shot of tequila), which is salt with chili and powdered worm (I'm kicking myself for not having bought some) and slices of orange. Fabulous as an aperitif before lunch. Makes you feel like an Aztec warrior.
You will have mole, whether you like it or not. It can be negro, coloradito, amarillo, almendrado, verde. I had an amazing coloradito at La Casa de la Abuela. A little goes a long way, but this one was superb. The thing about Mexican food, the genius of it is that it is an explosion of flavors. There are so many things happening at once in your mouth that you don't know what hit you. Mexicans are not afraid of color, and they are not afraid of flavor. Neither should you be.
You will taste Quesillo, which is like the Mexican mozzarella, a fabulous string cheese that is the pride of Oaxaca (their queso fresco also rules). At the market, they sell little snack bags with little quesillo pellets, which you pop into your mouth. Addictive.
You will have traditional Mexican chocolate, which is not at all like the disgraceful shit that passes for hot chocolate in the States. In fact, you will witness the grinding of cacao at a chocolate mill, where it is ground and mixed with sugar, cinnamon and almond to your specifications. Then you will feel like Moctezuma before he had dreams of revenge.
If you are adventurous, you can try tejate, which is a weird precolumbian beverage made of corn meal and cocoa butter and which you drink from colorful gourds (although plastic cups are available to go). It is a watery milky thing that has a mix of cornmeal mixed with pure cocoa butter on top, which gives it a fatty texture. The drink itself is refreshing and I wish I could tell you what it tastes like, but I can't because, except for sweet, I can't possibly describe it. It's as if you eat chalk with sugar, corn and a bit of cinammon and something that tastes smoky and ancient. It's an acquired taste.
You will abandon your digestive system to fate and will try a corn on the cob or esquite (just the grain in a corn broth with lime, chili, salt, mayo, and cheese) from the street. Probably nothing will happen to you except sheer bliss.
Photos coming soonish.

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