Sunday, October 30, 2016

Dia de los Muertos, Part 1

It's almost Dia de los Muertos, and all of Oaxaca has been getting ready, it seems, for weeks now. The Catrinas have been popping up all over for the last month or so.

If I had to pick a favorite it would probably be this one.

This group is also quite attractive.

I like the way this one is casually hanging out between the tables of diners.

This bride seems to be waiting for a drink at the bar.

This calavera seems to be having a pretty good time, but sadly when I visited him the day after I took this picture his glass of mescal had disappeared. Maybe he drank it.

Other signs of the season include Pan de Muerto;

Edible calveras made of all sorts of stuff, including amaranth;

Kids dressed up;

Papel picado;

And miscellaneous dead things.

Halloween is slowly making its presence known in Mexico. Some people find this to be a fun and harmless addition to tradition, others think it's cultural imperialism. I think it doesn't matter which one it is, because Halloween is fun, and fun is extremely highly valued in Mexico -- it's right up there with your family, Jesus Christ, and tortillas.

So, you have ghosts instead of skeletons in some places.

And whatever this is, in the supermarket (ok, maybe this is supposed to be a traditional calavera, but it looks like a sad vampire zombie thing to me);

More kids dressed up, including some in not exactly traditional Mexican style;

And Jack O'Lanterns, which you can only find made of plastic or ceramics, even though pumpkins do exist here.

Monday, October 17, 2016


Food, in Oaxaca, is serious business.  Like San Francisco, it's a foodie town, and everywhere you go, anytime of the day or night, you are surrounded by food.  People set up comals on random street corners and fry up tortillas of varying shapes, thicknesses and sizes (each of which, confusingly, has a different name) with varying combinations of beans, meat, veggies and salsas. Women walk around with baskets of tamales, bags of fruit, and all kinds of tortillas. Men on bicycles and pushing carts sell ice cream, potato chips and scary-looking preserved things in big glass jars.  There are taco stands everywhere -- street corners, parks, the edge of every parking lot, in the mercados.

This stand is one of our favorites. Indigo and I both love carnitas -- braised pork -- which comes in about 10 different varieties.  The kind we both like best is called maciza -- tender, tasty, lean bits of meat, served with 2 small tortillas, cilantro, onions and salsa.

In addition, of course, to the massive amount of street food, there are also a lot of good restaurants.  One of our favorite casual places is called El Pochote. It's actually a large courtyard with a huge pochote tree in the middle of it, with a whole bunch of stands which serve mostly organic food of various types.  They have beautiful and delicious salads, and a zillion different flavors of juice and licuados (milkshakes). You can see the corner of Indigo's favorite, mango licuado.

And then there's the fancy restaurants. It's nice to be able to afford to go to the best restaurants in town -- I think the most we've ever spent for a meal for the three of us is about $30. This is the tamarind shrimp with mole at a restaurant called Biznaga.

Probably the best restaurant we've eaten at is called La Catedral. Their food is basically fancied-up traditional dishes. Here are their shrimp tacos, which clearly have the same ancestry as your garden-variety street taco, yet whatever it is they do it is amazing.

For dessert I had tejate cream with mamey sorbet. Tejate is a local drink, made with corn, chocolate, cinnamon, coffee and who knows what else. It is sold in big huge vats and gets all foamy on the top, as you can see in the photo below. The drink is kind of grainy, but its descendant at La Catedral was some sort of soft, delicate, creamy, smooth, melt-in-your mouth foam with exactly the same delicious flavor as stuff you buy on the street. It was beautifully complemented by the slight sweet, slighty citrusy sorbet made from the mamey fruit. The thought of returning to the U.S. and not being able to go back to La Catedral and eat this whenever I want is making me want to cry.

These women are selling tejate at a tejate and tamales fair that we went to a few months ago. They use those small bowls to scoop out some liquid and some foam into a cup. Sometimes they add sugar syrup separately.

Another La Catedral dessert that was to die for was this chocolate concoction. In fact, here's Indigo protecting it with her life. It was some kind of chocolate pudding in a hard chocolate cake shell, with chocolate ice cream and various other bits of chocolately stuff. OMG this place is good. We're eating there again next weekend, because life is good.

Another restaurant we like a lot is called Tres Bistros. This place is on the second floor of a building overlooking the Zocalo (Oaxaca's central square), and we always manage to get a window table even when it's crowded. This place plies you with food -- they bring out a big basket of homemade potato and sweet potato chips, and they keep coming around with six varieties of bread with herb butter, and they bring you some incredible little chocolates with your bill. Last time I was there, I had the Princess Donaji Crepe. Princess Donaji is a Oaxacan legend about a princess who saved her people and died heroically. She has absolutely nothing to do with crepes, or any other kind of food as far as I know, but I guess it sounds good. Anyway, this was a spinach crepe tied up in a cute little bundle with some sort of delicious vegetable mixture inside. I don't usually like vegetarian stuff, but I ordered it because it sounded good and it really exceeded my expectations. If all vegetarian food was this good I'd stop eating meat. Maybe.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Central de Abastos is the largest market in Oaxaca.  It's an endless city of stalls, tents and random stuff.  They sell everything here, I'm sure including some things that shouldn't be sold, and there's very little rhyme or reason or logic to where things are.  You can wander for hours looking for the section with the shoestores or honey vendors or tools or chocolate or hats or pillows or chiles or, worse, the guy with the really high-quality fruit who you bought from last time who's around here somewhere I think wasn't he just right past the rotisserie chicken?

Mostly they sell ordinary stuff, but occasionally you come across something strange, like these small, painted pieces of pasta.  They come in several sizes, and many varieties.  I'm not sure what they're used for, never having seen them outside of Abastos.  Nor am I sure what would possess someone to make these, but that's one of Mexico's many charms.

There are lots of different types of faces painted on these things, including of course lots of religious ones, like Jesus.

I bought a bag of these tiny little ones. I'm not sure what to do with them, but I couldn't resist.

Oaxaca is famous for chapulines, which is a type of grasshopper, that all the natives eat. I tried a very small one. It was salty and crunchy. I don't have the courage to try the larger ones, which look a little too much like what they are to me.

Here's some more photos of the different stuff I found for sale in the market: