Macuilxochitl, Tlayuda Capital of the Tlacolula Valley, Oaxaca

Church at Macuilxochitl

What makes Macuilxochitl unique is more than its gorgeous three-domed church that stands proudly in the center of the zocalo, waiting for continuing restoration. This is a village noted for its tlayudas.  These are the extra-large sometimes marigold-colored tortillas that are made in the traditional way using masa pressed by hand and then toasted on the comal until the dinner-plate sized discs are puffy and toasty brown on both sides.

My story today is about tlayudas and the hands of women who make them.  We enter into the smokey, cavernous space called kitchen, obscure and mysterious.  This is a large adobe brick structure that holds the cooking stove, comal, and a flock of chickens that nest under the wood-fired stove.

   

This is not easy work.  First, you must prepare the large rock-sized balls of masa, ensuring that they don’t dry out and are the right consistency for kneading. Then, you take a fist size piece and form it into a ball, flatten it and bring it to the tortilla press, where between two sheets of plastic wrap, you press and press and press again using all your upper body strength to make this staple as flat and transparent as possible.

 

With nimble fingers you spin it like a pizza dough to stretch it out even more, then lay it gently on the very hot, lime-coated comal (griddle), taking care not to burn fingers.  With thumb and forefinger, the tlayuda gets turned every 30 seconds or so to be sure that it cooks evenly and doesn’t burn.  It needs to be toasty and not soft.  There are so many ways to make masa into tortilla variations.

Today, this masa is more white.  Sometimes, it is yellow or has a red or blue tinge, depending upon the type of organic, locally grown corn used.  Perhaps it is a blend of white and blue or white and red, which gives it a more subtle shade.

Jane tries her hand at the press

The tlayudas go into a tall, multi-colored basket, stacked and covered with cloth, ready to take to market.  We try our hand at the labor-intensive task.  After two or three tries, we are tired.  This is work and we sit to rest.  Our hosts keep at it.  This is their livelihood.

Macuil, as the locals call it, is also a Zapotec village of skilled stonemasons, called albañiles, who work in construction, building traditional adobe houses and more contemporary ones made with brick or concrete block.  As an agricultural village, it is also noted for raising sheep (borregos) and growing tending the milpas (small plots of corn, squash and beans).  Within walking distance from Teotitlan del Valle, Macuilxochitl is also accessible from Pan American Highway 190 via a moto-taxi tuk-tuk or collectivo.

Tlayuda Recipe:  One large flat, crunchy tortilla toasted and dry, about 12″ in diameter.  Smear with black bean paste.  Drizzle with green or red salsa according to taste.  Add shredded string cheese or Oaxaqueño string cheese, shredded chicken, diced tomatoes, Julienne red peppers and onions that have been sautéed until soft, top with thin slices of avocado.  Mexican version of pizza.  Cut into triangles and serve.  Great entrée with salad or as an appetizer.

Portrait Photography Workshop: Capture Your Experience, April 2-9, 2012, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

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