Hormigas in the Salsa: Cooking in Oaxaca with Chef Pilar Cabrera Arroyo

People cook and eat in Oaxaca based on what’s available seasonally in local markets — or in their backyard.  Today it was huitlacoche that was among the delicacies we could procure at the Mercado de la Merced.  This is the neighborhood market where Pilar’s family shopped because they lived nearby.  The market tour offers a great orientation to the cooking class.

   

And what about the hormigas? Pilar and her daughter Ita gathered the hormigas in the early dewy grasses of morning.

After a field trip foraging through the Mercado de la Merced for ingredients, we made our way to Pilar’s Colonia Reforma kitchen, ample enough for all eight cooking class participants to gather, learn and prepare the menu.  There sat the hormigas, washed, plump and round in the metate waiting for the grinding stone and hand to pulverize them into the Salsa de Chicatana that would top the Memelitas appetizer. (Do you recognize them, below left?)

   

Add plenty of fresh squeezed lime juice! Pilar commented that hormigas are a great protein source. (I heard the same about chapulines earlier in the week from my friends in Teotitlan who liberally sprinkle this toasted, tasty treat on just about everything they eat.)

   

Our group of four Guanajuatecos were joined by two Estadounidenses and two Australians.  Pilar easily went back and forth in English and Spanish with her instruction so that all the participants could understand each step.  Complete menus in English guided us, too.

 

Before we sat down at the dining room table to the meal, we all gathered in the living room area for a mezcal tasting.  Pilar brought out three different types of mezcal accompanied with orange and lime slices, plus gusano salt (ground worms, chiles, and sea salt) for dipping and sucking before or after sipping.

   

Menu del dia: 100% Oaxaca–memelitas, sopa de guias, chichilo con pollo or res (chicken or beef with Chichilo mole sauce), salsa de chicatanas, and nieve de mango (mango sorbet with a garnish of fruit of the nopal cactus called tuna).

The tourism and economic development delegation from Guanajuato is interested in starting a cultural tourism program in some of its smaller towns in the state.  Organizing cooking classes is one goal they have, which is why we attended to see how the master of the kitchen Pilar organizes her programs.

Pilar’s hospitality and expertise provided a perfect example for them to model!

Casa de los Sabores Cooking School or website.

Mercado de la Merced (corner Murguia and Insurgentes, near Calle de la Republica)

 

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