Category Archives: Dining and Lodging

Gracias a Dios! Have You Heard of Gin Mezcal?

We hadn’t heard of gin mezcal until the other night at Oaxaca’s Origen restaurant. Our very competent waiter suggested we taste it which was on the menu as a mixed drink. What was it like unadulterated? How could mezcal be gin? Hollie asked.

Gin Mezcal with 32 different herbs including lavender

Gin Mezcal with 32 different herbs including lavender

Gracias a Dios is the mezcal brand. That means Thank God. They produce several different varieties. This one, our waiter told us, has 32 different herbs including a very aromatic lavender. I guess it’s the aroma that gives the name GIN instead of the juniper berries. It was so good, we each ordered a little sipping cup and drank it along with our dinner instead of wine.

Gracias a Dios bottles espadin, plus the wild mezcales cuixe and tepeztate.

Gracias a Dios bottles aged espadin, plus the wild mezcales cuixe and tepeztate.

Next question: Can we buy it here? No, he said, and directed us to local La Mezcaloteca on Calle Reforma that sells bottles and dispenses tastings at the bar. They didn’t have it. Can we help you with something else they asked? No thanks.

Big selection, handpainted boxes at the ultimate gallery Mezcalillera

Big selection, handpainted boxes at the ultimate gallery Mezcalillera

Do you know where we can buy it? The barkeeper referred us to a vague place at the corner of Benito Juarez and Murguia. Lots of directions here are vague. One needs to be persistent. Along the way, we asked at the retail mezcal shop two doors down. No luck. Then, we stopped in a couple of mezcal bars along the way. No luck.

Map with contact information for Mezcalillera

Map with contact information for Mezcalillera

At the corner of Murguia and Juarez, there was no evidence of anything resembling the sale of mezcal. I asked a young man with an ice cream cone in his hand. He sported a beard. He appeared as if he might know.

Hard to find brands, artesanal and delicious.

Hard to find brands, artesanal and delicious.

And he did, pointing us to the middle of the next block on Murguia between Benito Juarez and Pino Suarez. Hallellujah. We found it. And bought the only two bottles of Gin Mezcal. So sorry! Maybe by the time you read this they will have stocked more.

7 Mysteries, with a look like a boutique California wine label.

7 Mysteries, with a look like a boutique California wine label.

Mezcal provisioners are cropping up all over town. Most mezcal bars will also sell bottles. Mezcal is the hot commodity all over the USA and Europe. Some of the bottles for sale have been certified for export. If you go out to the palenques and find the taste you love, you can often buy 750 liters of uncertified mezcal for 200 pesos, a real bargain and fraction of what a Oaxaca retail store will charge.

And, now for the Meteor!

And, now for the Meteor!

La Mezcalillera, Murguia 403A, Centro Historico, Oaxaca. Tel. (951) 514-1757. Facebook: mezcalillera  Enjoy!

 

Cafe Culture in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Tucked into Pino Suarez #45 at the corner of the main drag, Benito Juarez, in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, is Cafe Vid. Almost smack in the middle of town. It has seven tables and 15 chairs, with all the warmth and intimacy you can imagine including excellent, custom-made coffee drinks and delicious snacks.

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It’s what you might call a coffeehouse if you lived in San Francisco or Los Angeles a generation past, complete with recorded jazz, blues, and reggae playing in the background. This would be a perfect meeting spot for writing or conversation.

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The owners are friends who have known each other growing up all their lives in this tight-knit village: Erika Mendoza Vicente and Miguel Esai Montanez Pedro, both age 26, and Sandra Vasquez Perez, age 25.

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The cafe has been in operation for five years. Erika, Esai and Sandra saved to finance the start-up themselves. In preparation for ownership and management, they each worked in the food industry in Oaxaca to get experience. They told me this was an experiment when they were young (smile). They have learned a lot in the intervening years.

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Erika, Esai and Sandra used their own money to outfit the cafe, buying all the commercial grade equipment mostly from restaurant supply companies. The Waring commercial waffle maker, comes from Guanajuato, made in the USA.

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Each is an accomplished barista. They learned to make coffee from the owner of La Brujula, one of Oaxaca’s great roasters and makers, who taught them the nuances of espresso, cappuccino, latte, frappe, moka and more.

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The coffee beans here are the best. Cafe Vid buys from La Brujula and Nuevo Mundo, another of Oaxaca’s excellent organic roasters.

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The menu includes flavored Italian sodas, hot and cold coffees, teas, hot Oaxaca chocolate, and frappes. You can order waffles, crepes (sweet and savory), homemade cheesecake, light sandwiches and baguettes of cheese and turkey ham.

You might want to save your appetite for an incredible Belgium waffle topped with fresh fruit and a drizzle of cajeta, big enough to share. Try the crepe spread with Nutella, then neatly folded into a triangle. You could pretend you are in Paris, if you wish. But there’s no need. You are in Teotitlan del Valle, one of the best villages in all of Mexico.

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Cafe Vid offers a frequent drinker card. Get seven stamps and the next drink is free. If you come to stay overnight for a few days at either Casa Elena or Las Granadas, two local guesthouses, it wouldn’t be hard to reach this threshold.

Every Zapotec has dreams. Erika, Esai and Sandra dream of a bigger space, a larger menu. They want to make breads and more desserts, roast their own coffee beans. I may even give them a lesson in how to make and bake a New York style cheesecake, a speciality I developed many years ago when I owned a gourmet cookware shop and cooking school in the midwest.

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These young people are dedicated, hard-working full-time weavers, so the cafe opens daily from 6 to 10 p.m., seven days a week. When you are in Teotitlan, consider a visit. Call them on their cell phone: 01 951 186 0743. The only thing lacking is an internet connection, since they can’t get phone landline service from the closest telephone pole because it’s at capacity. Darn.

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Other good village options: Cafe Drupa, Avenida Benito Juarez, up the hill two blocks beyond Av. 2 de Abril on the left. A family operation connected to a weaving workshop. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. with wi-fi connection, good coffee, paninis and more.

Stopover Puebla: Taking a Break Between Mexico City and Oaxaca

Puebla, Mexico, has so much to offer that a two to four-day stopover going to or from Oaxaca to Mexico City is usually in my travel plans. I like to fly out of Mexico City back and forth to the USA (it’s cheaper) and usually plan a visit to this most original Spanish city in the Americas at least twice a year.

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What’s to do here? Plenty. Including vibrant street life and good music.

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Talavera tile gazing for starters. All the buildings in the historic center of the city are decorated and glazed with tiles harkening back to Moorish influences in Spain. If you want Spain in the New World with a touch of the Alhambra in Granada, come here.

Go antique shopping with La Quinta de San Antonio.

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Eat. Traditional food preparation rotates around the seasons based on what is freshly available for ingredients. Now, in July and August, it’s Chiles en Nogada, This is a poblano chile, usually mild, cooked, slit, stuffed with a mix of pork, almonds, apples, peaches, raisins, pears, cinnamon and a lot of other things! The fruit and seasonings are also vaguely North African, another remnant of Moorish influence brought to Mexico. Get the best at El Mural de los Poblanos.

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If you come to Puebla in October, you’ll be treated to Huaxmole, a hearty stew made with goat or pork. The essential ingredient is the seed from the guaje tree pod to give it the unique flavor.

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Shop. Go to Uriarte for gorgeous talavera to set your table. Go to the new government operated Best of Puebla food shop on Palafox y Mendoza just off the Zocalo to stuff your bags with goodies. Get out on the street for weekend arts vendors selling everything from Huichol art to cemitas.

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Visit Cholula, Pueblo Magico. There are two Cholulas: San Pedro Cholula and San Andres Cholula.

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Go first to San Pedro, start with breakfast at Restaurant Ciudad Sagrada, garden haven with amazing food. Fortified, climb the pyramid to the Our Lady of the Remedies (Remedios), then watch the voladores. Meander the 16th century Franciscan churches. They say there are over 300 churches in Puebla.

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Go shopping at the best folk art boutiques in town — La Monarca, Bosque de Oyamel — operated by Celia Ruiz.

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Don’t miss OCHO30 for beer and botanas. No one else does!

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Make your way to adjacent San Andres Cholula when you need a thirst quencher Michelada and your tummy starts to rumble. Oder the Michelada “sin salsa” — pure Victoria beer and lime juice, with a heavily salt and chile rimmed glass.

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You will be amazed at the great kitsch, excellent hospitality and delicious food. Especially the pizza! Beware. It’s packed and you may have to wait. But, well worth it.

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With owner Agustino and friends Celia and Peter on left. OCHO30 pizza.

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Take your taxi back to your hotel and collapse.

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Where to Stay: Descanseria Hotel for Business or Pleasure, owned by the El Mural de los Poblanos restaurant group, with excellent location, restaurant, ambience and prices.

How to Get There: ADO GL bus from Oaxaca to Puebla CAPU, about $45 USD. Estrella Roja bus directly from Mexico City airport to Puebla 4 Poniente bus terminal, about $16 USD.

Where to Eat Chiles en Nogadas: El Mural de los Poblanos.

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Today, I return to Oaxaca, just in time for the last Guelaguetza performance and the best street life in Mexico.

Boulenc: Bringing a World of Flavors to Artisan Bread + More in Oaxaca, Mexico

We invited Martha Sorensen to write this post. She has raved about Boulenc since they opened.  Martha makes it a daily breakfast habit to include a slice or two of toasty, crusty rye or whole grain bread from Boulenc topped with their not t00 sweet house made mango jam.  She’s got me hooked.

***

Bernardo (left) and Juan Pablo send greetings

Bernardo Davila (left) and Juan Pablo Hernandez, founder, welcome bread lovers

Walk through the doorway of Boulenc and the comforting scent of fresh-baked bread and pastries envelops you. On the high shelves behind the front counter, whole grain sourdough loaves topped with artistic flour swirls or leaf patterns delight the eye.  More than a bakery, good food to eat is here, too.  Boulenc is a cafe, restaurant, bakery and provisions shop. 

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In the glass cabinet below, cardamom rolls sit beside ricotta berry Danish, orange chocolate brioche and buttery concha rolls decorated with a sprinkling of cocoa powder. Each beckons with the promise of a taste sensation.

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To the right, a bread oven from Sweden purchased via eBay warms the room. The six bar stools are usually filled. Behind the bar is a bookshelf with a collection of master bread making books, including Tartine Bread from San Francisco’s renowned artisan bakery. In the kitchen, four young bakers look up from their  floury hands with a smile of greeting. Can this be Oaxaca?

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Born in Saltillo, Coahuila, Juan Pablo Hernandez, a.k.a. Papa, is the founder of the European-style artisan bakery Boulenc.  He began baking years ago while still in school, ordered books and later experimented in a friend’s Oaxaca restaurant. Passionate about producing the highest quality, he gave away bread in exchange for comments.

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Then, he sold loaves at El Pochote while learning the art of baguette and croissant making from a young French baker who was traveling through Mexico. In January 2014, with Bernardo Davila and two other friends from Saltillo, he opened Boulenc.

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Juan Pablo’s European apprenticeship came from an unlikely source: a Dubai entrepreneur who found him via an international bakers’ Facebook group.  She was looking for someone to open an artisan bakery there. Last autumn she sponsored his travels to Sweden, Denmark and France. In October, he was in Dubai for a month where he made sourdough pan de muertos. Juan Pablo says that over 5,000 Mexican families live in Dubai. 

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His time in Scandinavia was life-changing. In southern Sweden, he took a sourdough course from world-renowned baker Manfred Enoksson, (who taught him to make cardamom rolls) learning more about stone-milled organic whole grains and the sourdough fermentation process. The living microbes in the culture need care. As Juan Pablo says, it is a relationship that must be nurtured.  “It makes you humble,” he says.  Most of products in Boulenc have a sourdough element. All other ingredients are sourced as locally as possible, including wheat from Nochixtlan in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca and cacao cream from another part of Mexico.

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Using a term from his permaculture training, Juan Pablo says that he and his partners see Boulenc as “a spiral, not a pyramid.” While there is some specialization, everyone at Boulenc has multiple roles, contributes ideas for new products, and values working together for the good of the community. This includes sharing sources and information with new bakeries that have a commitment to quality.

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They have given one bread making class and hope to do more. At the end of the day, any bread that is left over goes to an orphanage and a social service organization. Part of Juan Pablo’s mission is to educate about the importance of eating bread that is nutritious vs. bread made from white flour and chemicals in an industrial process. He sees this as vital, particularly here in Mexico where obesity rates are among the highest in the world.

Boulenc, Porfirio Diaz 222, between Murguia and Morelos, Centro, Oaxaca, (951) 514-0582

Boulenc’s future plans include opening a pizza cafe at a location nearby. For more information, including photos and short videos go to:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Boulenc/534647166618801

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Norma’s Notes:  Belly up to the bar and grab one of the six bar stools that overlooks the kitchen. Come for breakfast and order Shakshuka, a Lebanese poached egg and spicy tomato dish or a Belgian waffle drizzled with chocolate syrup, nuts and fresh fruit. Don’t be in a rush. This is slow food. Wait with a cup of the organic coffee or aromatic hot chocolate made with milk. Lunch offers up pizza rolls and tasty sandwiches on crusty bread. My favorite is the 100% rye infused with nuts, a meal in itself.

Masterpiece of Mexican Cuisine and Symbol of Independence: Chile en Nogada

It’s a Chile en Nogada kind of day here in Puebla, Mexico, where it was first prepared by Augustinian nuns, so they say, to honor the birthday of General Augustin Iturbide on August 28, 1821, who orchestrated Mexico’s independence from Spain on the same date.

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I ate one Chile en Nogada today here at El Mural de Los Poblanos. One s not enough. But, lo, I won’t be here long enough, gone by the time you read this! No second day for a second helping.

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History notes that it took Iturbide less than a year to secure independence after he put together a three-part coalition of liberal insurgents, landed nobility and the church who had been in-fighting for ten years. He formulated The Three Guarantees: Freedom from Spain, Religion (Catholicism only) and  Union (all Mexicans treated as equals).

Iturbide translated The Three Guarantees into the Tri-Color Mexican flag — green, red and white —  and added the Aztec symbol of the eagle perched on a cactus to build upon the past. The city is decorated to honor the occasion and the Chile en Nogada season.

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The nuns created the Chile en Nogada to honor the man who created the first Mexican independence.  The dish is tri-color:  A beautiful poblano chile stuffed with minced pork, fresh fruit, pine nuts and savory spices (green), topped with a fresh walnut and cream sauce (white) and garnished with fresh pomegranate seeds (red).

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Today, chile en nogada is THE seasonal dish in Puebla. It is a culinary masterpiece along with the other masterpiece of Puebla origins, mole poblano. Every restaurant tries to capitalize on the popularity of this famous dish.

Chile en Nogada is available fresh only from July to September when pomegranates are ripe, peaches and apples are in season, and mild poblano peppers are prolific.

No restaurant does it better than El Mural de Los Poblanos.  I’ve been coming here for years and the preparation, presentation and taste never wavers from excellent. Paired with Casa Madero 3V red wine from Coahuila, Mexico, this meal was cien percento (one hundred percent) Mexicano.

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Chef Lisette Galicia’s Chile en Nogada is stuffed with a picadillo of pears, apples, pine nuts, raisins and ground pork, seasoned with hints of North African spices that point to Spain’s Moorish history. It is a perfect combination of sweet and savory.  The version here is a sweeter nogada sauce, a counter-point to what I tasted the week before at Mexico City’s Azul Historico, where two sauce versions, one sweet, the other savory, were available on the menu.

Now, it’s off to El Norte for a while. Hasta pronto. I’ll be dreaming of you, Mexico.

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