Category Archives: Food & Recipes

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.

Barcelona, Spain: Tapas at Midnight

We are still jet-lagged after two full days here in Barcelona and can’t seem to get the rhythm of sleep down. But, we have discovered the tap-tap-tap of tapas with a great orientation to Bilbao Berria tapas bar right down at the corner from where we are staying across from the Barcelona Cathedral.

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What’s the procedure, I asked our bar keep Alfre (muy guapo). It’s buffet, he said. Pick up what you like then put the wood stick in the container at your table. That’s how we charge you. I tell my sister, this is like eating dim sum.

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New dishes keep coming out of the kitchen to tempt you. I’m especially loving the anchovies and grilled cod. Oh, and then there is the aged jamon Iberico. Oh, and the deep friend camembert rolled in chopped pecans.

This is definitely not Mexico and it is too early for me to find any but the most superficial similarities. Compare and contrast. Can we drink the water? I asked the hotel staff. Madame, he replied, you are in Europe now. Well, we might be able to drink it but it doesn’t taste very good. Paper in the commode is okay.

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Here, it is tapas and pintxos, not tacos and tamales. Tipping is optional. Leave a euro (now valued at a little more than a dollar) on a twenty-dollar check, its sufficient.

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At many of the bars and at the stalls at the Boqueria market, a glass of wine or sangria or a beer on tap is included in the food cost, as is tax.  Try El Quim or Bar Central. Along the periphery are amazing seafood comedors with huge platters of grilled fish and shellfish. More about that to come.

Yesterday, I took over 400 photos at Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. It will take me a while to edit and post these. We ended the day today with gelato equal to any offered in Italy. The city is swollen with tourists who speak languages I cannot name.

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I’m getting used to this Old World version of Spanish, with its tildes, cedillas and x’s that sound like sh. Some of the words are familiar, like digame, tell me, when I start to ask a question. Gracias is pronounced grathias as in Barthelona. Think Mexican Spanish with a lisp.

I’ll say goodnight now. We are nine hours ahead of you if you live in California, USA. It was two-days in the getting here. Food and art are great salves.

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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.

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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.

Zinacantan Textile Flowers, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas

They speak Tzotzil here in the Maya highlands of Chiapas, Mexico.  San Lorenzo Zinacantan is a village nestled in a beautiful valley about thirty minutes from San San Cristobal de Las Casas.  It is a popular Sunday tourist destination combined with a visit to the mystical church at San Juan Chamula (which I will write about in another post), just ten minutes apart.

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Zinacantan people yielded to the Spanish during the conquest.  They enjoyed more favors and received fertile land in exchange for their loyalty. Today, the Zinacantan hillside is dotted with greenhouses where flowers grow in abundance to decorate church and home altars, and are a key part of festivals.

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The village replicates these flowers in their embroidery that embellish cloth created on back strap looms.  Over the years we have seen the patterns change from simple red and white striped cloth to sparkly textiles that incorporate synthetic glitzy threads of gold and silver.  Much of the embroidery is now machine stitched, though the designs are guided by expert hands.

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I’ve been coming to San Cristobal de Las Casas for years searching for a chal embroidered by hand to no avail. This time, Patrick, our guide took us to the home of Antonia, one of Zinacantan’s most accomplished weavers and embroiderers.  Among the hundred chals (shawl or tzute) available for purchase, I found a blue one all hand embroidered. Technology is winning out over the made by hand ethos.

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Identity is defined externally by the indigenous garment.  Some say the Spanish imposed this upon local people in order to know where they came from and to keep them in their place. Others say the design of the garment endures because of cultural pride.  The young woman above is from the village of Chenalho.  I can tell because of the design of her beautiful huipil.

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She is the tortilla maker at Antonia’s home, who keeps the fire going, makes us a fresh quesadilla of local cheese, cured chorizo, avocado and homemade salsa to remember the visit. Food is memory, too.

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Nothing is wasted, not even the smoke. It curls up from the comal to cure the meats that hang above it. The corn is criollo, locally grown and ground by hand, pure and wholesome. Here in the shadowy adobe kitchen there is magic.

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It is impossible to take photographs inside the church at Zinacantan. It is forbidden and cameras can be confiscated if you are found to violate this. Can you imagine a church altar spilling over with flowers from ceiling to floor, fresh, with an aroma of lilies, roses, gardenias and lilacs. The swirl of scent is like an infusion of incense, designed perhaps to bring one closer to god.

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I organized this art and archeology study tour for Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina.  If you have a small group interested in coming to Oaxaca or Chiapas, please contact me.  I have over 35 years experience organizing award-winning educational programs for some of America’s most respected universities.

Penland School Cooks in Oaxaca

We will be going back in time this week. A few days ago our participants from Penland School of Crafts gathered at Casa de los Sabores, the cooking school operated by chef Pilar Cabrera Arroyo.

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Our menu focused on mezcal including a flaming skewered pineapple and shrimp dish that went up in flames before we ate it. The pineapple chunks were soaked in mezcal so the natural sugars ignited instantly. They were accompanied by a salad featuring tiny tomatillos that we ate raw.

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Pilar has been preparing great food for a long time.  Her La Olla Restaurant is well known in the city for using organic ingredients that are artfully prepared. Because our study tour focuses on Oaxaca arts and artisanry, food is an important ingredient in the Oaxaca mix.

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Pilar is also very knowledgeable about the artesenal process of cultivating and distilling mezcal, too.  Before we sat down to the meal we participated in preparing, we enjoyed a four-flight mezcal tasting that began with young espadin.  She explained the different varietals, aging process and the rising cost of the smokey beverage based on escalating international interest.

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First, it’s important to smell.  Then, take a first sip and let it go down your throat slowly.  At the end of your drink, suck on an orange slice dipped in worm salt (sal de gusano) for a perfect finish.

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After the memelitas with squash blossoms and queso fresco, and after the chicken with mole amarillo, we ended with an incredible flan.

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With a beautiful table and an array of complex tastes, we were more than satisfied.  Oh, and I forgot to mention a shopping trip to the Mercado de la Merced before the class started to pick up essential ingredients.

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I work with local experts and guides to put together an unusual and intimate view of Oaxaca, her art, food and culture. I am not a tour guide but an expert at award-winning university program development. If you organization has interest in a program such as this one, please contact me.