It feels like springtime here in Oaxaca, although we are still celebrating Christmas. Yesterday was downright warm, with temperatures rising to the low 80′s, though nights can be a chilly 45 or 50 degrees. Christmas here is an elaborate and lengthy celebration, starting on December 12 to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe and officially ending with Dia de la Candelaria on February 2. The Three Magi, or Wise Men, arrive on January 6, for Day of the Three Kings or Dia de los Tres Reyes.
You have probably figured out that food motivates me almost as much as textiles. So, this morning I was off again to the wondrous, expansive Sunday tianguis — portable street market — in Tlacolula de Matamoros, ten minutes from where I live. I wanted to see what was in store for food preparations.
Front and center is Rosca de Reyes, a round or oval fruit-studded sweet bread, a traditional delight. Most Oaxaca celebrations are home and family centric, with a children’s gift exchange and a spin the top gambling game with whole nuts. When you go visiting, it is customary to bring a small gift for children and one of these bread loaves.
Tucked inside the loaves are one or several little plastic dolls that symbolize the baby Jesus. Whomever gets one of these dolls embedded in their slice of Rosca is obliged to host a tamale party on Candlemas. Corn and tamales, symbols of sustenance, are interwoven into this and other Mexican celebrations.
Today in the Tlacolula market the bread section was piled high with pan de yema, a sweet egg bread, shaped in the round. The vendors were doing a brisk business. This year, bakers added decoration of sliced, canned peaches to accompany the candied dates, prunes, pineapple bits and cherries.
Live poultry, like guajolotes and chickens, are a big item, too. Add to that roses ($1 USD a dozen), huge papaya (10 cents each), mangoes, melon, strawberries, watermelon, avocado (5 cents each USD), and any number of types of other fresh fruits and vegetables at everyday bargain prices. For those who forget to bring their shopping baskets or buy more than they planned, there are specialty vendors who sell these, too.
I like to arrive at the market by 10 a.m. to take a leisurely stroll through the streets. Before noon, there are not a lot of people and there is no line at the bank ATM located on church side street. Later, it’s packed and it’s like bumper cars with people.
Lunch is a special treat at Comedor Mary, located on the opposite side of the church on the street that borders the permanent market. Today’s special was albondigas con pollo — a picante broth with fresh ground and spiced chicken meatballs. Amazingly delicious.
This is the season to come to Oaxaca and stay a while. It is a feast for all your senses. And it is senseless to stay wrapped up in frigid northern weather if you don’t have to! Feliz Año Nuevo.