Tag Archives: eating

India Journal: Visit to Pure Ghee Textile Designs

Ghee, clarified buffalo or cow butter, is the essential cooking and flavoring oil in India. Ghee also has religious significance and is used at life cycle celebrations throughout the country. It is highly nutritious and is part of the ayurvedic system, which forms the basis of spirituality, food, and health.

Eating with one's hands, to become one with the food.

Eating with one’s hands, to become one with the food.

One could say that ghee is the foundation of Indian life and culture, just as the tortilla is elemental to Mexico. I would venture to say that Aditi Prakash carefully chose the brand name Pure Ghee for the textile design company she started seven years ago to connect what she makes to what is second nature here. Elemental. Essential. Necessary.

Trademark cloth flowers embellish zipper pulls on scrap fabric bag

Trademark cloth flowers embellish zipper pulls on scrap fabric bag

Aditi employs women who are migrants, takes them off the street, trains them in sewing skills and gives them employment. Women sew. Men complete the finish work, led by a master tailor from the neighborhood, who supervises the apprentices. There are two levels of quality control and each product is nearly perfect, just like ghee.

Pure Ghee staff member who oversees quality control

Pure Ghee staff member who oversees quality control

Aditi invited Nidhi and me to her home for a simple Indian vegetarian lunch, to see her workshop studio, so I could learn about the processes and products, and meet the staff who make the bags and accessories that make their way to shops and boutiques throughout the country.

Master tailor finishes edges of new bag design.

Master tailor finishes edges of new bag design.

First, let’s talk about lunch.

Aditi says she uses turmeric in everything. Nidhi echoes this. Turmeric has antiseptic healing powers they say. They add it to yellow lentils with salt and cook the lentils in a stove top pressure cooker for about 30 minutes.

Ghee, chili mustard and curry leaves simmer on stovetop

Ghee, chili mustard and curry leaves simmer on stovetop

In a separate spoon with very large bowl, Aditi combines about 1/4 c. ghee, fresh curry leaves, red chilis from her home state of Hyderabad, cumin and mustard seed. The bowl of the spoon goes over the gas burner until the mixture simmers and cooks, coming to a low boil.

Aditi serves lentil soup in small bowls, a garnish to rice and vegetables

Aditi serves lentil soup in small bowls, a garnish to rice and vegetables

This is added to the lentils, that now has the consistency of a thick soup.

In another cooking pot is potatoes, cauliflower and peas.

Food is ayurvedic, Aditi says. Nidhi adds that cooking is not written down but passed through the generations as part of the cultural tradition. She learned from her mother. Both are independent, creative women who prepare vegetarian meals in the Hindu tradition daily for their husbands.

Silk-cotton draw string bags worn with the sari

Silk-cotton draw string bags worn with the sari for evenings, weddings

Homemade roti, a whole grain flat bread that looks like a tortilla (they both make this from scratch), and brown rice are served as a base for the lentils and vegetable medley. Everyone uses shallow metal plates that look like a cake pan.

Aditi Prakash in her showroom. People find us, she says.

Aditi Prakash in her showroom. People find us, she says.

We eat with the fingers of our right hand, important to bring the five elements from table to body, in complete circle of life and sustenance.

Traditional plaque in Aditi's home.

Traditional plaque in Aditi’s home.

Aditi’s husband is a filmmaker. Both work from home and they built a three-level workspace where each has dominion. Aditi supports craft artisans from throughout India and as an industrial designer, has helped many refine their products to bring to the marketplace.

Bag patterns hang in small workshop space

Bag patterns hang in small workshop space

After lunch and a modest shopping spree (thank goodness Pure Ghee accepts credit cards), the three of us went off to the Nature Bazaar, a cooperative of crafts-people and textile artists from throughout the country.

Artist Nidhi Khurana, New Delhi, November 2016

Artist Nidhi Khurana, New Delhi, November 2016

Aditi says this has one of the best selections in all of Delhi, with very fair prices. It is off-the-beaten-path for tourists but well worth the visit. For me, it will need several hours. There are textiles, lengths of cloth by the meter, paintings and drawings, folk art, brass bells, sari, indigo and Khadi clothing, jewelry from Afghanistan.

Pure Ghee workshop in action

Pure Ghee workshop in action

If you haven’t noticed, India is about color, texture and sound. It is about silk, cotton and the resurgence of tradition. Both Nidhi and Aditi say that the sari is standard daily dress for women.

Lunch preparation, a vegetarian Hindu meal accompanied by Hyerabad mango pickle.

Lunch preparation, a vegetarian Hindu meal with Hyderabad mango pickle.

I’m going back to Nature Bazaar today. There are over 100 vendors with central payment stations. And, yes, credit cards accepted. Perfect for the cash crisis in play now. I’ll be writing more about this. Perhaps tomorrow.

Sneak preview of Nature Bazaar: piles of indigo and block prints

Sneak preview of Nature Bazaar: piles of indigo and block prints

 

 

 

Soft Landing Oaxaca, and Teotitlan del Valle

It’s a four-and-a-half hour bus ride from Puebla CAPU to Oaxaca ADO bus station. Taxi from Puebla historic center to CAPU is 80 pesos. Bus ticket is about 450 pesos on ADO GL deluxe service. Easy. Scenic. The road dips and rises through mountains studded with mature saguaro and nopal cactus, flowing river beds (it’s the rainy season) and dramatic gorges. When going south, choose a seat on the right side of the bus.

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Prep kitchen — al fresco — at La Biznaga Restaurant

A good time to write, read, lean back and enjoy the ride. I arrived in Oaxaca on Sunday night, just in time to skip the last Guelaguetza performances on Monday but not the crowds strolling the Andador Macedonio Alcala. Or, the sounds of the festivities echoing from the Cerro del Fortin pinnacle starting at 10 a.m.

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People asked me, are you going to Guelaguetza? Did you go to Guelaguetza? I told them no. I went for the last two years, had a great time, took lots of photos and decided I didn’t need to repeat the experience for a while.

Sunday night, I discovered La Salvadora, a patio bar on Guerrero that serves great artesenal Mexican beer, sandwiches, salads, and usually has live music. A great way to land. Thanks, Hayley.

On Monday I walked over 12,000 steps Oaxaca is one of the best walking cities in Mexico with the Andador limited only to pedestrian traffic.

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Carol and David invited me to lunch at their departamento under the shadow of Basilica de Soledad on the other side of town, so I walked there, passing colonial adobe buildings in need of renovation.

Before that, I walked to ceramic Galeria Tierra Quemada and recycled glass studio Xaquixe to check out mezcal cups that my sister asked me to get for her, and then I went back again as she honed the decision.

I finished off the day with a Spanish potato and egg torta (a famed tapas) with organic salad, and a glass of excellent, reasonably priced (40 pesos) red wine at Tastevins on Murguia close to Benito Juarez, with Hayley. This place is becoming a favorite, relaxed, good food, moderately priced.

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On Tuesday, I clocked a bit over 10,000 steps. Janet and I met for a great breakfast — organic blue corn memelas with poached eggs, red and green salsa — at Cabuche before she went to work. (It’s my in-the-city-neighborhood-go-to-eating-spot.)

Handmade paper box at Xaquixe

Handmade paper box at Xaquixe

Then, a return trip to Tierra Quemada (meaning burnt earth) for the final order and shipping.

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And a return to the Xaquixe shop on 5 de Mayo between Abasolo and Constitucion to oggle the handmade paper and glassware once again.

Prepping for comida corrida at La Biznaga

Prepping for comida corrida at La Biznaga

After taking care of fingers and toes from all the pavement pounding, I met Martha and Hayley at La Biznaga for a great vegetarian spinach lasagna (Tuesday is vegetarian comida corrida). The portions are so generous, there was enough for lunch today.

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My good friend and taxista Abraham picked me up late afternoon and I arrived back in Teotitlan del Valle. I don’t have internet connection where I live, so I’m now at my Teoti go-to restaurant Tierra Antigua for reliable service and an excellent horchata.

This Saturday Abraham and Rosa are getting married. It’s been in the planning for a year. I’ve known Abraham for about eight years — smart, always reliable, taught himself English, muy dulce — very sweet. He asked me to be the madrina (godmother) of the photography! It’s my gift to them, and I’m excited about participating in all the related activities and then sharing them with you. I have permission!

Soft landing!

 

Chicago’s New Maxwell Street Market: Little Mexico

When you are in Chicago and if you want a bit of Mexico — with her street food and open air tianguis market culture — make your way to Chicago’s near west side for the New Maxwell Street Market every Saturday.   The backdrop is the city’s stunning Loop and Magnificent Mile.

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Beyond the Loop on the near west side is a historic immigrant neighborhood where Polish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Eastern European Jews, African-Americans, and now Latinos from Mexico and Central America settled.

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The original Maxwell Street has been developed for a University of Illinois at Chicago expansion.  The new market, a neighborhood gathering place, is now located on Des Plaines Avenue between Roosevelt Road and Polk Streets, just west of the Chicago River. You get there from Michigan Avenue and Roosevelt Road by CTA Bus #12 or by foot.

Serving horchata and aguas de tamarindo, sandia, jamaica

Serving horchata and aguas de tamarindo, sandia, jamaica

In my days of living in the midwest, I confess I never made it to the Maxwell Street Market, known for its blues musicians, flea market bargains and once-in-a-lifetime antique treasures.  So, when I arrived in Chicago from Mexico City to visit friends on my way back to North Carolina and the opportunity came to explore, I said “yes.”

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The line for Rubi’s snaked down the block

Be sure you come hungry!  What I found were several blocks filled with street vendors not much different from Oaxaca’s Tlacolula Sunday market except on a much smaller scale.  The standout was the food vendors. People from all ethnic backgrounds, including plenty of visitors toting cameras, formed lines snaking down the street for tastes of savory tacos al pastor, steaming tamales, traditional aguas — fruit waters — made from tamarind, watermelon, lime and coconut.  There were at least four stands selling nieves, the famed ice creams that more resemble the intense flavors of an Italian gelato.

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There is also organized live music, and if you are lucky as I was, you might come across an old African American blues musician belting out a tune on a guitar or saxophone, reminding me of the Mississippi Great Migration and The Warmth of Other Suns.

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There’s not much remaining of the original Maxwell Street’s flea market atmosphere.  What I saw were sellers of new tires, perfumes, electronics, out-of-date packaged foods and snacks, nail polish and make-up, hardware and garden tools, office and school supplies, used and new clothes, shoes, records, and a few chachkahs.  There were few antiques per se.

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Dried hibiscus flowers

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Dried star fruit, papaya, kiwi, pineapple, mango

What attracted my attention were the dried tropical fruits, roasted nuts, tamarind pods, spices and chili peppers that we see throughout Mexico and especially Oaxaca.  I heard mostly Spanish spoken by buyers and sellers.  

At the food trucks and under the cooking tents, women prepared and cooked fresh tortillas and grilled corn on the comal, men tended the spit-roasted pork and grilled pineapple, a family displayed their made that morning sweet and chicken-stuffed tamales,  and young girls ladled out fruit drinks into clear plastic cups.

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The children strolled hand-in-hand with parents licking on a cone of traditional Mexican ices.  Neighborhood shoppers bought fresh berries from the few produce vendors interspersed between the aluminum kitchen utensil and car cleaning supplies stalls.

Pods of tamarindo fruit ready to pluck the juicy centers

Pods of tamarindo fruit ready to pluck the juicy centers

If I lived there, I would have filled my shopping bag, tempted by what is familiar to me and the tastes I love.  As it was, I settled for a glimpse into what it means to keep the culture through a reverence for its food.

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Of course, saying a prayer at the home altar to the Virgin Mary, a patron saint, and the Baby Jesus  will help ensure that the culture is preserved.  Locals shop for religious icons at the market, too.

Lunch at the San Juan Market, Mexico City

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My lunch at La Jersey, Mercado de San Juan, Mexico City

San Juan Market is where many of Mexico City’s top chefs shop.  It is known for its exotic meats, fish, fruits and vegetables.  It’s where I buy vanilla beans for $1.50 USD each to bring back as gifts to the USA.  I made my way there from the Palacio de Bellas Artes, past architectural wonders of the city.

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Once I got there and started looking at the food, I realized I was hungry.  Then, I noticed a large group of people gathered around one of the stalls.  La Jersey has been there for over 85 years.  Out from behind the counter came baguettes of crusty French bread filled with layers of exotic, European cheeses and Italian meats.

Three young men, who introduced themselves as lawyers on lunch break, were sitting on stools biting into hefty sandwiches and sipping good red Spanish table wine from small tasting cups. The wine comes gratis with the lunch.  They beckoned me over, offered me the empty seat next to

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them, showed me the menu and recommended what they considered to be the best sandwich filled with prosciutto, salami, and a rich, smooth German cheese. Order Number 3, they said.  A cuarto (that’s a quarter sandwich).  When it came, it looked like more than I could possibly consume. There are probably 20 sandwich selections on the menu.  And, at least 100 different cheeses are available for sale on the deli countertop and in the cases.

Note: You are surrounded by butchered animals ranging from chickens to hanging legs of lamb, goats and other edibles.  I consider it to be part of the food chain, but just a word of warning 🙂

Once my sandwich came, they oriented me to using the tamarind savory jam topping to spread over the cheese.  The bread was scooped out leaving mostly crusty outside, better to hold the more than ample fillings.

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Next comes dessert, also included in the fixed price along with the wine.  It is a slice of French bread slathered with mascarpone cheese drizzled with local honey and topped with a crunchy walnut.  Two bites, then gone.  Mmmmmmm.  The man on the left ordered a fresh fig, quartered, and filled with homemade vanilla ice cream, topped with honey.  He ate it before I could get my camera focused.

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More about it.  Where to find it.  La Jersey also has a small deli in the Downtown Hotel complex at Isabel la Catolica #30, two blocks from the Zocalo.

Street Food: Perhaps the Best Tamales in Oaxaca

It was one of those perfectly glorious Oaxaca days.

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Our walking destination: corner of Calle Armenta y Lopez and Calle Cristobal Colon on the southwest side of the Zocalo.  There on the southwest corner, tucked into the shade of the Parisina building protected from the strong Oaxaca sun, is perhaps the best tamale stand in all of Oaxaca city.

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Who says so?  The people who line up everyday starting at two o’clock in the afternoon.  Sometimes the line snakes halfway down the block.  The busiest times are from two to four in the afternoon, when most locals take their lunch.  Eating on the street is a Mexican tradition.

For me, tamales are right up there with Oaxaca’s famed seven moles.  Here at this little corner of heaven is a selection of ten different tamales:  mole negro wrapped in banana leaf, cheese with squash blossom, spicy green chile with chicken, raja chile (sliced jalapeño) with chicken, yellow mole, red mole, spicy red mole, bean, chipil, sweet with pineapple and raisins, and corn kernels.

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Customers are loyal and keep coming back.

Why do you like these tamales? I ask the patient man waiting his turn.  Estan muy rico —  they are very good — he answers, emphasizing the very, and then adds, and they are big.

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Another hears my question and adds, Si, muy rico.  Riccisimo. El mejor de Oaxaca.  The best of Oaxaca.  There is an echo as I hear muy rico repeated among the crowd, like a chant in the round.

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Indeed they are big.  The tamales are wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves depending on the variety, each giving the masa a distinctive flavor. They are plump filled with lots of steamed ground corn, lots of salsa or mole, and either chicken, cheese, pork or herbs.

Note:  Most of Oaxaca corn is organic, and there is social/political resistance to Monsanto and genetically modified versions coming in.  Original corn is  astoundingly flavorful, nutty, crunchy, delicious and nutritious.

It takes the Dueña at least five hours daily to make a fresh batch of each variety which she transports to the corner every day except Mondays.  She is there promptly at two o’clock in the afternoon and closes at eight o’clock at night, sometimes earlier if she sells out.  People gather to wait for her opening.

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Today I bought at least one of every variety to take home and serve at a gathering of friends this Sunday afternoon.  I don’t think I could put out a tastier spread!

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Special thanks to Stephen for this discovery and introducing me to these delicious tamales.

My confession is that even after a hefty lunch elsewhere, when the Dueña offered me a taste of the frijol tamale with a touch of hierba santa slathered with a picante salsa, I could not resist.  I added my own muy rico y mil gracias.

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